Tampa's first FM sports talk station debuts Aug. 2; is this talk radio's future beyond politics?
Tampa's first FM sports talk station, Sportsradio 98.7 The Fan, is scheduled to debut Aug. 2 with a live unveiling of the station's on air personalities timed to kick off the debut broadcast.
But the move by owner CBS Radio to create a new sports talk outlet in FM while turning its current sports talker WQYK-AM (1010) into a flagship station for the new 24/7 CBS Sports Radio Network, has raised an interesting question:
Is sports now the future for talk radio instead of politics?
I wrote a story on the subject for Sunday's sports section ruminating on these very ideas, sparked by the fact that CBS is making big moves, hiring new people and turning the struggling hits station Play 98.7 into the kind of sports talk station it already has in cities such as Boston, Washington D.C. and Dallas.
Clear Channel's WDAE also hired two colleagues of mine from the Tampa Bay Times to lead its morning show and local broadcasters Genesis Communications say they'll drop ESPN Radio's syndicated programming from its 1040 AM station for local, unduplicable content.
It's easy to see why big radio companies might like sports talk. Unlike old school political pundits such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, sports programs are rarely seriously divisive, with an appeal for young listeners. And unlike so-called "hot talk," there's little chance your hosts will get huge fines from the federal government or spawn massive protests.
Once upon a time, broadcasters saw sports as a niche which only appeal of about 30 percent of their potential audience. But at a time when broad audiences are becoming an endangered species, sports has become the biggest niche around, drawing record viewership in pro football, basketball and possibly Olympic contests.
Nearly 80 percent of radio listeners never venture to the AM dial, according to the ratings service Arbitron.
But CBS Radio may have the FM sports arena to itself for a while. It's biggest competitors, Cox Radio and Clear Channel don't seem to have struggling FM stations.
And for any executive to suggest transitioning to sports talk in FM, they would need to guarantee that the new FM station could pull in more money than the station it replaced; or, if Clear Channel moved WDAE to FM, they would need to make more money with WDAE in FM and whatever station they found to take the 620 AM frequency -- which might be quite a gamble.
Locally, few of WQYK-AM's current staffers are expected to make the transition to FM. That includes former WFLA-Ch. 8 sports anchor J.P. Peterson, who declined to comment.
Peterson's 1010 show is unique because he sells half the advertising, pocketing the profits. The FM station will feature only CBS Radio employees with no special advertising sales arrangements.
Official talent announcements have yet to be made for The Fan in Tampa.
But that hasn't stopped speculation online and elsewhere about who might pop up on The Fan, including former Lightning player Chris Dingman, former Buccaneer Anthony "Booger" McFarland and Tampa Bay Times sports columnist Gary Shelton.