Radio is easy to dismiss for a giant media company like ESPN, but they weren’t going to sit idly by and watch their lineup founder as affiliates continued to shave hours of network programming.
So when the network debuts its new lineup on August 17, morning drive team Golic & Wingo will be ghosts. The show debuted a little over two and a half years ago, and never found its footing. There was a casual aimlessness to the show that works on the weekends and overnights, but does not satisfy commuters who are looking for meaningful and focused sportstalk.
The show missed Mike Greenberg, who moved over to ESPN’s Get Up. Greenberg is the best ringmaster in media. He’s a conductor able to steer clear of tedious self-indulgent moments to showcase guests and a cast of regulars. Greenberg will come back to radio to host a two hour show from 12p-2p after he clears his head from hosting Get Up.
The new morning show will be hosted by Jay Williams, Keyshawn Johnson, and Zubin Mehenti. The key for the success of this show will be patience for the three hosts to find their chemistry together. ESPN knows it takes two years – always two years – to get a show right or decide it can’t be gotten right. They waited for Golic & Wingo, so they will certainly wait for whatever this three-headed beast is called.
Dan LeBatard for follow from 10a-12p. Whether you love it or hate it, this show delivers a consistent product segment after segment. I can get a little too much of the schtick, and it can be a little clubby, but of all the problems this network has, LeBartard’s show is not near the top of the list.
After Greenberg, Max Kellerman will hop on from 2p-4p. Kellerman has two things going for him as a radio host – authenticity and likability. If a host is not authentic, he or she has no chance to succeed. If he is real and likable, anything is possible. My guess is that producers will use some of the best audio from First Take, which Kellerman co-hosts on ESPN from 10a-12p with Stephen A. Smith, to shorten the show a little bit.
Mike Golic Jr. will co-host from 4p-7p with two-time WNBA All-Star Chiney Ogwumike. Afternoon drive is the slot where even small market affiliates devote their time to local talent, so this is a nice developmental slot for young talent with promise. With a small potential audience, the pressure won’t be so high for Golic and Chiney to sound great quickly.
The night schedule makes sense. From 7p-9p, Spain & Fitz takes the stage. I’ve always liked Sarah Spain, so I’m glad to see that she has a regular show again. They will be preempted often by local play-by-play in the east and local programming out west, so they will also be under very little pressure to crackle immediately. Following Spain & Fitz, the always capable and fun Freddie Coleman will be joined by football analyst Ian Fitzsimmons.
This kind of shuffling happens, especially on national radio. Runs like Mike & Mike enjoyed don’t happen very often, and their 17 years together might never be equaled. Does what ESPN Radio has put together make the network more valuable to affiliates? Probably not. Affiliates appreciate ESPN for the play-by-play and accommodate the talk – at least since Mike & Mike ended.
Talk radio at its best is a local medium – a town hall where people gather to hear about what is going on in their town. ESPN’s 24/7 schedule allows local affiliates to churn sports content all week long, but the money and the magic are in local shows.
Hopefully, station owners and managers across the country understand that relying on network radio, no matter the quality of the product, costs stations both rating and revenue.
During a time when podcasts are exploding in popularity, radio needs to embrace locality and uniqueness more than ever.