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On the Friday before the Super Bowl, a crowd of about 20 people jostled each other trying to take Vanilla Ice’s picture or get his autograph as he sat down for a Radio Row interview with Nestor Aparicio, the owner of a small Baltimore radio station.
Other celebrities were drawing much bigger crowds in the third-floor JW Marriott ballroom that made up this year’s Radio Row in Indianapolis. It was difficult to move around the SiriusXM booth as Rosie O’Donnell hosted her show. Fans stood about four deep to catch a glimpse of Adam Sandler as he made the rounds to promote an upcoming movie.
Still, there was something telling about the fact that a C-list celebrity giving an interview to a small, 5,000-watt radio station would draw such a crowd. It speaks to the craziness of Radio Row, the Super Bowl’s annual orgy of buzz and promotion. But it also speaks to the enduring popularity of traditional radio.
SiriusXM host and Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton (right) broadcasts from the Super Bowl’s Radio Row, joined by chef John Besh (left) and political strategist James Carville.
Photo by:Getty Images
By almost every measure, sports talk radio, the traditional “stick business,” is going through a renaissance.
“There’s never been more sports radio stations than there is now,” said Dennis Wharton, an executive vice president with the National Association of Broadcasters. “It would be great if former station owners got back into the business with highly localized sports stations. There’s just a tremendous appetite and audience for that.”
The number of sports talk radio stations in the United States has grown by a whopping 64 percent in the 10 years since 2002, according to figures from Inside Radio, a trade publication covering the radio industry.
In 2002, 413 stations were sports talkers. By last year, that number had jumped to 677. The number of sports talk radio stations has grown every year for at least the past 10 years.
“We’ve gone from a time when the industry openly ridiculed the idea of a full-time sports station to an environment where some markets have three or even four all-sports radio outlets,” said Tom Taylor, a radio industry analyst with Radio-Info.com.
That trend shows no signs of slowing down, especially given the desirable young male demographics sports talk radio attracts and the local nature of sports talk radio.
“Sports talk radio is a local programming platform,” said Scott Becher, an executive with Federated Sports and
Vanilla Ice drew a small crowd while doing an interview with Baltimore radio station WNST.
Photo by:John Ourand / Staff
A recent trend of launching sports talk stations on FM also is fueling growth in the genre. CBS Radio launched its first FM sports radio station in 2008 with WXYT in Detroit. At the end of 2011, 125 sports talk radio stations were operating in FM across the United States, according to broadcast research group BIA/Kelsey.
“The explosion has been moreso, in a lot of markets, AM stations moving their programming over to an FM property, and reaching younger and bigger audiences with it,” said longtime radio veteran Tom Bigby, a former executive with CBS Radio. “It opened up a brand-new market on FM. That’s a lot of the reason why we’ve seen the explosion of sports radio because it migrated to FM, where a lot more people were.”
Seeing an opportunity
The poster child for the growth in sports talk radio could be Craig Karmazin. The son of Sirius XM Radio CEO Mel Karmazin, Craig was an early believer in putting sports talk radio stations on FM and has built a small array of sports radio stations across the country.
Karmazin was just 22 years old in 1997 when he secured a $3.5 million loan to buy stations near Madison, Wis. He signed a deal to carry Howard Stern’s morning show followed by sports talk for the rest of the day. Four years later, Karmazin bought another small station in West Palm Beach, followed by another one in Milwaukee and one more in Cleveland.
“As such a young business owner who had gone into a lot of debt to start a company, at that point I decided that I really didn’t believe in radio long term,” Karmazin said. “But I believed in sports and sports radio long term.”
“By 2002, I didn’t want to be in the radio business; I wanted to be in the sports radio and sports marketing business,” Karmazin said. “Traditional radio stations that are a jukebox don’t work any more. There’s too many other options with satellite and Internet-based and iPods and other technologies. Sports is a great way to find a connection to a community and really get results for advertisers.”
Today, Karmazin’s Good Karma Broadcasting operates eight ESPN-affiliated stations, including seven in top 100 markets. Karmazin relies on ESPN Radio programming to fill a good part of his schedules.
“Being able to bring advertising partners the brand of ESPN, and then being able to combine that with the local elements that our marketing partners want is a great balance,” Karmazin said.
Traug Keller, ESPN’s senior vice president of production and business divisions, said that Karmazin’s story is not unique in today’s radio world.
“There are upstart mom-and-pop operations happening now,” Keller said. “Craig’s making a nice little business of it.”
Big media companies like ESPN and Fox Sports continue to maintain a presence in radio. Both companies try to negotiate for radio rights as part of overall rights deals they negotiate with leagues and teams.
Bill Wanger, Fox Sports’ senior vice president of research and programming, pointed to the network’s recent World Cup negotiations, which included radio rights for the United States. It wasn’t a big part of the deal, but Fox Sports wanted to make sure they controlled it.
“Any cross-platform deals we’re doing, radio is a part of that,” Wanger said. “Radio is an integral part of the Fox Sports Media Group. It’s a great platform to enhance your brand.”
Fox Sports Radio is run through a partnership with the Premiere Radio Network. It has seen ad revenue growth in the low single digits over the past year, Wanger said.
ESPN would not break down revenue for its audio. But Keller said it’s particularly successful when its programming is used on different platforms.
“Radio is underestimated in its appeal to the average listener and fan,” he said. “There is an authenticity to radio that works in some ways on television. The reason you see the success of ‘Mike & Mike’ — and you’re seeing it pop up in other places locally like with ‘Boomer & Carton’ on MSG in the morning, there’s something appealing about people watching a radio show unscripted, versus the television world that’s scripted.”
Traditional sports talk radio may still be growing, but, so too are new technologies that show where the industry is heading. Every radio executive contacted for this story is using new technologies such as podcasts and Internet streams to enhance the traditional radio telecast.
“The digital world of sports radio is infinity,” Bigby said. “There’s so much more that we can do.”
ESPN has been at the forefront of experimenting with it, going so far as to call the business “audio” rather than “radio.”
ESPN streams its radio programs on the Internet, televises them on its TV channels, and has apps for them for mobile
ESPN refers to the business as “audio” rather than “radio” as the network streams its radio programs across multiple platforms.
Photo by:Joe Faraoni / ESPN
“All these new things are additive,” Keller said. “That’s a phenomenon that I’m going to peg for the past two years because of the rapid proliferation of the smartphone, led by the iPhone, which is kind of today’s Walkman, except that it is much more prolific than the Walkman was.”
ESPN first saw the power during the World Cup, when ESPN Radio made its games available on multiple platforms.
“We got our regular ratings for World Cup,” Keller said. “Then we got a 40 percent bounce when you took in all the additional ways people could listen.”
The numbers ESPN gets for its podcasts are impressive. Bill Simmons, for example, averages 700,000 downloads per podcast — an audience number any radio show would be thrilled to pull.
“It’s not a traditional radio show by any measure,”Keller said. “But it is extremely popular. It’s another example of how new media for audio has extended the medium of audio’s reach.”
Podcasts have become a staple of virtually every radio show. Most use podcasts as a way to make shows available on demand.
“It’s a convenient way for people to hear shows that they missed,” said Dan Mason, president and CEO of CBS Radio. “We’ve embraced podcasting. That’s more of the future, that we’d be able to offer an either-or situation.”
Maintaining a digital presence is especially important to smaller stations, like Aparicio’s WNST. Aparicio bought the station for $1 million in the fall of 2000. The station’s signal is so weak, particularly after dark, that Aparicio depends on a website to make his content available to more people.
“We’re growing because of the Web,” Aparicio said. “There’s no way radio is going to survive if you’re just doing radio.”
The problem is that radio ad dollars have been slow to move to digital, Aparicio has found. However, former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick is an investor in the station and said he has confidence that ad dollars will follow eventually.
“This is where we’re going,” Billick said. “This is the future. We have no idea how to monetize it yet. But those who are spending the money online are beginning to get that.”
No. of sports radio stations 2005 500 2006 520 2007 530 2008 547 2009 587 2010 634 2011 677 Source: Arbitron, Inside Radio (2011 figure) Sports radio market share 2005 2.1% 2006 2.2 2007 2.3 2008 2.5 2009 3.2 2010 3.4 Source: Arbitron Top team rights holders among sports radio ownership groups Clear Channel 16 big league teams CBS Radio 13 Entercom 7 ABC Radio 5 Bell Media 5 Source: SportsBusiness Journal analysis of
revenue trends Advertising revenue at sports radio stations was nearly $690 million in 2010, an increase of 9 percent over 2009, according to industry analyst BIA/Kelsey. CBS Radio's WFAN in New York, the top-billing sports station in 2010, was among the top 10 stations overall in revenue for the 14th consecutive year. Station Market
Est. revenue 2010 ($000s) Change (2009-10) Owner Current rights held WFAN New York (1) $40,500 22.70% CBS Radio
New York Mets, New Jersey Nets, New York Giants, New Jersey Devils WEEI* Boston (10) $35,250 5.90% Entercom Communications Boston Red Sox, New England Revolution, Boston Celtics, Boston College WIP* Philadelphia (7) $23,700 12.90% CBS Radio
Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia 76ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Philadelphia Flyers KNBR San Francisco (4) $21,600 4.30% Cumulus Media San Francisco Giants, San Jose Earthquakes, Golden State Warriors, San Francisco 49ers KTCK Dallas-Fort Worth (5) $20,075 8.50% Cumulus Media Dallas Cowboys, Southern Methodist University KSPN Los Angeles (2) $18,000 140.00% Walt Disney Co. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Los Angeles Lakers, University of Southern California WSCR Chicago (3) $15,000 8.70% CBS Radio
Chicago White Sox, DePaul University, Northern Illinois University WTEM Washington, D.C. (8) $14,000 11.10% Red Zebra Broadcasting Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins, George Mason University, Georgetown University WBZ** Boston (10) $13,250 9.50% CBS Radio
New England Revolution, New England Patriots, Boston Bruins WMVP Chicago (3) $12,200 6.10% Walt Disney Co. Chicago Bulls KRLD** Dallas-Fort Worth (5) $11,950 8.60% CBS Radio
Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers, Texas A&M University WJFK** Washington, D.C. (8) $10,500 2.90% CBS Radio
Washington Nationals, Washington Wizards KLAC Los Angeles (2) $10,300 -31.30% Clear Channel Communications Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Galaxy, San Diego Chargers, Los Angeles Kings WQXI Atlanta (9) $9,800 1.00% Lincoln Financial Media Co. Atlanta Falcons, AT&T Classic (golf), NCAA Chick-fil-A Bowl, Georgia Tech WEPN New York (1) $7,500 59.60% Walt Disney Co. New York Knicks, New York Jets, New York Rangers All sports stations $689,846 +9.0% Note: All stations are AM, unless noted. *AM and FM share rights **FM station Source: BIA/Kelsey
Man cave With an average age of 48, sports radio has one of the oldest listener bases on the airwaves, and with 74 percent of its listeners being male, it is the most gender-lopsided radio genre. Men 18-34 17.9% Men 21-54 51.9% Men 18-49 44.3% Men 25-49 40.7% Men 21-34 16.3% Men 25-54 49.8% Men 21-49 42.7% All women 18+ 26.2% Source: Scarborough Research
The Sports Junkies’ new Lanham, Md., studios have all the bells and whistles of modern radio. One of the Washington, D.C.-area’s longest running and most successful morning radio shows, the Sports Junkies moved into WJFK’s new digs at the end of last year.
The FM station’s new studio has high-speed Internet lines attached to laptops in front of all four of the hosts. It features high-tech lighting and room for TV cameras, should the radio show ever cut a deal with a local TV channel.
Four childhood friends form the Sports Junkies crew. They say growing their audience all comes down to improving the quality of their show, not relying on technology.
Photo by:CBS Radio
Some of the group have blogs and are active on Twitter. But when asked about how to grow their business, the hosts remain focused on over-the-air radio. They believe the best way to grow is to improve the quality of the show.
“We’re more focused on maintaining success where we are,” said John Auville, who goes by the name of “Cakes” on-air. “Nothing’s guaranteed here. You get a couple of bad ratings books, and you’re gone.”
That focus on content is one of the reasons the group has developed a following in D.C. The premise of the show is unique: Four childhood friends from the D.C. suburbs get together and have a conversation about sports (usually), entertainment (sometimes) and politics (rarely).
The Junkies are all in their mid-40s, and the camaraderie and chemistry they have developed is strong. They know each other so well they can finish each other’s sentences. They sometimes talk entertainingly about times when they were all together as kids in the 1980s.
They started on radio in 1995 and in many ways their view of radio hasn’t developed much since then. They make podcasts available and their show is streamed over the Internet. But their focus clearly is on terrestrial radio.
“It’s the way that the ratings are compiled,” said host John-Paul Flaim. “That’s the reality. You need people listening to you live.”
The station’s program director, Chris Kinard, agreed, saying his focus is on the content, rather than the technology. If the technology evolves, he believes his content will be able to make the switch.
“Until they put computers and streaming audio into every car, radio is going to be very, very strong,” he said. “Even after that, stations like this will still provide local content, whether it’s over-the-air, podcasting or streaming. We’re a local product. You can’t replace that.”
The Sports Junkies produce a bawdy and fun show. During a show on Friday, Jan. 20, they moved from talking about the upcoming Ravens-Patriots AFC Championship game to a story from a British newspaper about a woman who was born with two vaginas.
“If I had to talk about sports the whole show, I’d blow my brains out,” said one of the hosts, Eric Bickel.
But those types of conversations have limited the platforms where the Sports Junkies can take their show. TV networks have shied away not only from some of their risqué content, but also from their no-holds-barred view of Washington-area sports teams that have business relationships with many of the networks that would carry their programming.
Said Flaim: “You’d never see that with Comcast SportsNet. They’re nuts-and-bolts.”
The following chart shows highlights of major U.S. markets that have three or more sports-format radio stations. The New York and Atlanta markets are also shown. The chart shows Arbitron ratings as well as “Cume,” which is defined as the average number of listeners that tuned in to the station for at least five minutes during the three-month time period.
Station Owner Oct. Nov. Dec. Cume Atlanta WCNN Dickey Broadcasting 2.1 1.7 2.0 321,000 WQXI Lincoln Financial Media 1.2 1.1 1.1 219,000 Baltimore WJZ-FM CBS Radio 4.3 4.7 4.8 293,600 WBAL* Hearst Television 4.0 4.0 4.2 233,700 WJZ CBS Radio 1.1 0.8 0.8 84,700 WTEM Red Zebra Broadcasting 0.6 0.7 0.6 59,000 WNST Nasty 1570 Sports -- 0.1 0.1 23,600 Boston WBZ-FM CBS Radio 4.3 4.1 4.1 756,100 WEEI Entercom 5.6 3.8 3.5 577,500 WVEI-FM Entercom 0.2 0.2 0.2 54,600 Columbus WBNS-FM RadiOhio 6.7 6.8 7.2 396,500 WBNS RadiOhio 0.2 0.3 0.4 64,900 WYTS Clear Channel 0.1 0.2 0.2 18,900 Dallas-Fort Worth KTCK Cumulus Media 3.0 2.9 2.8 360,600 KRLD CBS Radio 2.4 2.2 2.3 609,400 KESN ESPN Radio 3.2 3.1 1.5 465,400 KZMP** ESPN Radio 0.9 1.0 0.7 87,500 Denver-Boulder KKFN Lincoln Financial Media 2.1 2.5 2.7 283,900 KEPN Lincoln Financial Media 0.5 0.5 0.4 53,900 KDSP Front Range Sports Network 0.1 0.1 0.1 52,600 KCKK 4-K'S, LLLP 0.1 0.1 0.1 37,600 Detroit WXYT-FM CBS Radio 8.6 6.8 5.5 766,400 WDFN Clear Channel 0.9 0.7 0.5 114,800 WTKA Cumulus Media 0.1 0.1 0.1 36,400 Houston-Galveston KILT CBS Radio 2.4 2.6 2.6 449,900 KBME Clear Channel 1.3 1.3 1.3 264,800 KFNC Cumulus Media 0.8 0.8 0.8 212,200 KGOW Gow Communications 0.2 0.2 0.2 63,200 KGOL** Texas Radio Holdings 0.1 0.1 0.1 40,300 Indianapolis WFNI Emmis Communications 2.9 3.7 3.3 148,300 WNDE Clear Channel 0.6 0.7 0.7 73,900 WXLW Creative Data Management 0.2 0.3 0.2 24,300 Jacksonville WJXL Seven Bridges Radio 1.5 2.0 2.1 84,900 WFXJ Clear Channel 1.0 1.0 1.1 84,100 WAOC Phillips Broadcasting 0.1 0.1 0.1 10,300 Kansas City KMBZ* Entercom 4.7 5.2 4.5 256,000 WHB Union Broadcasting 3.8 4.3 3.7 235,700 KCSP Entercom 2.9 2.5 2.7 204,200 Los Angeles KSPN ESPN Radio 1.3 1.5 1.3 581,900 KLAC Clear Channel 0.7 0.8 0.9 551,200 KWKW** Lotus Communications 0.4 0.5 0.6 330,200 KLAA LAA 1 0.3 0.3 0.2 187,200 XEPRS Radio San Diego 0.1 0.2 0.1 96,200 Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood WQAM Beasley Broadcast Group 1.3 1.0 1.1 173,200 WAXY Lincoln Financial Media 0.9 1.0 0.9 160,000 WINZ Clear Channel 0.5 0.6 0.7 165,100 WNMA** Deportes Media 0.4 0.3 0.4 76,200 WMEN James Crystal Enterprises 0.2 0.1 0.1 29,400 Milwaukee-Racine WAUK Good Karma Broadcasting 0.8 0.8 0.7 66,500 WSSP Entercom 0.8 0.6 0.7 64,300 WSCR CBS Radio 0.4 0.4 0.5 44,300 WMVP ESPN Radio 0.2 0.3 0.2 11,900 Nashville WGFX Cumulus Media 8.9 8.1 7.8 294,900 WPRT-FM Cromwell Group 1.0 1.2 1.5 103,400 WNSR Southern Wabash Communications 0.2 0.2 0.2 20,600 Nassau-Suffolk (Long Island), N.Y. WFAN CBS Radio 5.5 5.1 5.2 368,300 WEPN ESPN Radio 1.8 1.8 1.5 205,500 WLIR-FM ESPN Radio 0.2 0.3 0.2 29,600 New York City WFAN CBS Radio 3.2 3.2 3.3 1,665,900 WEPN ABC Radio 1.5 1.5 1.3 1,017,700 Philadelphia WIP-FM CBS Radio 3.0 2.9 3.3 701,600 WPEN-FM Greater Media 2.3 2.2 2.1 437,400 WIP CBS Radio 0.9 0.8 0.8 255,600 WPEN Greater Media 0.3 0.3 0.3 110,800 WFAN CBS Radio 0.2 0.2 0.2 41,600 Phoenix KTAR Bonneville/KSL Broadcasting 3.5 3.2 2.8 281,800 KGME Clear Channel 1.0 0.9 0.6 138,600 KDUS Sandusky Radio 0.6 0.3 0.3 66,500 KBMB** Entravision Communications 0.1 0.2 0.2 29,200 Sacramento KHTK* CBS Radio 2.3 2.3 2.3 174,600 KNBR Cumulus Media 1.5 1.4 1.4 95,400 KCTC Entercom 1.5 1.9 1.2 95,700 Salt Lake City-Ogden-Provo KALL Utah Radio Acquisition 1.6 1.6 1.4 129,500 KFNZ Cumulus Media 1.1 1.1 1.1 85,800 KZNS Simmons Media 0.9 0.8 0.6 77,200 KJQS Cumulus Media 0.1 0.1 0.3 37,100 San Diego XEPRS Radio San Diego 1.9 2.1 2.1 203,900 KLSD Clear Channel 0.7 0.6 0.6 112,500 XEPE* Radio San Diego 0.4 0.4 0.3 59,500 KLAC Clear Channel 0.1 -- 0.1 34,400 San Francisco KNBR Cumulus Media 3.5 3.4 2.9 684,300 KTCT Cumulus Media 1.2 1.1 0.9 312,000 KGMZ Entercom 0.8 0.8 0.9 164,700 KHTK* CBS Radio 0.2 0.2 0.2 98,200 San Jose KNBR Cumulus Media 3.9 3.8 3.7 165,000 KGMZ Entercom 0.9 1.4 1.2 41,500 KTCT Cumulus Media 1.1 0.9 1.1 87,800 KHTK* CBS Radio -- -- 0.1 9,400 Seattle-Tacoma KJR Clear Channel 3.5 3.2 2.7 363,700 KIRO Bonneville/KSL Broadcasting 3.5 3.1 2.5 407,000 KNBQ Clear Channel 1.5 1.6 0.9 130,200 KRKO Andrew & Craig Skotdal 0.1 0.1 0.1 25,700 St. Louis KMOX* CBS Radio 9.3 8.3 6.5 400,400 WXOS Hubbard Broadcasting 4.4 5.5 3.8 331,800 KFNS Grand Slam Sports 0.8 0.9 0.6 96,500 KSLG Grand Slam Sports 0.1 0.1 0.1 26,200 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater WFLA* Clear Channel 4.5 4.8 4.6 270,800 WDAE Clear Channel 3.8 2.5 2.1 237,100 WQYK CBS Radio 0.5 0.4 0.4 73,100 WHBO Genesis Communications 0.6 0.6 0.7 60,700 Washington, D.C. WTEM Red Zebra Broadcasting 3.2 3.0 2.9 510,900 WJFK-FM CBS Radio 2.0 1.9 1.7 307,600 WSPZ Red Zebra Broadcasting 0.3 0.3 0.2 83,500