The Evolution of Sports Talk radio

National Football Post


When I was a kid growing up in New York City, we had sports talk shows on the radio. It’s not new. However, they were relegated to nights on radio stations that did other sorts of talk during the day, or maybe even played music till the sun went down. Back in my day, Yankees broadcaster John Sterling had a show, so did Marv Albert and the late great Marty Glickman. But it?s a lot different today, and the format is still evolving.

Now in the 25th anniversary year of the very first all-sports station WFAN in New York, my now hometown Houston, Texas (since I work in radio I?ve had a bunch) will soon have five. That’s right. Five sports talk radio stations. Why? I?m not sure. It doesn?t make a whole lot of sense. Even in the sixth largest radio market in the country, five all-sports stations is likely three too many.

Business is booming in the world of sports talk radio. In fact, there?s more going on now than ever. It?s an evolutionary time for the genre. The format is expanding in terms of numbers of stations, networks and places where you can hear it. Sports talk has gone F.M.. Once a format only heard on A.M., where listeners tend to be older, the switch to F.M. is made in hopes of attracting a younger demographic more desirable to advertisers. Radio is a business. It?s about making money. Taste is subjective, the bottom line is not.


We are just days away from soft launches of the CBS sports radio network and the NBC sports radio network. CBS will go 24/7 on January 2nd, while less is known about NBC?s long term plans. I?m sure we?ll hear lots of people we already see on t.v. talking on the radio (Rodney Harrison will have a weekend radio show). NBC got out the radio business back in the late 80?s, selling off it?s network and local owned and operated stations. It?s for that reason CBS has a huge advantage over NBC in the radio game.

CBS owns and operates some of the biggest sports stations in the country, including radio giant WFAN. CBS is creating a stand alone network, but will also utilize the vast pool of talent it already employs. ESPN lobbed at shot at CBS saying the new guy is far behind the self proclaimed World-Wide Leader. I imagine that?s exactly what CNN said when Fox News arrived on the scene. Speaking of Fox, Fox Sports Radio (which is Fox in name only) has radio behemoth Clear Channel behind it. So as long at it wants to keep dumping money into their network, it?ll continue. Good luck to my former employer Yahoo Sports Radio. I think they?ll need it. However, One On One Sports, which begat Sporting News Radio which begat Yahoo has been buried many times before and it still here.


One thing to look forward to in the near future is seeing where the NFL winds up on radio. Right now the rights belong to Dial Global/Westwood One. Dial Global is NBC?s new radio partner. CBS is a television partner of the NFL, and so is ESPN. Sirius has a radio deal with the NFL as well. What does this all mean? The rich (the NFL) will get richer. Having the rights to Sunday Night Football, Monday Night, the playoffs and the Super Bowl is great leverage in signing affiliations with local stations and getting them to clear your programming and commercials.

The NFL drives sports talk radio. Except in a handful of cities like New York and Boston where people still want to talk baseball, and college crazed towns in SEC country, the airwaves are dominated by NFL talk. Many NFL teams have taken control of their radio rights bringing them in house. They sell the add time, hire the announcers and control the message getting out to the fans. The NFL is all about image. Negativity?s a no-no. The NFL can?t control those they don?t directly pay and oft times negativity brings out the best in a talk show host and the audience, especially the callers.

Sal in Brooklyn wants Tom Coughlin fired if the Giants drop a couple of games early in the season despite winning the Super Bowl the year before. Eli Manning?s back to being a bum after a late interception seals a defeat. Ben in Boston thinks Bill Belichick is overrated, after all he?s lost the last two Super Bowls he?s been in. You get the point.

I always felt being on the radio during the NFL season was like being on vacation. When vacation ended after the Super Bowl, I had to go back to work. I could not wait for training camps to open again. As another season gets ready to start, the phone lines light up. The NFL is the talk of the country, and that?s another reason why sports talk radio is exploding. More stations, more networks, more jobs. Not a bad time to be in the business and an even better time to be a listener.

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