The annual free agency period in the NFL usually spawns a life of its own in the 24-hour sports news cycle, especially on NFL Network, and of course, ESPN.
The 2012 edition is featured by what is being called in many sports media circles as “the Peyton Manning sweepstakes.”
But no matter which team the former Indianapolis Colts quarterback picks in the end, there probably won’t be any losers as far as the sports radio landscapes in the cities of the respective spurned teams is concerned.
The “Manning sweepstakes” certainly has made an instant winner out of Denver sports radio.
“I have been working my ass off on this story,” Brandon Spano, evening host on the sports radio station known as “Mile High Sports Radio,” KCKK 1510 AM, which simulcasts on a translator station at 93.7 FM, says of the possibility of Manning signing with the Denver Broncos. “It’s been absolutely insane… The phone lines have been insanely busy.”
Equally insane is the Denver sports radio landscape in general – even before Manning first set foot in Dove Valley as a free agent. Denver is one of the few cities that has four English-language 24/7 sports radio stations – one of which, 104.3 The Fan, KKFN, is showing zero shame in their captivation of “Manning watch” by temporarily transforming their station identity into “104.3 The Man…ning.” Three of the four stations are stocked with local hosts (the fourth, “1600 The Zone“, KEPN, a sister station of KKFN, is entirely dependent on satellite or syndicated programming). What makes the Denver sports radio panorama interesting is that, of the city’s four all-sports stations, not a single one currently carries radio play-by-play of the four major sports franchises of the Mile High City: Broncos and Rockies games are heard on the legendary 50,000-watt blowtorch 850 KOA, while Nuggets and Avalanche contests are carried by an oldies station, of whom its predecessor was “The Fan” for fourteen years before migrating to FM. As such, “Cruisin’ Oldies” is a sister station of the aforementioned 104.3 The Fan and 1600 The Zone.
It’s a win-win for listeners of Denver sports radio, as this setup simply means more time to talk Tim Tebow – and/or Peyton Manning – at any given time.
Recently, Colin Daniels of the Denver sports-laden blog/podcast hybrid South Stands Denver – I’m guessing it’s named after a section at Invesco/Sports Authority Field at Mile High – reached out to a half-dozen of the many local sports radio personalities on Peyton Manning’s impact on the local sports radio scene: Spano, Peter Burns and Renaud Notaro from Mile High Sports; Darren McKee from 104.3 The Fan (err, “Man…ning”); and from 102.3 ESPN, KDSP, Nate Kreckman, as well as Dario Correa, who under the alias “D In Denver” can be found on another local sports website, Denver Sports Nation – incidentally, “D”, who has been maintaining his own podcast on the website, will make his debut on 102.3’s airwaves this weekend.
“It seems easy right now,” says “D” of his inaugural show on terrestrial radio, “because there is so much to talk about.”
Indeed there is: as of March 17th, the Nuggets and Avalanche are both entrenched in second place in their respective Northwest divisions in the NBA and NHL, the Rockies are having a decent spring training period in the Cactus league, and the men’s basketball team of the Colorado Buffaloes (which, by the way, is another sports property of the mighty KOA) are preparing to square off against Baylor in the NCAA tournament.
But clearly, the story everybody wants to talk about is Peyton Manning dropping anchor in Denver, possibly displacing Tebow – whose 2011-12 season was so thaumaturgic, it resonated not only locally, but nationally – as the Broncos’ starting quarterback.
“The ups and downs of Tebowmania were pretty crazy,” said Kreckman, “but this thing has three of the biggest sports names of the past thirty years: Elway, Manning and Tebow.”
Elway, of course, would be John Elway, the legendary quarterback from Broncos past who is currently in his second year serving as the franchise’s team president – and just happens to be one of the voices regularly heard on 102.3, appearing every Friday on the afternoon drive show hosted by Gary Miller and Vic Lombardi. You may recall that in 2011, after a 1-4 start with Kyle Orton under center, it was Elway that pulled the trigger on the Tebow era, amid mounting demand from Broncos fans. Yet, despite the switch to Tebow leading to a division title and even a playoff win, Notaro thought the decision should have been a no-no.
“The Broncos listened to the fans, and Tebow Nation went from 15-20,000 people to millions,” says Notaro, who hosts the early-evening show on Mile High Sports, right before Spano’s program. “Now [Elway] needs to sign someone like Manning if he wants to escape those fans.” In fact, as Manning was officially released by the Colts earlier this month, it was Notaro who was one of the original local voices who thought the Broncos should go after him. “People thought I was crazy,” he gleefully recalled. Notaro is of the opinion that, should Manning decide on a team other than the Broncos, Elway would “look like a buffoon.”
“Number 18 is right there,” he said of Manning. “You just have to get him.”
In the vein of having to get something – i.e. the scoop of a big story – Notaro was also quite vocal on the impact of social media on Manning’s terminal free agency period, as well as sports journalism on the whole.
“It’s removing all responsibility from reporting,” he says of sports reporters using social media outlets – usually Twitter – to break stories. “We used to need two confirmed sources before we could say anything,” reminisced Notaro. “Ten years ago, some of these guys would have been fired.”
“I’m not trying to be some sort of insider,” vows Kreckman, as opposed to “some guys in the industry who are trying to be Adam Schefter.”
“Twitter has become sports radio 24/7,” opines Burns, morning co-host at Mile High Sports. It’s always live and always local.” Which is why Burns says the Manning/Broncos saga “is perfect for Twitter.”
Ironically, at a time when many notable football players, past and present, have set up shop in the Twitterverse, Manning himself is not on Twitter – or at least he isn’t verified as such. Amongst dozens of impostors is an account that has over 45,000 followers, including (verified) NFL Hall of Famer Barry Sanders. Yet it has been inactive for about a year. By comparison, the popular Manning parody account “Peyton’s Head” is much more active.
Equally active on Twitter is 104.3 The Fan afternoon drive co-host Darren McKee, best known to Denver radio aficionados as “D-Mac.” He believes the millions of people that take to Twitter – “Peyton’s Head” included – have amplified the “Manning sweepstakes” tenfold.
“The Manning story is in a class by itself,” says McKee. “It’s the biggest free agency story of all time. It would not have been this big even a year ago, and that’s because of Twitter.”
Meanwhile, fast approaching 200,000 Twitter followers of his own is ESPN NFL analyst Mark Schlereth, who as a guard, won two of his three Super Bowl rings with the Broncos. Up until last year, he was one of McKee’s co-hosts on the Fan’s afternoon drive show – at the time, The Fan’s parent owner, Lincoln Financial Group, had held the market’s ESPN Radio affiliation; in fact, while 104.3 cleared “Mike And Mike In The Morning,” its AM sister station went by the moniker “ESPN 1600” (and this is why the station now known as “1600 The Zone” bears the yet-to-be-changed call letters KEPN). At the start of 2012, the station previously known as “102.3 The Ticket” switched its identity to “102.3 ESPN”. With the ESPN Radio affiliation relocation came the end of Schlereth’s role on 104.3. Currently, the national ESPN Radio feed airs “Hill & Schlereth,” which, naturally, 102.3 has cleared. But that’s a national show. You would imagine that Schlereth would have a “hot sports opinion” on the Manning/Broncos story, and what he would have said on Denver sports radio, he’s going to share with the local Fox station in an exclusive interview this weekend. In a nutshell, Schlereth appears to echo Notaro in that he is “excited” that “one of the greatest [quarterbacks] that’s ever played” could join the Broncos. And the analyst nicknamed “Stink” thinks Tebow, well, stinks.
“You can’t have a guy that completes 47% of his passes take you to the promised land,” Schlereth tells Ron Zappolo of KDVR/Fox 31. “It’s time to get a real quarterback.”
With four Most Valuable Player awards and a Super Bowl ring in two appearances, Peyton Manning is as real as they come.
And he’s real close to choosing his next employer.
And the reality is, sports radio in several areas – especially Denver – are reaping the benefits.
And, of course, Twitter.
Speaking of which… I’ll close this piece with links to Twitter accounts of the Denver sports radio hosts who were involved with the South Stands Denver piece…
Darren McKee (aka “D-Mac”), 104.3 The Fan: http://twitter.com/DMac1043
Renaud L. Notaro, Mile High Sports 93.7 FM/1510 AM: http://twitter.com/RenKnowItAll
Brandon Spano, Mile High Sports 93.7 FM/1510 AM: http://twitter.com/BrandonSpano
Nate Kreckman, 102.3 ESPN: http://twitter.com/NateKreckman
Dario Correa (a.k.a. “D in Denver”), 102.3 ESPN and DenverSportsNation.com: http://twitter.com/DnDenver
And last but not least… the one who deserves the hat-tip for the South Stands Denver piece: Peter Burns, Mile High Sports 93.7 FM/1510 AM and Fox Sports Radio: http://twitter.com/PeterBurnsRadio