By Dave Hughes, DCRTV.com
Last November, CBS Radio flipped FM talk station WHFS, 105.7, to sports talk. It also "borrowed" the call letters of CBS-TV's Channel 13, WJZ, and slapped them on the new station and its AM sports sister, 1300.
Now it's clear Baltimore sports fans like what they're hearing. The first few rounds of ratings for WJZ-FM have been good.
According to Dave Labrozzi, vice president of programming for CBS Radio/Baltimore, the FM station is "way up" in the March radio ratings -- from 15th to eighth in the key male demos, including ages 25-54.
While Baltimore had sports radio before on the AM band -- including CBS's own ESPN 1300 (then WJFK-AM) -- this was the first time it was put on static-free FM.
Labrozzi said that many guys under 30 aren't even aware of the old AM band. They do all their listening on FM -- and now can hear their beloved sports talk on FM, too.
The new "Sports Radio 105.7 The Fan," as it is formally called, features a lengthy list of Baltimore broadcasters, including Mark Viviano, Bruce Cunningham and Ken Weinman.
Spotlighting 105.7's lineup is the somewhat unlikely pairing of Baltimore TV sports veteran Scott Garceau and former Florida radio talker Anita Marks, who do the afternoon drive show that also airs on TV's Mid-Atlantic Sports Network.
Labrozzi said the combination of Garceau's deep knowledge of Baltimore sports and Marks' "high-profile" and somewhat "polarizing" personality produces a winner of a show.
"When I was on TV, I was doing two-minute sportscasts. Here on the radio, I have three or four hours each day," said Garceau, who last year left his full-time sports anchor duties at WMAR Channel 2, after 27 years. "We have time to kick some issues around and have fun."
He added that his on-air disagreements with Marks "make for good radio."
"Being an out-of-towner, her views don't always jell with Baltimore sports fans. … I'm often the voice of reason," Garceau joked.
WJZ-FM is not Garceau's first Baltimore radio gig. Back in his early days with Channel 2, circa 1980, he did a sports show on the old WFBR radio, which, like WJZ-FM is now, was the Orioles' flagship.
Even though Garceau is primarily on radio, he still does "35-ish" events yearly for Channel 2, including the Orioles' Opening Day, Ravens game coverage and the Preakness.
WJZ-FM takes quite a different programming approach to mornings when Ed Norris is an anchor. He's a holdover from 105.7's old WHFS talk format, where he did afternoons.
"We took the most dynamic talk personality in all of Baltimore and moved him to the biggest radio stage -- morning drive," said Labrozzi about Norris.
Prior to joining 105.7 in 2005, Norris served as Baltimore City Police commissioner and Maryland State Police superintendent. In addition to his well-publicized legal woes over the years, he has also appeared in several episodes of HBO's Baltimore-based "The Wire."
Over on the AM 1300 side, the one-time WFBR now carries many of ESPN's national sports shows, including "Mike and Mike in the Morning," "The Herd" with Colin Cowherd and Mike Tirico and Scott Van Pelt's afternoon show. The mainly satellite-fed programming on 1300 AM "acts to complement 105.7 FM's local sports coverage."
If Labrozzi is concerned about the sports talk competition for WJZ radio, he's not showing it.
Baltimore has two other sports talkers, both independently-owned AM stations: WNST on 1570 and newcomer WVIE on 1370. While both pride themselves on a strong stable of knowledgeable sports blabbers, the two stations have coverage problems at night. Neither has the blanket FM coverage of 105.7 -- and, oh yeah, the Orioles.
"I'm sure they have their place," said Bob Phillips about the competition. He's the senior vice president of operations at CBS Radio/Baltimore. Neither station generates much ratings traction, he points out.
"We are thrilled to be offering Baltimore sports fans, for the first time ever, sports radio on a crystal-clear FM signal, strong enough to be heard anywhere in the market," Philips said.
WJZ is in its third year of a five-year deal to carry the Orioles, with a two-year option.
Last year's flip of 105.7 to sports was a local decision, Labrozzi added, even though parent company CBS has launched a number of FM sports talkers in other markets.
"With wall-to-wall sports programming on AM and FM radio, we can now offer Baltimore sports fans the ultimate package," Labrozzi said. "No topic will go uncovered. No perspective will go unchallenged."
Issue 136: April 2009