Sports Radio’s Grand Slam

Sports Radio

Illustration by Dave Wheeler

The format is coming to dominate local radio. But is it about profitability, market share, or prestige?

by Adam Platt

September 12, 2013

For radio, it is not the best of times. The industry was hit hard by the long national recession and continues to face unprecedented competition from iPod and Internet music services. But among the carcasses and desperate cases is a diamond. Or should we say a gridiron? 

Hit the scan button on your car radio and odds are it will stop on a sports station. Or a sports broadcast. Or a sports talk show. In a weakened industry, sports radio has never been so strong. Twenty-five years ago the Twin Cities had no full-time sports station; today it has three, plus two others for which sports is a primary audience driver. No single format has as many outlets on the local dial.

Yet sports remain a niche offering, attracting a predominantly male audience, and a mostly middle-aged one at that. Which raises questions about why sports has emerged to dominate local radio and whether its current prominence (and that of the stations that air it) is sustainable. 

“It’s a pretty simple calculus, actually,” says Dan Seeman, vice president and market manager for Hubbard Radio (1500 ESPN, KS95, MyTalk) in the Twin Cities. “With sports comes passion. There’s a new storyline every day. Sometimes it changes hourly. From a programming standpoint, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.”

In that respect, sports radio is the direct beneficiary of ESPN’s 24-hour global news cycle. “The country’s fixation with sports is not ebbing,” says Minnesota Twins President Dave St. Peter. “Sports provide the ultimate in reality programming.”

(To continue reading, click "Next Page"; to learn more about each of the players in local sports radio, click the links below.)

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