SBJ/February 16 - 22, 2004/SBJ In Depth

National radio networks fill the gaps at sports stations

Because only the stations in the largest markets draw enough listeners and ad revenue to support all local programming, the overwhelming majority of sports stations nationwide rely on national radio networks to fill some, and sometimes all, of their schedules.

The growing number of sports talk stations has allowed national networks like the Sporting News, ESPN, Fox Sports and Premiere Radio Networks to expand their reach and make stars of many of their personalities.

Sporting News Radio broadcasts its programming on more than 430 affiliated stations, as well as on owned-and-operated stations in Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago. ESPN Radio has more than 700 affiliates, and owns and operates about 200 additional stations. The Fox Sports Radio network, a division of Premiere Radio Networks, has nearly 200 affiliates.

Local affiliates and national networks typically agree to allow the network to sell several minutes of advertising time for every hour that the station runs the national programming. In order to ensure that their personalities achieve maximum reach, some national networks either pay the station to play their personalities, or buy and operate the stations in lieu of the affiliate arrangement.

But despite the largely local nature of the format, personalities such as Premiere's Jim Rome, ESPN's Dan Patrick and TSN's James Brown have proved that national talent can hit big even in the largest markets.

Rome, in addition to being widely regarded as one of the most knowledgeable and entertaining personalities in sports, also combines his tour stops and a distinct vocabulary understood only by loyal listeners to make audiences in each affiliate feel like they're an integral part of the show.

"Rome is a remarkable sports talk talent," said Chris Visser, president of Antero Sports Marketing and a former sports radio executive producer. "He has tapped into a human characteristic of young men, and that is that young men want to be part of a fraternity. And Jim has created this fraternity, which he calls the 'Jungle,' and hundreds of thousands of young guys want to be in it. It all seems so self-evident. But before [Rome], no one was doing that."

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ESPN, Fox, In-Depth

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