By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
And the winner of the Tony Kornheiser radio sweepstakes: Bonneville International Corp., which signed the sports columnist and ESPN commentator yesterday to host a midmorning program on Washington Post Radio.
The decision ended a bidding war for Kornheiser, who hosted a popular morning program on sports-talk station WTEM (980 AM) until last year, when he left to become an announcer on ESPN's "Monday Night Football." Kornheiser also co-hosts the ESPN show "Pardon the Interruption" with Post columnist Michael Wilbon.
"The Tony Kornheiser Show" will debut Feb. 20 and will air on Washington Post Radio (WTWP, 1500 AM and 107.7 FM) live on weekdays from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., with a repeat airing immediately afterward (on Fridays the last half-hour will be preempted by "The Politics Program"), according to Bonneville. WTWP is owned by Bonneville and programmed in conjunction with The Post's newsroom.
Bonneville lured Kornheiser, 58, with a three-year-deal, topping a similar offer from WTEM's owner, Clear Channel Communications. (Other terms were not disclosed.) Executives from both companies said the determining factor was Kornheiser's desire to work for a station affiliated with The Post; he has been a Post columnist since 1979.
Red Zebra Broadcasting, the radio station company started by Redskins owner Dan Snyder, also sought Kornheiser. But working for Snyder would have raised conflict-of-interest issues because he covers pro football, local radio executives said.
Kornheiser was hotly pursued because of his popularity among 25-to-54-year-old listeners, the demographic that radio advertisers covet most.
Based on his track record at WTEM, Kornheiser could provide a major boost to WTWP, which has had anemic ratings since its debut in March. During the most recent Arbitron ratings period, WTWP was tied for No. 23 among local stations, averaging 0.7 percent of the audience.
The addition of Kornheiser will take Washington Post Radio in a somewhat different direction. Instead of featuring a host's discussions with Post reporters about world, national and local news, the station will clear out about half its morning schedule for what is primarily a personality-driven entertainment and commentary program.
In a statement, Kornheiser said, "I look forward to doing the show I've always done." He described the programming as "entertainment- and sports-based" with comments and observations "about the events of my life that day."
What Kornheiser's role will be during the football season is unclear, given his expected return to "Monday Night Football." Bonneville executive Joel Oxley said Kornheiser would likely "have a presence" on the station during football season, but "wouldn't be doing a full-blown show."
Also unclear is Kornheiser's status as a Post columnist. Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, the newspaper's assistant managing editor for sports, said yesterday: "We haven't talked to him about writing again for The Post. Now that [his radio negotiations] are over, we'll talk to him about what's next."
Kornheiser did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.