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Is Cleveland Sports Radio Dying?

Jason Barrett

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Everyone working in the Cleveland sports radio market thinks things are great. Well, everyone in management, anyway. The business is great, the ratings are the highest ever, the people of Cleveland love their sports like no other, there is more than enough room for two and a half stations talking sports from morning to night, maybe more, and the guys employed to do it now are the right guys to be doing it.

The millennials all listen to terrestrial radio sports talk through apps on their phones, the old timers sit on lawn chairs in their garages and drink beer and call in, the hosts have great personalities, and none of the teams ever complain to the bosses if a host says they think the team is more shitty than usual.

In reality, they have a steady but aging listenership, and they do make a little money if they keep their costs down. But because there is little to gain by trying new things, and the profits razor thin anyway, it’s best not to do something that offends the old farts who have nothing to do in the afternoon.

That’s why a four-hour show will usually get programmed like this: a few recordings of gangbang interviews from a locker-room (whether they say anything or not), a short interview with the station’s team expert (like ESPN’s Tony Grossi, on the high end, or a salesperson turned de facto beat writer, on the low end), a chat with a national blogger or an NFL Network guy who tweets vaguely about nothing quite often, and maybe Mary Kay Cabot dropping by to talk about what other people wrote. Fill in the time with the two hosts talking to each other and taking some calls that seem to come from the same few people who call all the shows. Rinse, repeat, see you back here at the same time tomorrow. What do you think the Browns record will be? Should Johnny be playing more?

Cleveland was at one time the center of sports talk experimentation. Pete Franklin pretty much invented the format in 1967, and people found him berating caller after caller entertaining. In the mid-1990s, WHK-1420 AM had a dedicated following that thought it was in a private club and the term “mother scratcher” was the password.

And that history in Cleveland helped ingrain sports talk radio nationally as a male tradition — killing time with nonsense, but nonsense men liked — and it became the place where guys hung out. Call it the man cave or the tree house or the he-man-woman-hater’s-club, but sports talk became a gathering place.

“We thought being funny and intelligent was more important than just breaking down a defense,” said Les Levine, who was the lynchpin at WHK for its brief three-year existence. The station was there when Browns coach Bill Belichick benched Bernie Kosar and the Browns left, and joked and cried through it all. The station ended quickly because of a sale of its parent company, not bad ratings.

But hardly anyone has tried to be the least bit clever since. Some say that wouldn’t work because Cleveland loses too much, and the fans aren’t in the mood for any sports hilarity or content that requires more than a sixth-grade education. And Cleveland seems to be in one of its moods where any putdowns of the teams or the players or the city — even done smartly and by locals — is not well received. And god forbid if the criticism comes from an outsider.

Rizzo, more than anyone else in the market, attempts, or attempted at one point, to have fun. It’s why The Really Big Show with ESPN Cleveland — which has led the station’s line-up since 2007 — has the following that it does and serves as WKNR’s cash cow. The dial is otherwise filled with some talented people, some not, and a whole lot of the same, indistinguishable except when the stations’ call letters are uttered.

Rizzo, for his part, offered to chat for this article but never ended up following through. A handful of hosts were offered up by 92.3 The Fan. Top men at both stations did chat, and they’re pretty damn proud.

“We have great talent who understand the fans here in Cleveland, and we are very satisfied with where we are,” says Keith Williams, vice president and general manager for Good Karma Broadcasting, which owns ESPN 850. “This is a football town, and we have the best coverage of the Browns.”

Tom Herschel, senior vice president and market manager for CBS Radio in Cleveland, which owns 92.3 The Fan, echoes his competitor’s sentiments. “One of the reasons we built and launched The Fan four years ago is the incredible enthusiasm and sports in this area.”

Both Herschel and Williams say the Northeast Ohio market is not oversaturated with sports programming, they both think that the interest in sports in the Cleveland market is very high right now, and they don’t expect any changes to their line-ups in the near future.

To read the rest of this article visit Cleveland Scene Weekly where it was originally published

Sports Radio News

16.9% of All Sports Radio Listeners Are Streaming

The news comes as Nielsen reported that 11.3% of all radio listenership comes thru a stream, up from 6.9% in May of 2020.

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Streaming Radio

According to Nielsen, sports radio stations are the third-most streamed spoken word format, just behind Talk/Personality and News/Talk/Info. The trend is continuing to show that streaming is on the uptick.

The survey found that in May 2022, 16.9% of sports talk radio’s audience tunes in via the station’s online stream. That news comes as Nielson reported that 11.3% of all radio listenership comes thru a stream, up from 6.9% in May of 2020.

Nielsen notes that in the 45 PPM markets they are grabbing data from and the 4,800+ stations that stream in those markets, just 30% of them are encoded. That encoding allows for Nielsen to accurately measure the streams. They used the listener data from 1,500 stations across the U.S., in their latest report, AM/FM Radio Streaming Growth in PPM Markets

The survey also showed that streaming levels differ widely by radio format. Spoken word formats display strong streaming listenership (Talk/Personality: 31.2%, News/Talk/Info: 19.1%, All Sports: 16.9%). In fact, Nielsen found that 1/3 of all AM/FM streaming in PPM markets is to spoken word formats.

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Sports Radio News

New Study Finds Listeners to MLB on Radio Are Willing to Spend

More than one third (34%) of the respondents recently purchased clothing/apparel that features their favorite team… 27% have visited a ballpark in the past year. That compares to only 19% of the average MLB fan base has made an apparel purchase to support their team while just 11% have gone to a game in person in that same time span.

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MLB Radio

When it comes to advertiser’s attempting to reach an affluent and engaged audience, sports talk radio might have a whale on their hands. Major League Baseball play-by-play features an audience that has money and has no problems spending it.

In a recent MRI-Simmons study, data shows that consumers who listen to MLB broadcasts on the radio are the perfect audience for sports marketers. According to the analysis, done by Katz Radio Group, nearly two thirds (62%) of those surveyed consider themselves “super fans” of baseball. That number is 58% higher than the average.

Radio Listeners to MLB

Those “super fans” are willing to spend to support their team, as well. More than one third (34%) of the respondents recently purchased clothing/apparel that features their favorite team. Those fans are also far more willing to make the trip to see their team. The study found that 27% have visited a ballpark in the past year. That compares to only 19% of the average MLB fan base has made an apparel purchase to support their team while just 11% have gone to a game in person in that same time span.

The news continues getting better for advertisers. Continued analysis reveals that 66% of listeners are currently employed and have a median household income greater than $106,000.

Listeners to MLB games on the radio are also 34% more likely to place a sports bet and 106% more likely to be a participant in fantasy baseball.

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Sports Radio News

Jeff Dean Signs Off At ESPN Tucson for The Final Time

Dean said on Facebook: “…the years of burning the candle at both ends has taken a dire toll on my health and for the first time in my life, I’m going to put myself and my livelihood first”

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Jeff Dean Show

Fans will no longer be able to tune into ESPN Tucson and hear Jeff Dean hosting his show. Friday morning was his last show, according to his Facebook and Twitter pages.

The Jeff Dean Show had been airing from 7-9a MT weekday mornings. Dean took to social media to relay the news and the reason behind him stepping away from the microphone. Dean said on Facebook:

“This morning I signed off from my radio show on ESPN Tucson for the final time. I have been devoting too much of my life and my time to working multiple jobs…the years of burning the candle at both ends has taken a dire toll on my health and for the first time in my life, I’m going to put myself and my livelihood first”

Jeff Dean Facebook

Dean went on to emphasize that he isn’t stepping away from ESPN Tucson, he’s just taking himself off the air. He also added that “gladly, I will be continuing my position as PA announcer of University of Arizona Football and Men’s basketball.”

Dean would also go onto Twitter to add even further context for his self-removal from the ESPN Tucson airwaves. He added, “It’s not a decision I arrived at hastily, as it’s been a 6 month mental grind to make the ultimate decision that had to be made, and I’m not particularly happy about it, but I have to put my health first, we all do, and make sure we’re around long enough to enjoy life”.

Dean had been ESPN Tucson’s morning host since November 2019.

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