Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sports Talk Stations On The Comeback Trail

Sports talk radio stations are finally on the rise in some of the larger markets based on the just released January ratings. Some of this, such as New York and Boston, were due to the Giants and Patriots reaching the Super Bowl during the ratings period.

Perhaps the biggest news is that Houston sports stations are trending up again, now registering more than the blip on the radar they have been for the past couple of years. Although KILT has only risen to #19 overall, KBME-AM and KFNC-FM also went up. This is significant for a number of reasons. The total sports audience rise means that one station's rise was not due to another station losing some of its audience, since they each gained.

In addition, this is not exactly a sports bonanza time for Houston's pro teams. The Texans' season ended in early in January even though it included a playoff appearance. The Rockets are not among the NBA's contenders this season, while the Astros' upcoming season does not look promising. This market bears watching over the next few months. Maybe I did write it off too soon.

San Francisco also showed growth, but it remains to be seen how much of that was due to the 49ers playoff run. KNBR went up to #7 overall, while The Game WGMZ-FM also went up, even if only to #26 overall in the market.

Chicago also saw its rival sports stations both on the rise for the January ratings period, with The Score WSCR finishing at #16 overall while WMVP ESPN showed an even larger audience increase despite finishing only 21st overall.

Dallas and Philadelphia, two of the traditionally strong sports radio markets over the years, each showed alarming decreases again, however. In Dallas, the 3 sports stations are now grouped together. KTCK-AM The Ticket is only #22 overall, with KRLD-FM now just .1 behind at #23. KESN-FM ESPN has now lost half of the overall audience it had as recently as the November ratings, and has sunk to #26 overall. Since I was unable to find out for sure prior to press time, I'll only speculate that it is the first time in many ratings periods that Dallas didn't have at least one of its sports stations in the Top 20.

In Philly, WPEN-FM held steady but came in at #18 overall, while the WIP 610 continues its downward spiral, now at a .7 for a #28 market rank. The FM partial simulcast has yet to make a dent either. The argument that the Phillies' broadcasts will be simulcast on WIP-FM may or may not make a difference. What happens in other cities does not always carry over, but Chicago's WBBM Newsradio had actually dropped a full ratings point since November, even with having added a full FM simulcast in the fall.

Los Angeles continues to be a sports talk disaster. KSPN 710 had dropped again and now ranks #28 overall in the market. KLAC has dipped to #34 overall. Combined, these stations don't make the top 20. We shall see whether or not baseball fans discover these stations over the next couple of ratings periods. The Dodgers enter the season with ownership uncertainty while fans have little to no idea about the station now airing their games (in English). The Angels begin their season with Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson being added, and with a lot of promise to contend.

Boston and New York will likely ride the Super Bowl train for at least another ratings book, as baseball season should keep their stations buzzing as well. For the January ratings, WFAN went up to #9 overall while WEPN (even at #23) also went up. In Boston, both The Sports Hub WBZ-FM and WEEI went through the roof, with both stations up and finishing in the top 8 overall.

Meanwhile, back to Houston and the likely disaster of a season ahead for the Astros. One reason to listen to the broadcasts will be because it will be the final season for Milo Hamilton to call the games on radio. That makes it worthwhile right there. Let's hope that Milo is also saluted as he makes his final trips to the road ballparks this season.

We won't know for sure whether or not ESPN removing Ron Jaworski from Monday Night Football was really for the intent of getting him off those telecasts or if it is to reduce to a 2-man booth. My feeling is that it is a combination of both. On the surface, ESPN seems to really want Jaworski since they gave him a 5-year contract and will include him in much more of their NFL related programming.

While I grant you that not everyone likes Jon Gruden, I find it more significant that Monday Night Football will have 2 men in the booth for the first time ever. It's about time. ESPN has been making the gradual transition to turning MNF into a true football telecast instead of the booth circus that ABC used all those years. With NFL telecast ratings on the rise over the past couple of years, ESPN recognizes that fans are tuning in for the games and not to see what the announcers will do next. It is finally play-by-play and real analysis, compared with Frank Gifford's endless conversations about everything but for all those years on ABC, some of which lacked defined roles over who called the plays and who analyzed them. My hope is that this will become a trend.

For all sports, we are becoming saddled with so many analysts in the studio and at the game that there is not enough time for the "good" ones to expand on their thoughts. Getting back to the basics and focusing on the game itself is a great start.

Although it's not polite to highlight an embarassing story, the way the situation was handled by James Bates of CBS Sports Network deserves mention. Bates and Steve Wolf were on camera for the Network doing the opening of the Dayton at Xavier telecast on Saturday (2/18). During the opening, with both announcers seated on the court, the stool that Bates was sitting on broke and collapsed and Bates tumbled to the floor, all live on camera. Bates was shown getting up from the floor while Wolf stood up, but Bates kept talking, kept his cool, and began to joke about the fall. That was extremely professional and he made it seem like fun. If you haven't seen it yet, I'll bet you can still find the video of it.

Do NFL fans truly want to see prospects working out? The NFL Network thinks so. This week (Thursday through Saturday) the Network plans about 50 hours of coverage from the NFL Scouting Combine from Indianapolis. Complete with Rich Eisen anchoring the coverage and primary analysts including Mike Mayock, Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders, and Kurt Warner. This is not for any game action. This for guys working out and demonstrating skills individually for consideration among NFL teams. Unless I missed something, such as Vegas having a line on which guys will work out the best or some sort of rookie projection fantasy league, I'm not sure this "event' warrants such extensive coverage. Granted, there's not much else to talk about for NFL Network until much closer to draft time, and I'm all for live "original" programming, but this seems extreme.

The TV networks covering baseball are putting out their initial telecast schedules for the coming season. While we have already mentioned several of the early season ESPN telecasts, and MLB Network waits until other schedules are finalized before announcing which games they will carry, Fox and TBS have unveiled some or most of their planned telecasts.

Fox Sports is finally back to doing telecasts every Saturday (instead of waiting a couple of weeks into the season), and is expanding to eight Saturday night telecasts for this season. However, there will be a couple of Saturdays when Fox will move ahead of their "traditional" 4 PM ET spot and televise at 1 PM ET instead. This will be when Fox has a NASCAR telecast scheduled for prime time, and to make certain that their baseball telecasts are concluded. While that is admirable, this, combined with the added prime telecasts, means that more than 1/3 of their Saturday telecasts will not be airing at their "traditional" time.

Of course, Fox already has the Yankees and Red Sox scheduled for the maximum of 9 appearances, with the Mets, Braves, and Angels scheduled for 8 times. (The Mets???)

TBS has announced its Sunday afternoon telecast schedule for all of April and May. Guess what. Of their first 8 telecasts, 6 of those include either New York or Boston. However, TBS continues to have varied times for the start of its games, although no west coast or mountain time telecasts are scheduled yet. With varied starting times between 1 and 2 PM ET, at least fans know they can tune in at 2 PM ET and see a game start or in the early innings.

Here are those TV schedules:

FOX Saturday Baseball:
April 7 (3:30 PM ET) Boston Red Sox at Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals at Milwaukee Brewers, San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks, Kansas City Royals at Anaheim Angels

April 14 (12:30 PM ET) Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals, Anaheim Angels at New York Yankees, Texas Rangers at Minnesota Twins

April 21 (3:30 PM ET) New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox at Seattle Mariners

April 28 (12:30 PM ET) Milwaukee Brewers at St. Louis Cardinals, Anaheim Angels at Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals at Minnesota Twins

May 5 (3:30 PM ET) Chicago White Sox at Detroit Tigers Arizona Diamondbacks at New York Mets Milwaukee Brewers at San Francisco Giants

May 12 (12:30 PM ET) Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee Brewers Anaheim Angels at Texas Rangers New York Mets at Miami Marlins

May 19 (7:00 PM ET) Boston Red Sox at Philadelphia Phillies Chicago White Sox at Chicago Cubs Texas Rangers at Houston Astros Baltimore Orioles at Washington Nationals Arizona Diamondbacks at Kansas City Royals

May 26 (7:00 PM ET) Philadelphia Phillies at St. Louis Cardinals Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates Colorado Rockies at Cincinnati Reds Anaheim Angels at Seattle Mariners

June 2 (7:00 PM ET) New York Yankees at Detroit Tigers Chicago Cubs at San Francisco Giants Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians Arizona Diamondbacks at San Diego Padres Cincinnati Reds at Houston Astros

June 9 (7:00 PM ET) New York Mets at New York Yankees Cleveland Indians at St. Louis Cardinals Los Angeles Dodgers at Seattle Mariners Tampa Bay Rays at Miami Marlins Kansas City Royals at Pittsburgh Pirates

June 16 (7:00 PM ET) Boston Red Sox at Chicago Cubs Cincinnati Reds at New York Mets Miami Marlins at Tampa Bay Rays Baltimore Orioles at Atlanta Braves Houston Astros at Texas Rangers

June 23 (7:00 PM ET) New York Yankees at New York Mets Atlanta Braves at Boston Red Sox Washington Nationals at Baltimore Orioles Los Angeles Dodgers at Anaheim Angels San Francisco Giants at Oakland Athletics Milwaukee Brewers at Chicago White Sox

June 30 (7:00 PM ET) New York Mets at Los Angeles Dodgers Arizona Diamondbacks at Milwaukee Brewers Detroit Tigers at Tampa Bay Rays Oakland Athletics at Texas Rangers San Diego Padres at Colorado Rockies Kansas City Royals at Minnesota Twins

July 7 (7:00 PM ET) New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies Minnesota Twins at Texas Rangers

July 14 (3:30 PM ET) New York Mets at Atlanta Braves Arizona Diamondbacks at Chicago Cubs Philadelphia Phillies at Colorado Rockies

July 21 (3:30 PM ET) San Francisco Giants at Philadelphia Phillies Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals Texas Rangers at Anaheim Angels

July 28 (3:30 PM ET) Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta Braves

August 18 (3:30 PM ET) Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees San Francisco Giants at San Diego Padres

August 25 (3:30 PM ET) St. Louis Cardinals at Cincinnati Reds Atlanta Braves at San Francisco Giants Minnesota Twins at Texas Rangers

September 1 (3:30 PM ET) Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta Braves San Francisco Giants at Chicago Cubs Anaheim Angels at Seattle Mariners

September 8 (3:30 PM ET) Atlanta Braves at New York Mets Los Angeles Dodgers at San Francisco Giants Kansas City Royals at Chicago White Sox

September 15 (3:30 PM ET) Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Detroit Tigers at Cleveland Indians Colorado Rockies at San Diego Padres

September 22 + Sept. 29 - To be determined


April 8 1:30 p.m. New York Yankees at Tampa Bay
April 15 1:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Rays at Boston
April 22 1 p.m. Texas Rangers at Detroit
April 29 1 p.m. Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees
May 6- 2 p.m. New York Yankees at Kansas City
May 13 2 p.m. Atlanta Braves at St. Louis
May 20 1:30 p.m. Boston Red Sox at Philadelphia
May 27 1:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Rays at Boston

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