This very week appears to be one of the most interesting times for sports talk. The annual controversy over the choices for the college football championship game. NFL playoff races heating up. Some fans anticipating NBA free agent signings and training camps opening. Baseball's winter meetings. All this along with a full slate of NHL and early season college hoops.
Hopefully this will be a time for sports talk stations to step up their game as well. There is plenty of opportunity for players, coaches, and team executives to be guests and provide listeners with solid opinions, facts, and good information. The stations can make it interesting for a variety of topics. Let's hope for something better than "Steve from the north side wants to talk playoffs....".
The radio ratings for late October to mid-November are out for the larger markets. Philadelphia and Minneapolis show the most significant developments. The move of WIP to an AM-FM combo has had very little impact thus far. WIP AM and FM, with the FM adding more hours of separate programming, merely combined for roughly half of the audience of WPEN, and WPEN finished at #18 in overall audience. Sure looks like Howard Eskin leaving afternoon drive at the end of August was a severe blow to WIP that even the addition of the FM signal isn't about to fix any time soon.
The recent move of several big market sports stations to FM is already paying dividends in certain cities. In the Twin Cities, KFXN-FM The Fan has been on the upward trend since coming over from the AM side. The Fan came in at #7 in overall audience at 4.8, up a full ratings point from its September showing. What underscores this increase is when you realize it is not the local teams. The Vikings are headed toward last place, the Twins just finished a last place finish, and the University of Minnesota football team didn't exactly light up the Big 10. KFXN-FM is successful by taking away the audience from rival KSTP-AM, which dropped from 3.6 to 2.7 during the same time period. It is virtually the same number of people listening to sports talk.
Several of the largest markets saw little (if any) change in the number of sports talk listeners during this ratings period. In New York, WFAN and WEPN both held steady, with The Fan coming in #13 overall. In Chicago, WSCR The Score moved up to a 2.6 rating and #16 in the market, while rival WMVP ESPN 1000 was steady and finished #21.
In San Francisco, KNBR continues its huge lead in the sports station race, while finishing #9 overall. KTCK-AM The Ticket finished at #26 while KGMZ came in #27 in that market. In Dallas, sports radio continues to be popular as the Cowboys season unfolds (and the Rangers were in the World Series during much of this ratings period). KESN ESPN came in #12 overall, just ahead of KTCK The Ticket at #14, while KRLD-FM came in #22.
In Boston, the competition between The Sports Hub and WEEI continues to be interesting, as WEEI and The Sports Hub both lost overall audience. WBZ-FM Sports Hub leads WEEI by .3 after WEEI lost most of the audience it had gained a month earlier.
The success of the Detroit Lions during the ratings period helped WXYT-FM The Ticket remain #1 overall in the market even with a loss of well over a full ratings point. With the Lions on a losing streak since, it will be interesting to see whether or not The Ticket holds on to the top spot next month.
St. Louis remains a sports radio hot bed, as WXOS-FM gained more than one full ratings point over the month. The station is the flagship station for Rams football, although its audience increased overall despite a poor season by the team. KMOX, which has some sports talk programming in addition to play-by-play, remains a solid #1 in the market and continues to enjoy the success of the Cardinals' World Series victory.
In Houston, KILT is starting to make sports talk viable, moving up to #19 overall, reflecting an overall 2.6 rating from only a 1.4 in August. KBME is at #25 overall, reflecting an increase for both of those stations.
Even Los Angeles sports stations show a slight audience increase although it's nothing to get excited about. KSPN ESPN jumps up to #25, while KLAC moved up very slightly but is still #34 overall. It shows you where that market has gone when it's a positive that one sports station barely cracks the top 25.
One other ratings oddity of sorts. In Winnipeg, where the city is enjoying its own NHL team for the first time in years, Sports Radio 1290 actually dropped .1 in October, the first month it was carrying the team's games.
DENVER: As The Ticket becomes ESPN Radio, instead of 1600 AM, on Jan. 1st, morning hosts Vic Lombardi and Gary Miller have been given their ticket "out". Management decided to continue Mike & Mike on FM and end the 7 - 9 AM local show hosted by the KCNC-TV sportscasters. As of now, plans remain in place for The Ticket on FM to be local from Noon to 3 with Les Shapiro and JoJo and from 3 to 7 PM with Charles Johnson and Nate Kreckman.
HOUSTON: Whether or not anyone will notice, WGOW 1560 has moved Sean Pendergast from middays to morning drive and is now co-hosting with John Granato, as of this week, from 6 to 11 AM. Travis Rodgers will air from 2 to 6 PM with Yahoo Sports Radio taking up most of the rest of the time.
CHICAGO: WGN Radio, which airs Blackhawks hockey, debuted an "occasional" weekend 1-hour show hosted by winger Daniel Carcillo, this past Friday (12/2) night following the Blackhawks vs. Islanders broadcast. The recorded program is more of a music and "personal experience" show, and will air several more times during the season on weekend nights following the Hawks' broadcasts.
WVON 1690 will air about 10 Illinois State University basketball games this season, marking the first time in years that a Chicago station has aired the Redbirds games. The station did not and does not air any other play-by-play at this time.
CINCINNATI: WLW Radio has begun its "Reds Hot Stove League" broadcasts each Tuesday night at 6 PM ET during the baseball off season. This past Tuesday (11/29), the show aired live from a restaurant near the stadium and prompted Reds voice Marty Brennaman to comment that he wishes the show was broadcast "among the fans" every week instead of mostly from the station studios. However, the next remotes won't be until Dec. 20th and Jan. 17th.
MEMPHIS: Verno Radio 730 has stopped its numerous rebroadcasts of its afternoon drive "The Chris Vernon Show" and now airs Yahoo Sports Radio for the majority of its broadcast day. Although the move is technically from local to national, in this instance it is more importantly from recorded to live.
DES MOINES: Sorry to learn of the passing of Mike Newell from a heart attack at the age of 66 last week. Newell has done play-by-play for Drake University basketball, Iowa Oaks (minor league) baseball, and years of hosting WHO Radio's University of Iowa post-game "Sound Off" show.
And, finally, I will acknowledge that I left out a very important fact in one of my comments last week. There I was writing about how ESPN actually went "news" rather than just sports with its reporting of the Bernie Fine story and recordings it had to support the unfortunate incidents which led to his (Fine's) firing. However, the portion of the story I saw and heard on ESPN did not include the part where it was revealed that ESPN had those recordings for several years and failed to release them or report on their contents. Therefore, ESPN was actually NOT doing an efficient job of presenting news because of that.