Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sports Talk Wars - A New Hope? Not Yet.

97.3 The Zone did a 'soft' debut at 2 PM on Tuesday, featuring a roundtable of the station's lineup introducing themselves and telling us all what we are going to hear.

And - surprise! - I have thoughts on the matter.

1) I hate when radio shows and stations do this. The whole introduction thing. "On this show, we'll talk about this, this, and this, and I'm the funny guy and he's the not-as-funny guy..." Instead of telling the listener what they will be and won't be listening to, how about just getting to it? I'm a firm believer in that the listener actually decides what they will and won't listen to.

These 'introduction' shows are a little too self-serving for me as well. I've had to do one before while in Memphis with Dan Wolken, who now writes for The Daily. I kept our 'introduction' to less than 90 seconds. Then, I turned the conversation to Memphis Tiger basketball, which is what we thought people actually wanted to listen to.

But this introduction went for an hour. In attendance were Eli Gold, Stan White, Matt Coulter, Tim Brando did an extended segment via phone, and Rick Burgess and Bill 'Bubba' Bussey. (As radio personalities, I'm an extremely big fan of Rick and Bubba - what these two have been able to do over the past fifteen years is beyond amazing. Their program may or may not be your cup of tea, but they are both extremely successful radio personalities, and they and their team 'get it'. I've got no issues with Rick & Bubba.)

Rick & Bubba. Great guys.
Great show. But not a sports show.
2) And since I have no issue with Rick & Bubba, I'll say the following - I guess it's better to have a Rick & Bubba replay on as opposed to a syndicated show from Yahoo! Sports. At least Rick and Bubba are semi-local, if not a sports-themed show. Local, especially in Alabama, trumps national.

What this show obviously does is plays the role as a placeholder for Finebaum to move over to Cox. But what if Finebaum's legal troubles do in fact keep him from being able to make a move? Can you maintain your afternoon drive on a sports station not being a sports show?

...And one that's on a NINE HOUR tape-delay?

That's important, guys. Sports radio is an extremely time-sensitive medium. Probably the most immediate medium there is (perhaps tied with Twitter). Breaking news, instant reaction, and you don't need to wait on video or to script a teleprompter like TV. You hear it, you say it, right then.

News breaks all the time. It doesn't wait.

So play this scenario out: with the afternoon drive show on tape-delay from nine hours before, how does 97.3 The Zone handle Tom Brady's death in an airplane accident that occurred at 3:15 PM? Michael Jordan is arrested on murder charges? It breaks that Tiger Woods is on the run after kidnapping his kids?

I don't know if the R&B replay would continue, because I wouldn't be listening to it. I (and you) would be listening to whoever's talking about the BREAKING NEWS.

Again, I'm pro-Rick and Bubba, I just don't know if this is sustainable.

The only picture I could find of both Eli and Stan.
And a guy in a sombrero.
3) It was obvious today that no one in that studio was on the same page as to what their shows would be like. Eli wasted no time in telling everyone (and I'm writing this from memory, but this is close) that he wished to do a "national show that happens to originate locally."

WHAT? If I was the program director at The Zone, I would have stabbed myself in the ear with a dull pencil. Repeatedly.

Again, LOCAL > NATIONAL. That applies to topics too.

To rub it in further, Eli went on to list topics of the program including the PGA, the NFL, Major League Baseball, and may have even listed the Tour de France - I'm not sure because I was blacking out while listening.

Stan tried to make a little bit of a save by saying that of course they would talk about Alabama and Auburn, but I wasn't convinced by the tone or the flow of that conversation that Eli and Stan had spent much time together to discuss where they wanted the show to go. Could be wrong about that - but that's how it came off.

4) If you had any question of where Stan and Eli's priorities lie, they removed all doubt. Eli Gold wasted no time (two minutes) getting to the fact that there would topics he and Stan would not be discussing on the show. Things like recruiting or high school sports.

They followed this up with some rationale that as representatives of their respective universities, they are held to the same standards as assistant coaches in that they cannot discuss specifics of recruiting or specific high school athletes.

This was, for some reason, (and another sign that there hasn't been much discussion between the programming staff and programmers) was followed immediately by Matt Coulter and Rick Burgess talking about how huge a topic recruiting and high school football is in Alabama. It was awkward.

Perhaps realizing this, Eli followed it up with saying that while he and Stan won't discuss recruiting, listeners could wait until Coulter's show at noon where he could talk more specifics on recruiting.

No - they won't have to wait. Listeners could just flip over to JOX, right? It's not hard to change your radio dial. It's usually just a one-button thing. The listeners' barriers to exit are very low.

But the capper to this was Stan White's comment that he and Eli were "not going to jeopardize what we do on the weekends." And as I've said before, that's a problem. As individuals, they know what's #1 to them, and they want to protect that - and that is FINE by me. It's just that those priorities are not those of the station nor their potential listening audience, who want the scoop and insight on their favorite teams.

As a station, this creates a little more pulling apart than pulling together.

(I hate to beat up on Eli and Stan, it's just that I see lots of issues here that don't lead to success.)

5) Some positivity! While they aren't introduced or named, Eli says The Zone will have dedicated 'beat reporters' on the campuses of Alabama and Auburn. I think this is a great idea, and if the people are utilized properly, it could be a major content asset for The Zone. I could go on and on about how this has been needed for a long time, but I'll spare you that 4,000 words.

I hope they get good guys to assist in these roles. That is a winning idea.

6) Brando made an appearance, and his show will be what it will be - nationally syndicated. And I've said that Local > National, no matter if it's bad local (and I'm not saying JOX is bad - you decide what you like - I decide what will work. Big difference).

But Brando did a double dip of big news on the day. From his show earlier in the day, as he and his guest Paul Finebaum talked about how Brando had been banned from Paul's show. Carlton did a solid recap on AL.com, including Brando's quote:
"I think it's petty, I think it's small-time, and I'll say that on my airwaves because I can," Brando said. "That's a little bit like saying Jay Leno can't do a commercial with David Letterman. Well, why not? Yes, they can."
First, awesome quote. But Finebaum tops Brando with a flying elbow from the top rope:
"The bottom line is, this stinks, and I don't care what any of the suits in my company think," Finebaum added. "What they're doing is depriving an audience around the country who listens to you every week on our show and enjoys you and views you as the most popular and frequent guest on our show of that opportunity because of some little street fight going on in one little city in the country."
That is gold. Love it.

Finebaum's on the war path, and if he's appearing as Paul Finebaum of Sports Illustrated and not of the Finebaum Radio Network, then I don't think he's in trouble of insubordination - though that is pretty tricky. But regardless, it's funny as hell that he said that.

Yep, Paul's doing a column for Sports Illustrated now.

Everybody wants Paulie.
Carlton's article also pointed out the lack of communication over at WJOX - no doubt due to a fractured management and employee relationship - in regards to Tim Brando's status as a guest on the Finebaum show. Brando says that Finebaum producer Pat Smith told him that he would no longer be on the program. But WJOX General Manager Bill Thomas says different:
"Tim Brando is welcome as a guest on the Paul Finebaum Radio Network," Thomas said in the email. "WJOX will have an incredible lineup of college football experts on all our shows throughout the football season and welcome Tim, who has been appearing on our station for years."
Here's a little reading between the lines for you: Paul and Pat aren't talking to Bill Thomas, and Bill Thomas ain't talking to Paul and Pat. That mission is FUBAR.

And that really has to be The Zone's wish. If WJOX management either drives or has driven Paul to the point of no return, they can make the play and pick him up. Then all hell could break loose. Other personalities could possibly look to move, and sports radio ad revenue is spread over two stations, reducing the take for WJOX.

But if they don't or can't get Paul - from what I heard today, Birmingham will be back to being a one-sports talk station town by the start of the 2012 season.

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