TAMPA — Tampa Bay's newest sports radio station, 98.7 The Fan, made its debut with a bang, and some bumps, Thursday afternoon.
Several of the hosts, including "Fabulous Sports Babe" Nanci Donnellan, shared celebratory chest-bumps with USF's mascot, Rocky the Bull, in an introductory launch party at the Lee Roy Selmon Athletic Center on campus.
Owned and operated by CBS Radio, the station announced a multiyear partnership to be the Bulls' flagship station, with program director Mike Pepper believing they'll distinguish themselves on the FM dial by being live and local "24-7."
"We call ourselves 'The Fan,' and we want to be a voice that the Tampa Bay listener can feel comfortable to talk about Tampa Bay sports," Pepper said.
There will be talk shows all day and night, led by former Bucs defensive tackle Anthony "Booger" McFarland, former Lightning forward Chris Dingman and longtime Tampa Bay Times columnist Gary Shelton. Kirk McEwen, a longtime host in Baltimore, Tampa product Justin "Commish" Pawlowski and longtime sports radio host Todd Wright also join former Rays pre- and postgame host Rich Herrera, who calls the group a "dream team."
"It's going to be a lot of fun. It's going to be new. It's going to be challenging," said Shelton, who currently calls during his show from London, where he is covering the Olympics. "As important as anything, it's going to give me another way to interact with people who have laughed, cried or been ticked off at my column for years. Also, I hear there are groupies."
The Fan hopes to permeate a market that already includes sports station WDAE-AM 620, which has a dominant presence in the area. But Mark Chernoff, vice president of sports programming with CBS Radio, said they believe it's a "ripe market," pointing out they've started similar stations in Boston, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
Like in Pittsburgh, they began by aligning with the local college team, broadcasting coverage of Bulls football and men's basketball starting in the fall. USF athletic director Doug Woolard said because of the station's stronger signal, Bulls games can reach more of the state and "expand our brand" through CBS Radio.
"This is a big day for USF," Woolard said.
Shelton, who joins Pawlowski from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., is the latest Times writer to expand into radio, with Rick Stroud and Tom Jones co-hosting The Sports Page on WDAE weekdays from 6-9 a.m.
"Gary Shelton is a brilliant voice on the Tampa Bay sports scene and one of America's elite newspaper columnists, so we know he'll be an asset to CBS Radio's programming," Times editor Neil Brown said. "Gary's work on the air is another sign of our commitment to extending the reach of the Tampa Bay Times throughout the region and the state."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]