It's hard to grasp what Rogers is doing in hiring disgraced shock jock Dean Blundell for its flagship sports radio station, but the words "playing with fire" come to mind.
Rogers announced a wholesale shuffling of the deck at Sportsnet 590 The FAN on Tuesday, with Blundell joining Andrew Walker to host Dean Blundell & Co., for the crucial morning drive slot. In addition, the Tim & Sid Show, with Sid Seixeiro and Tim Micallef, jumps from radio to television full-time. To complete the shuffle, former morning host Greg Brady will move to the early afternoon slot when the changes take effect in March.
Shuffling the deck -- or rearranging the deck chairs in some cases -- happens all the time in radio. But it usually happens when stations are struggling. In this case, the FAN has a pretty strong hold on first place.
The station's success only deepens the mystery. The FAN is well ahead of rival TSN Radio 1050 in the Toronto radio sports wars. In the fall ratings book, Sportsnet had triple TSN's audience share in the mornings and five times TSN's the afternoon drive. As far as radio wars go, this is the U.S. vs. Grenada.
Tinkering with that big advantage by bringing on a guy who has shown he's capable of saying anything seems a tad risky.
For the uninitiated, Blundell lost his last gig a year ago after engaging in some tasteless homophobic commentary that prompted Corus Entertainment to send him to the unemployment lines. But mocking gays wasn't Blundell's only offence against good taste and common decency.
While listing them all would take hours of research, sports fans took great offence to Blundell's purported joke about the death of Edmonton Oilers draft pick Kristians Pelss, though he did offer an apology on Twitter:
"Truly sorry for untimely remarks about Kristians Pelss. Should have waited to know. Thoughts w family and friends. #lessonlearned."
Rogers, no doubt, is banking that the hashtag ``lesson learned" is genuine.
"I am 150 per cent confident that we will not see a repeat of that," said Sportsnet president Scott Moore. "I've spent a great deal of time with Dean and ... he understands what we're looking for. We were pleased with both the performance and reaction on his dry runs last year.
"He was playing a role on a younger-male radio station at a time when the shock jock format was hot. He realizes that the world has changed a little bit and that he ... has to reinvent himself a little bit. I'm sure he will be a good fit."
But not everyone out there is sold on Blundell's rehabilitation.
If Dean Blundell is the Fan's new morning guy, then they've finally locked down the demo for garbage piles who once threatened to sue me
— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) January 20, 2015
Dean Blundell is also the reprehensible asshat who made fun of Kristians Pelss' death. #WHL
— Sunaya Sapurji (@sunayas) January 20, 2015
So is this indeed a brand new, kinder, gentler Dean Blundell who's smart enough to realize that sports radio is not the same as a rock station? For those prospects, let's examine the case of the last shock jock the FAN hired, Andrew Krystal.
Krystal did avoid Blundell-like statements he was known for in the past, but never caught on with sports fans. He bounced around from time slot to time slot and eventually bounced out the door less than a year after joining the FAN.
Shocking or not, Krystal couldn't make the jump. Not many can and Blundell's ability to adapt to the change in audiences may prove to be a bigger headache for Rogers than any worries about taste.
As for the other changes, Moore says the changes are all about avoiding stagnation and aiming for a younger audience.
"We have been very dominant, especially with the male 25-54 demo," he said. ``But the thing about the 25-54 demo is that they become 38-67 demo and you have to keep it fresh."
The move of Seixeiro and Micallef to television is part of that. They didn't draw a huge audience in their early afternoon FAN slot, but it was a young audience. Sportsnet is banking on them bringing that audience to television, where they'll curiously go head-to-head against ratings king McCown.
Moore says McCown appeals to an older crowd and doesn't expect Tim & Sid to siphon off any of his listeners or viewers.
At least he won't have to worry about them making headlines with tasteless comments.