Twenty five years ago, July 1, 1987, I was in my office at SportsChannel in Woodbury, N.Y. (where I was Assistant Director for Marketing and Public Relations) with a group of people listening to a new venture in sport, all-sports radio. Just after 3:00, the signal at 1050 AM changed from WHN, a country station which had a smattering of sports, to WFAN, the first-all sports radio station. The first voice we heard, one who is very familiar to baseball fans these days at one of the voices of the Yankees, Suzyn Waldman, led to other notable hosts, from Jim Lampley to Art Shamsky to Ann Ligouri to Pete Franklin to Bill Mazer to Ed Coleman and Dave Sims later on, but all-sports radio was born.
Now there were several sports talk shows before…notably Art Rust Jr. on WABC Radio in New York, Franklin in Cleveland, even a very young Christopher Russo on WMCA in New York (not to mention what is still the longest-running sports talkshow, “One on One,” on WFUV Radio in New York), but never was “sportstalk” a genre. It certainly is now.
Like other ventures, sports talk 24/7 was seen as the latest sign of the apocalypse. it could not sell as a stand-alone, it wasn’t like an ESPN because there was not that much to do with audio, but WFAN grew, and grew, moved down the dial to replace WNBC Radio at the powerful 660 spot, and now the audio side of sports, with over 300 sports talk radio stations across the country, countless blogtalk opportunities, college and high school sports radio and podcasts, have made sports audio bigger as a genre than ever before. Now the ability to record and download interviews or shows tailored to our niche listening preferences makes sports audio in North America more valuable than ever before as a tool. If you miss NPR’s great “Only A Game” show on Saturday mornings at 7 don’t worry, download it and listen later. President Obama wants to reach a diverse male audience, go on a podcast with Bill Simmons. You want to get all-MMA all the time, try “Fight Club” on Sirius. All Fantasy Sports? There are many stops to listen to that as well.
Like every other medium, social media tools like Twitter today, the mainstream thought all sports radio would come and go as a fad. Instead, it adapted, grew, became both sellable and scalable, and is now an essential part of any media plan. “Heard you on the radio” may not always be “radio” as it was once known, but it is being heard, and heard in more places and by more people in the medium of their choosing, than probably ever before.
Now sports talk radio is still not the rage away from North America as it is here. Other than ESPN and some ventures like sports radio in Israel, all fans, all the time hasn’t yet worked. The culture is different, and the interest in all sports is just not that strong. However the digital world has probably also helped change that, as anyone who has access to the media anywhere can still download and stream shows if they want a slice of American sport. Maybe it will happen down the line, a version of Mike and Mike in Bahrain or Moscow, but not yet. With NBC now re-entering the all-sports audio world, the signs are that the genre is growing again and for marketers and sports literally looking for a voice, thats a great thing.
Twenty five years ago that first voice, Ms. Waldman, may not have known where this sports radio stuff was going, but many are glad she was heard then and that many more are heard more now than ever before. We will all keep listening, hopefully for a long time to come.