By Dave Hughes, DCRTV.com
With Baltimore sporting four sports talk radio stations -- WJZ-FM 105.7 and AM 1300, WVIE Fox 1370, and WNST 1570 -- where does plain talker WBAL-AM fit in?
Old 1090 has a long sports heritage, airing the Orioles for many years, but is it a political news talker or a sports station these days? WBAL features local talk shows from sunrise throughout the day, with radio veterans like Dave Durian and Ron Smith discussing local and national politics, pop culture, and news headlines. But from 6 PM to 10 PM, WBAL becomes Baltimore's fifth sports talker.
And, WBAL has one big thing that the market's other sports talkers don't -- the Ravens.
"As long as WBAL has a relationship with the Ravens, that's the key," says Baltimore media guru Jim Williams, who pens a sports media column for examiner.com. "It's important that (the station) has a good relationship with the team."
Sports-wise, WBAL lives and breathes the Ravens, with the preseason and regular season games, preseason and postgame shows, and Ravens-related shows on most weekday evenings.
Williams points out that it's easier for a mainstream talk station like WBAL to carry a sport like pro football, as opposed to baseball, because there's only about one game per week, not one most every night, as with baseball. And, with the football games mainly on weekends, there's less chance of interrupting the regular weekday talk lineup.
"There's a shorter season with football," says Williams. "It's easier to share time with (non-sports) talk."
Baseball is better placed on a full-time sports talker, like CBS's WJZ-FM, which has "more time" for more games.
The Ravens provide "destination programming" for WBAL, says Williams. The team has a "multi-year" deal with WBAL radio, adds station manager and program director Jeff Beauchamp.
"Sports in evenings is our intent," Beauchamp says, and he's planning to increase that come this football season.
Beauchamp points out that WBAL's 6 PM to 10 PM nightly sports block features locally-produced "Sportsline" programming from 6 to 8, with shows by the likes of Derrick Mason, Stan White, Peter Schmuck, Kyle Richardson, Jerry Sandusky, Keith Mills, Jonathan Ogden, Ravens coach John Harbaugh, and others.
For example, WBAL's Monday evening lineup will feature Mason and White from 6 to 8, while Tuesday has an hour with Harbaugh, who returns for an hour with Jerry Sandusky on Thursdays. Mills' "Purple Passion" show is Friday's 6-8 fare. The latter two hours of the WBAL evening block, 8-10, are filled by programming from Sporting News Radio.
Williams points out that the WBAL/Ravens TV deal is unique in that it provides the same play-by-play broadcast team coverage for three of its four preseason games via WBAL radio, sister FMer 98 Rock, and sister TVer Channel 11/WBAL.
One of the four preseason TV outings will be televised by ESPN, leaving WBAL radio and 98 Rock to share the local play-by-play coverage. And, during the regular season, while WBAL and 98 Rock share the game play-by-play team with Jerry Sandusky, Stan White, and Rob Burnett calling the games, the two Hearst radio stations produce separate and very different pregame and postgame shows.
WBAL's pre/post features a more "Xs and Os" traditional news-oriented show hosted primarily by sports veteran Keith Mills, with a greater emphasis this season on phone calls from fans. 98 Rock features more of an entertainment-oriented, "tailgate party" rock 'n roll approach, says Beauchamp.
So, does the talk/sports hybrid programming of WBAL compete directly with full-blown sports talkers like CBS's WJZ-FM, 105.7 The Fan, which launched last fall?
"We're not obsessed with them, and they're not obsessed with us," Beauchamp says of WJZ-FM, which was born from the remains of talker WHFS.
Still, it seems that Beauchamp does envy WJZ for one thing -- its FM signal. Most listening these days is done via FM. And Beauchamp makes no secret that he would love to get WBAL radio on FM – some day. But he's not holding his breath in this recessionary radio acquisition market.
In June, Westwood One moved its NFL primetime pro football radio package from Hearst's WBAL to CBS's WJZ-FM. That move had nothing to do with any level of disappointment with WBAL's performance, says a local radio insider. Instead, it was part of a package deal between Westwood One and CBS, which is starting a batch of FM sports talkers around the country, including the transformation of DC's WJFK from "guy talk" to sports.
Also, in January, WBAL radio's evening sports talk host, Steve Davis, was laid off. "We have done some realigning because of the economy," Beauchamp said at the time. "This was an economic move," unrelated to Davis' performance. That gave Baltimore Sun columnist Schmuck an opportunity to do more show hosting at WBAL.
While Davis is doing some fill-in work at WBAL-TV, he's not expected to return to the radio side any time soon. Concludes Williams about 1090's important place on the already overcrowded Baltimore radio sports dial: "WBAL and the Ravens have come together to make a good team."
If you've got the Ravens on your radio team, he says, you pretty much can't go wrong.
Posted July 15, 2009