Sports radio thrives more than two decades after its inception
You're going to want to read this whole column.It is practically impossible to believe that, 25 years ago, when New York's WFAN debuted as the country's first all-sports radio outlet, the station lost $7-8 million in its first year. One didn't have to listen closely to hear the rest of the industry cackling. It was one thing to have a little bit of jock talk on the air; that had been going on since the '50s. But an entire day filled with chatter about balls and strikes? Insanity.
A quarter-century later, sports talk has become one of the nation's most secure formats, practically guaranteed to bring listeners, particularly those in the coveted, male/25-40 years old demographic. In less than three decades, what was once considered a masochistic business decision has become a last resort for many stations trying to stay afloat as listeners turn away from conventional musical outlets. Sports radio has sprouted in all directions and is available in FM, satellite and Internet flavors. Hosts have gone from rabble-rousers to cities' "columnists", shaping opinion and in some cases affecting directly the popularity and job security of players, coaches and management.
This October, Bob and Michelle Snyder will stage the 2012 National Sports Radio Awards Show in Chicago. The evening will celebrate the genre and honor WFAN for its trailblazing role in the field. It should be a great night for the industry and a reminder to us that success in media often requires the guts to stick out the tough times and develop an ability to adapt when things look bad.
There are two radio formats that are almost can't miss these days: political talk and sports talk. From Rush Limbaugh to Paul Finebaum, talk radio is a money maker in an industry that initially refused to believe that listeners would stay tuned to programming that had the host running his yap for two to four hours, only to be followed by the next show, with a host who ran his yap for another two to four hours.
What started as a risky experiment at WFAN has spawned radio networks from ESPN, Yahoo! Sports, Fox Sports and soon CBS and NBC Sports, along with the splattering of local independents. It's not unusual to have moderate to major sized markets with two or more talk radio stations, each competing to serve the growing consumer appetite for instant sports and news.
Unlike the print media, radio is tuned into the rapid development of internet and social media networks, with bloggers and on-line columnists becoming radio stars because they've embraced the technology that delivers instant news. Not surprisingly, the radio programming with the most meteoric success is that which engages the audience in a near real-time conversation about the topics that people are interested in.
It's a totally consumer driven market and it's only going to expand.