If you’ve been following the radio business over the last few years, you’ll know that CBS Radio has a penchant for launching sports talk stations on the FM dial in several markets, as well as migrating preexisting AM sports radio stations to the FM band (e.g. New York’s WFAN).
And usually, CBS Radio has a great track record when it comes to FM sports talk. Perhaps their biggest success story is in Boston, where WBZ-FM/”98.5 The Sports Hub” unseated the perennial sports radio leader in the market, WEEI, to the point that they’ve recently made drastic changes, including parting ways with longtime sports host Glenn Ordway.
But after just over half a year, it appears that the FM sports radio experiment in Tampa Bay appears to be going over as well as Alvin Harper’s tenure with the Buccaneers.
At first, WHFS-FM/”98.7 The Fan” launched with live and local sports talk around the clock, including notables such as former ESPN and Yahoo! Sports Radio host Todd Wright, Tampa Bay Lightning hockey analyst Chris Dingman, and Nanci Donnellan, best known as “The Fabulous Sports Babe.”
But just about a decade removed from the Bucs winning their first Super Bowl, “The Fan” appeared to be showing qualities very unlike a champion behind the scenes. The station’s first program director, Mike Pepper, who’s been a part of the CBS/Tampa cluster since the company’s original local sports talk effort on AM 1010 (which is now a 24/7 feed of the CBS Sports Radio Network), made a lateral move by taking a sales job within the company, before leaving CBS altogether. Also, Wright, originally co-host of the “Fan” afternoon drive show upon its launch, but moved to evenings just months later, announced his abrupt departure from the station. It was right around that time that WHFS-FM began simulcasting the nationally syndicated “Jim Rome Show” – also heard, of course, on WHFS-AM.
And now, today comes word that one half of the midday show on “The Fan,” Tampa Bay Times sportswriter Gary Shelton, has exited the station. He was informed after his show with Justin Pawlowski that today’s edition would be his last.
“It was a wonderfully positive experience that ended badly,” Shelton told, well, his colleague, Eric Deggans. “Right now, I’m not sure of any future in radio, [but] I have a future in newspapers.”
Shelton suspects that the high number of frequent flyer miles he collects while covering sports for the Times may have contributed to his demise, but the station didn’t confirm the reason for his dismissal. “I assume it had something to do with that and they didn’t tell me.”
Just to give you an idea of how much of a traveling sports reporter Shelton is: On “The Fan’s” first day on the air, August 2, 2012, during a two-hour program introducing listeners to the people that they will hear on this new FM sports station, Shelton phoned in live from London, where he was covering the Olympics for the Times. And Deggans says Shelton will be away from Tampa during the next few weeks, as he covers the NCAA tournament, as well as the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, GA.
Whatever the reason for Shelton’s mysterious ouster, it can’t be for the fact that he’s a sportswriter. For just over a year, the leading sports radio station in Tampa, Clear Channel’s 620 WDAE, has had a morning show consisting of, not one, but two Tampa Bay Times sports columnists in Tom Jones and Rick Stroud. “The Sports Page” has been WDAE’s morning show since the station fired Dan Sileo (which, by the way, today is the one-year anniversary of that).
So how much of a leader in the format is WDAE in Tampa? In the February PPM, they outrate WHFS-FM 3-to-1 (2.1 vs. 0.7). In fairness, while “98.7 The Fan” has fluctuated between 0.4 and 0.7 in recent PPM’s, WDAE has seen its share drop from 2.7 in December (which might be expected as the station is the flagship station of the Bucs). The next Tampa PPM is released next week.
When I first wrote about the coming of Tampa’s first FM sports talk station, I speculated that Buccaneers legend and newly-minted Hall Of Famer Warren Sapp would be one of the personalities heard there. Now, because I want to see the station succeed, I’m simply lobbying for it to happen. We know that it’s possible for sports network figures to simultaneously hold down radio shows. And we also know that Sapp could use a little more coin these days.
Look: when a radio station launches a new format, it could take time for it to build an audience. Lord knows “98.5 The Sports Hub” in Boston wasn’t an overnight sensation by any means, but here they are, scaring the 850-pound gorilla WEEI, now a shabby 93.7, off its perch and into a frenzy.
There seems to be a consistent aura of woe and uncertainty at “98.7 The Fan.” A lot of it could be due to the fact that they’ve barely made inroads against the AM station that’s been around the block for years. Perhaps they expected to get no smaller than a 1 share by default, since they’re on the FM dial.
What the station needs is a person that can inspire all of the personnel that work there, not just the hosts. It needs a person that can reinforce what teamwork is all about. It needs a person that can explain from firsthand experience, how to be a winner.
That person is Warren Sapp. If he can right the Buccaneers’ pirate ship, imagine what the NFL Network analyst can do on the air for three hours a day.
Come on, CBS. Make it happen.