Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 20 No. 42


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
The media world is consumed with the latest digital technology. In radio, that means everything from live streaming and interactive apps to audio and video podcasts. But it was good, old-fashioned sports talk radio — yes, the Marconi invention — that proved to be more popular than ever during Super Bowl week this year.

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

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
Gaming, who launched 790 The Ticket in Miami. “While other formats tend to be national and more competitive with satellite radio, it’s much more difficult for a sports fan to get a daily fix for their local teams other than in sports talk. Local still matters.”

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.”

That viewpoint represents one reason why more people are launching sports talk radio stations these days. It’s popular with the desired demo of young men (see charts, page 20). And its live talk format makes sports talk radio a safer buy than music formats that have been hurt by streaming apps like Pandora and personal devices like iPods.

“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.”

The future

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
devices. Yet Keller says ratings at the core radio stations have not suffered at all.

“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
Arbitron data
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
(U.S. rank)
Est. revenue 2010 ($000s) Change (2009-10) Owner Current rights held
WFAN New York (1) $40,500 22.70% CBS Radio
Stations Inc.
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
Stations Inc.
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
Stations Inc.
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
Stations Inc.
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
Stations Inc.
Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers, Texas A&M University
WJFK** Washington, D.C. (8) $10,500 2.90% CBS Radio
Stations Inc.
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
While the studio has all the technology to help WJFK compete for the next several years, the future of radio was not much on the minds of the four Sports Junkies when SportsBusiness Journal visited their studio in early January.

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
WCNN Dickey Broadcasting 2.1 1.7 2.0 321,000
WQXI Lincoln Financial Media 1.2 1.1 1.1 219,000
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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