By Barry Janoff
May 1, 2012: This week, ESPN Radio New York, which launched in 2001 and is the flagship station of ESPN Radio, moved its signal from 1050 AM to 98.7 FM under an agreement between ESPN Audio and 98.7’s owner, Emmis Communications. ESPN New York 98.7 becomes New York’s first 24/7 FM-based sports talk station.
Both 98.7 FM and 1050 AM will simulcast content before 1050 AM, which competes in the region with ratings-leader WFAN (on the CBS Radio network), converts to ESPN Deportes New York Radio in conjunction with Hispanic Heritage month (Sept. 15 – Oct. 15). According to Traug Keller, ESPN svp-production, Business Divisions, “Opportunities like this don’t come along too often and it’s tremendous that we were able to conclude a deal that will enhance our mission of serving sports fans in not just English but Spanish as well.”
The move is important to ESPN's radio strategy. According to the company, 137 of it's 364 full-time radio affiliates are positioned on the FM band, representing a growth rate of 120% in the last two and a half years. FM stations make up 30% of ESPN’s total affiliate base.
The roster on ESPN Radio New York is formidable: Mike & Mike in the Morning, The Herd with Colin Cowherd, The Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco Show, The Scott Van Pelt Show and The Michael Kay Show. ESPN Radio also broadcasts MLB, NBA, the NFL draft, college football, the FIFA World Cup; and ESPN New York is the home of the Knicks, Rangers and Jets.
Dave Roberts, ESPN Radio New York vp-GM, spoke with NYSportsJournalism during a recent broadcast of Mike and Mike from the MLB FanCave in New York about the pros, cons and power of radio in a complex, multi-media landscape.
NYSportsJournalism.com: With so many other ways that people can get information, how strong a medium is radio?
Dave Roberts: Very strong. We keep people coming back by making sure that the content in compelling, and that the personalities are likable and credible. But those are just some of the ingredients that make up the success we are having and the potential for further success as we move forward.
NYSJ: How important has it been to incorporate TV, social media and other forms of entertainment and informational outlets into the radio mix?
DR: That interaction is the community of radio, because you can bring together all of the platforms, be it TV, social media or the digital platform of ESPN.com. A case in point: Tim Tebow did his first exclusive interview as a member of the New York Jets on The Michael Kay Show, with Michael and Don Le Greca. That interview was simultaneously on TV on ESPN's SportsCenter and also streamed on ESPN.com. It was one of the most heavily-trafficked days that we've seen on our site on a Friday. So that is an example of how good content can transcend any platform.
NYSJ: What is some of the more unique programming on ESPN Radio?
DR: We premiered with the start of the baseball season a weekly segment with Bobby Valentine on The Michael Kay Show. With Bobby, who used to be with ESPN, now manager of the Boston Red Sox, that is a true eye-on-the-enemy type segment that we will run throughout the MLB season. [Laughs.] The manager of the Red Sox talking about the world of baseball on New York radio! But the bottom line is that Bobby Valentine is a big-time personality who understands the business and isn't afraid to speak his mind. That all adds up to very strong radio.
"Tim Tebow did his first exclusive interview as a member of the Jets on The Michael Kay Show. It air simultaneously on TV and also streamed on ESPN.com. It was one of the most heavily-trafficked days we've seen on our site."
NYSJ: Are there any limitations being put on him by the Red Sox, MLB?
DR: Not that I know of. It will be like a manager's report, except that he will be on ESPN Radio in New York. But it is exciting for the listeners and baseball fans because they'll get a fresh take from Bobby Valentine's perspective, from someone who tells it like it is.
NYSJ: So if he criticizes the commissioner or the umpires, would he get fined by MLB and, if so, would ESPN Radio pick up the tab or the Red Sox?
DR: [Laughs.] We won't get fined. But we will serve our fans extremely well by having someone who is willing to tell it like it is.
NYSJ: What has been the response to having The Mike and Mike Show on ESPN2?
DR: Tremendous, both from outside and inside ESPN. We are excited about Mike and Mike even more than ever. And the reason is that Mike and Mike has really caught on in New York. And I say that because for five months straight they have been in the Top Ten [in ratings]. In January, they were actually second with the 25-54 [audience] and they have been consistent in first among men 18-34. That is a testament, again, to strong content. It doesn't have to be what people call 'local.' If there's a big story, Mike and Mike owns it. And listeners across the New York area find them credible and likable, and more and more are turning to into the program. And even though with the ESPN2 show they are considered national, they really work their butts off to make sure that they are immersed in [the New York] market. They are a true part of what we do at the station.
NYSJ: Both Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, as well as Erin Andrews and Dick Vitale, were in a recent ad campaign for Diet Mountain Dew, and both Mikes are turning up in commercials for other goods and services. Do you see that hurting their credibility?
DR: Listeners understand the reality of personalities. They also understand the best personalities know how to separate different aspects of their career and business opportunities from the journalistic side and the credibility side. And when you're talking about Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, you're talking about two men at the top of the class in what they do.
NYSJ: Care to share some insightful comments about Stephen A. Smith, who has added a daily radio show with Ryan Ruocco to his schedule?
DR: The bottom line is that the man is everywhere. He does a two-hour show for New York, then turns right around and does two hours for Los Angeles. Then he might be on SportsCenter for four or five different segments. Then he'll do Outside the Lines for another segment. And he has become a regular debating Skip Bayless on ESPN2's First Take. Stephen A. Smith has almost 500,000 followers on Twitter. That is a whole vehicle by itself. If Stephen A. tweets out that he will have an exclusive interview on his program, a lot of people do follow him. We've seen evidence of that. He goes to a New York Knicks game, and every player walks over to shake his hand and have a conversation. He has relationships with the star players. He was the first person to report that LeBron and Dwyane and Bosh would unite in Miami. He brakes stories like that based on relationships and credibility. When Mike D'Antoni resigned as head coach of Knicks, he broke that story on ESPN New York and across the other ESPN platforms. It's all about making contact, establishing relationships and good reporting. He has very good ratings, and they are growing. We're looking for ways to make him even more visible on ESPN Radio and across ESPN.
NYSJ: What is the challenge at this time of year, for example, when there is breaking news and compelling stories coming alms simultaneously out of the NFL, baseball, the NBA, NHL and other areas?
DR: Obviously, we cover all the big stories. We can really do the best job locally and nationally with the resources of ESPN, which really is a differentiator for us in this market. We give importance to the New York Jets and the quarterback situation with Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow. But we covered the Peyton Manning story when he signed with Denver. We cover the Knicks, but they are a national story with Jeremy Lin, Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire. We cover the Yankees and Mets, but with Bobby Valentine and the resources we have available at Bristol — John Kruk, Tim Kurkjian, Buster Olney — no one can stand up to the number of people we have covering baseball. So, to your question, it's always a challenge, but it's always fun. In the world of sports, every day is different. There is always a new story line, new drama to talk about.