670 The Score is winning the sports radio wars in Chicago. ESPN isn’t sitting idle but its recent WMVP lineup changes are still in beta; success or failure won’t be determined for months. While it was logical to shift Waddle and Silvy, its most popular show, to afternoon drive, the insertion of a singular hour of The Herd with Colin Cowheard is a choppy way to transition from national to local programming. ESPN had to make drastic changes in its Chicago market. Unfortunately, its leadership missed the mark, creating another mishmash schedule of national and local shows. While the financial savings gained from broadcasting nationally aired shows is alluring, building an all Chicago, daytime stable of talent will surge listenership, boost ad sales and make ESPN Radio 1000 feel local, something that’s been missing from its on-air presentation for too long. The use of an all local lineup by a mega-watt sports radio station works. The Score – 670AM – is owned by media conglomerate CBS which has a national CBS Sports Radio syndicate. Instead of tapping into national shows for its Chicago market, executives choose to air local talent that cover stories Chicago sports fans really want to hear.
The day after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, WMVP gave listeners a taste of all local programming. While Mike and Mike in the Morning is palatable compared to other national ESPN Radio programming, it was a pleasant surprise to hear Chicago voices first thing that morning. Carmen DeFalco and John Jurkovic, broadcasting an early edition of Carmen and Jurko, reveled in the Blackhawks glory, taking calls from fans and discussing an incredible season and impressive playoff run. It’s not the first time the station has gone local in the dawning hours of the weekday morning. Major Chicago moments like baseball’s opening day and championship celebrations pressure the station’s Program Director to bring in local talent for the morning drive. Most sports fans, casual and hardcore alike, prefer to consume sports information locally and then nationally. Simply stated, the majority of fans root for their local teams and want to hear what’s going on with them. While the Dwight Howard sweepstakes – congrats and apologies to the Rockets – and the Yasiel Puig phenomenon are both ear catching, rumors of the Cubs fire-sale, a Derrick Rose interview and Bears training camp news draw in more listeners. Greeny and Golic are beamed all over the country; it’s their priority to cover national stories. It’s true the duo are in the best position to get top-tier interviews and are presented extremely professionally, on both radio and television. But their national presence and television demands also means the show feels overly rehearsed and is slightly disengaging for listeners who miss out on the show’s visual aspects. If ESPN Radio broadcasts a well done, Chicago-based morning show, it would siphon off some of The Score’s current listenership and like sound homegrown, much like Mully and Hanley do down the radio dial.
Replacing Mike and Mike in the Morning and The Herd with local talent makes a lot of sense in Chicago. Using national radio shows for ESPN’s smaller markets is acceptable but cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago deserve a local flavor. Hiring Chicago talent will have the quickest impact; fans prefer names they recognize and Chicago has plenty of experienced pros that deserve more air time. There is on-air talent within ESPN Chicago’s stable that are worth considering. ESPN should make a hard run at Michael Wilbon to star in it’s morning show, pairing him with… whoever he wants. It’s a long shot given his other ESPN commitments but the Chicago native, who makes weekly appearances on Waddle and Silvy, would grab a huge chunk of market share. Alternatively, pairing Jeff Dickerson with Sarah Spain or Jonathan Hood would draw interest too. Stealing available talent from 670 The Score would do more than just bolster ESPN Radio 1000’s lineup, lowering The Score’s talent pool too. Zach Zaidman and Lawrence Holmes make a great pair and have the chemistry to build a solid show. Hub Arkush, who generally works best alone, is opinionated and knowledgeable enough to carry a show while Steve Rosenbloom and Mark Grody – of Saturday morning’s Wake and Bake Club – play off each other well enough to go full-time. Though unlikely, it’s possible that ESPN’s checkbook could sway full-time writers like David Haugh or Brad Biggs, both solid on-air interviews, to join their broadcasting staff. The options go on-and-on. Point being, a good team and excellent behind-the-scenes staff would make WMVP feel like a homegrown Chicago station instead of the national alternative to The Score’s local programming.
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