Snyder Looks to Grow Media Empire

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By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, June 3, 2008; 2:23 PM

In his never-ending quest to control the Washington Redskins "message," it looks as if Daniel Snyder is about to buy himself another medium, or three. Sadly, that can't be good news for sports talk radio in Washington.

Maybe you missed the news last week that the Redskins owner even now is negotiating with Clear Channel Broadcasting to purchase three more radio stations, including sports talk WTEM, in an effort my Post colleague Paul Fahri wrote "to expand his fledgling but problem-plagued radio operations."

Who knew he even had a fledgling radio operation? Snyder paid $33 million in 2006 for three stations on the dial -- known as Triple X ESPN Radio -- but many listeners have a hard time tuning in unless they're within field goal distance of the transmitters.

Snyder acquired two FM stations and one on the AM dial and put them all under the "Red Zebra Broadcasting" umbrella, obtaining them to air Redskins games and load up the airwaves with team news some might also describe as feel-good propaganda. Instead, when listeners complained that Sonny and Sam frequently could not be heard on game days because the signals were so weak, Snyder was forced to contract last season with Clear Channel to put them on more powerful WBIG-FM, which covers a much wider area in the Metropolitan region than any of his three new stations.

But now, Snyder wants WTEM (980-AM), the town's oldest and most popular sports talk station, in his fold. WTEM has a far more powerful daytime signal than his original three, but the wattage on WTEM also gets dialed down when the sun goes down. It's totally maddening after dark for someone (like me) trying to hear a night game while driving west on Route 66 in Northern Virginia just a few miles beyond the beltway.

Still, whatever Snyder wants, he usually gets, and, some cynics might suggest, also fumbles. (Anyone checked Six Flags stock lately?) In this case, industry insiders are saying Clear Channel may be more than willing to sell to him, almost certainly at a rather inflated price considering that AM radio is not exactly a growth industry around here or anywhere else in the country.

If Snyder does succeed in acquiring WTEM, there are all manner of ramifications for area sports fans, not to mention some of the on-air people now gainfully employed by the station, including a couple of very vocal ex-Redskins.

You think Brian Mitchell and Doc Walker will be long for this world on WTEM once Red Zebra starts signing the checks? To their everlasting credit, those two have always been brutally honest in their tough love commentary regarding their old team, including strong criticism of the owner, team management and the coaching staff, even the now departed St. Gibbs. The same goes for afternoon drive time co-host Steve Czaban, not exactly on Snyder's holiday card list.

If Snyder and the Redskins control the message, those three messengers, and maybe several more, may well be looking for another live mike in a studio far, far away from WTEM's current location out the Rockville Pike.

The newly syndicated Dan Patrick show also could be a casualty. Snyder's current Red Zebra stations are ESPN network affiliates, and the boys from Bristol have not been particularly happy that their signal in the eighth largest media market in America is not much stronger than what two kids with tin cans and a string can generate in their own backyards.

Patrick, a long-time ESPN broadcaster, left the network last year to go out on his own, and it would be hard to imagine the worldwide leader allowing his show to appear on an ESPN affiliate. That would be a significant loss for this market.

Granted, we did have some unkind words for Patrick's show when he first went on WTEM last year. But that was mainly because we hated to see the station bump Channel 5's Dave Feldman and Comcast Sports' Carol Maloney out of that same time slot after their smart, highly entertaining show was on for less than six months.


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