Tampa Bay Times sports writers Tom Jones and Rick Stroud will host a new weekday morning show for sports radio station WDAE-AM 620, sparking a closer alliance between the newspaper and station owner Clear Channel Radio.
The pair begin hosting their three-hour show at 6 a.m. today, taking the time slot once held by Dan Sileo, a former professional and college football player who was fired March 13 after calling three black football players "monkeys" in a passing reference.
"I think there's a need for a show where you can bring the insights of a working journalist," said Stroud, noting Clear Channel contacted him and Jones separately not long after Sileo left the job.
"A lot of people do commentary and a lot of people get animated," he added. "As far as providing insight and accurate information … that's something there's a need for and we can do very well."
As an opinion columnist covering sports media, Jones has a bit more freedom than Stroud, who must avoid bias while covering the Buccaneers.
"I wouldn't say anything on the radio that I wouldn't write for the newspaper," said Jones, who will stop covering local sports radio in his columns to avoid conflicts of interest. "We talk to the coaches, we know the general managers. I would use the same standards on radio as in print."
If discussions started in March, why did it take so long to finalize a deal?
"It was the first opening in our main lineup for eight years; we wanted to make sure we looked at everything," said Steve Versnick, program director at WDAE who initially called Jones and Stroud. "It's our hope we'll go at least another eight years before we have to make another lineup change."
Another reason for the delay: The newspaper's ethical standards required executives at Clear Channel and the Tampa Bay Times to agree on a special policy for handling on-air endorsements.
Such promotional announcements, a routine feature for radio personalities who aren't journalists, draw a premium fee from advertisers.
But traditional journalists rarely directly endorse commercial products to avoid the perception that their credibility can be bought.
So although Jones and Stroud will draw a salary from WDAE, they will donate their portion of proceeds from any endorsements to charities selected by the Times. They will also read a disclaimer announcing the arrangement at the end of each show.
Times editor Neil Brown acknowledged the charity arrangement was new ground for the newspaper, keeping Jones and Stroud from directly profiting by endorsements, though businesses still will be paying for their on-air recommendations.
"I was looking to create a bridge between the world of radio and the newspaper world," said Brown, who retains final approval over each endorsement. "I wanted to inoculate them so their journalism is not compromised."
The Times and Clear Channel will promote the radio show in the paper and on the air, but the show also led the two organizations to work out a significant promotional advertising trade agreement, said Bruce Faulmann, the Times' vice president for sales and marketing.
Both Jones and Stroud have some previous broadcast experience; Stroud has appeared on numerous local radio stations as well as ESPN as an expert analyst, while Jones, who has covered the Lightning as a beat reporter, hosted a show on Bright House Networks' sports channel.
But the biggest challenge, Jones admitted, might be getting up at 4 a.m. every weekday.
"I know that part will be tough," he said, laughing. "But it's what I've always wanted to do."