Ask what led sports talk star Jim Rome to leave a seven-year run on ESPN to start a new show on CBS Sports Network and he has a simple answer:
CBS asked him.
But they offered a bit more, setting up Rome as the biggest name in their attempt to juice sports programming across CBS-owned cable channels and radio — developing a daily TV show for CBS Sports Network, a daily radio show for the CBS Sports Radio Network and a weekly program for premium cable channel Showtime.
"CBS is the Tiffany of sports; when they call and offer you something like that, you say yes," Rome added. "I wasn't going to get that kind of opportunity anywhere else."
The latest element of the plan falls into place at 10 tonight, when Jim Rome on Showtime debuts. Featuring a lineup of guests ranging from NBA star Kobe Bryant to former Friends star Matthew Perry and Hollywood mogul Peter Guber, the show explores the intersection of pop culture, sports and show business.
On Jan. 2, his radio show moves from WDAE-AM (620) to WQYK-AM (1010) as part of the CBS Sports Radio Network, part of his deal to move from Clear Channel-owned syndicators Premier Radio Networks to CBS. He already hosts the daily, half-hour show Rome, on CBS's sports cable channel.
The moves put Rome, 48, at the leading edge of two trends: the rise of sports talk as a leading corner of talk radio and efforts by CBS, NBC and Fox to assemble their own sports media behemoths to take on 800-pound gorilla ESPN.
But he's also moving from a perch at two of media's biggest companies to a new lineup of outlets with smaller audiences and lower profiles. And he'll be juggling three different shows almost at the same time.
Here's a quick chat with the guy at the center of it all.
How will your Showtime program be different than what you're doing on TV and radio already?
The show that I do daily, the format is usually "rant, interview, panel, rant, see you tomorrow." On Showtime, I'm talking to actors, artists, politicians; we're not talking about those topical things that drive your normal sports talk show, but bigger picture items. And it's pay cable, so I think we can push the envelope.
Why leave ESPN when you did? Had they lost interest in you?
I was offered a better opportunity. I had a great run (at ESPN); I was treated very well there. But I was faced with this decision: "Do you want to continue to do the same thing for x amount of years?" Now that I'm 20 years in, I'm cognizant of not growing, not improving. And if I keep doing this show the same way every single day, you start to deteriorate, and you start to die on the vine. I thought the bigger risk would be to not take a risk.
When your radio show moves, what will fans hear?
My radio show is not going to change dramatically. But there is an argument that political talk is not what it used to be, that advertisers are a little bit timid and afraid of what happens with it, and sports radio is getting bigger and bigger and bigger. I want to be with a company that sees it that way.
What's your biggest weakness as a broadcaster?
Hmmm … (long silence) … let me just sit on that for a minute. I would definitely hate for you to write, "The guy doesn't even think he has any weaknesses." But nobody's ever asked me that before.
Why do you think sports media is exploding on TV and radio right now?
I've never seen — I don't know if it's part social networking, we know exactly what people think and feel. But I've never seen fans more passionate and care more about their teams and their players than they do right now. They need a place to congregate and talk about these things and chop it up.
Did you come up with a weakness?
For years, I did the same things, the same shows for the same people. And nothing changed. My biggest weakness was: I kind of let things get a little bit stale. This is my way of making sure that never happens again: changing radio companies, changing TV companies, changing shows. I've been around so long now, I have to find a way to stay competitive and relevant and not get run down from behind.