Last Friday, ESPN 980 instituted a 24-hour delay for its podcasts, which is a fairly unusual thing to do nowadays. Not surprisingly, some people were upset. The #FreeMrTony hashtag was launched on Twitter. People blogged angrily here and here, and especially here. And many people asked me if I would write something.
So I called ESPN 980’s director of programming Chuck Sapienza and asked him what was going on.
“We’re delaying the podcasts 24 hours for all of our shows,” he told me. “I know this hurts people who listen out of town, but we’re trying to get people to listen on the radio. We’re in the radio business, and we’re trying to get people to listen on the radio. And the more people who download podcasts, the fewer people who listen on the radio.”
Sapienza pointed out that people interested in Kornheiser’s show can listen live on three stations in the D.C. market, and streaming via ESPN980.com. They also set up an Audio Now number, 712-432-1980, which you can call from a mobile phone and listen to ESPN 980 content live. People who take that route would be counted for the station’s ratings; people who download a podcast would not.
“We’re trying to make it as easy for people to listen on the radio,” Sapienza told me. “What I’ve tried to explain to people is that the radio show is the vehicle from which everything else runs. The radio show generates the revenue so we have a podcast. If we don’t have a radio show or a radio station, there is no podcast. We need to worry about the radio station first.”
And yes, of course Sapienza knows that some listeners are upset. He said he has gotten “about 100 complaints, maybe more,” though he said 90 to 95 percent of the people who were upset come from outside the D.C. market. He’s fielded complaints from Brazil, London, France, Hawaii, Alaska, and multiple complaints from Ames, Iowa. All over, in other words, and all fans of Kornheiser.
“That shows you how great Tony is,” Sapienza said. “Bottom line, we want Tony to be successful on the radio so we can provide the show to everybody else. That’s all it is. Tony hasn’t railed against it and I think he understands; all we’re trying to do is get people to listen to his show when it’s offered, because that’s how we get rated. In some way, we have to follow the rules of the company that rates us. If we got credit for everybody who downloaded our show, it would be a different story.”
(In other Kornheiser news, he’s apparently still under consideration to write for Bill Simmons’s new site, Grantland.com, as he promised Simmons last month. “As for Kornheiser, he wants to write but doesn’t want to type. Not sure how that will work,” the site tweeted.)