Snyder's Simulcast Plans Center on WTEM

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 17, 2008

Redskins owner Dan Snyder plans to simulcast sports/talk programming on his newly expanded group of radio stations in Washington, using traditional powerhouse WTEM (980 AM) as his flagship outlet, according to company employees.

Sports-talk programs on WTEM will be carried simultaneously on at least four of the six stations that Snyder's Red Zebra Broadcasting controls. The stations include WTEM, which Red Zebra bought in early June, and three smaller stations originally known as Triple X ESPN Radio. Snyder bought the Triple X stations when he entered the radio business in 2006.

Among other moves, Red Zebra will announce -- possibly as early as today -- that it will drop "The John Riggins Show" from its simulcasts. Riggins, the Redskins Hall of Fame running back, was the marquee personality on Triple X, but his afternoon talk show failed to deliver much of an audience.

Red Zebra, based in Silver Spring, will also move ESPN's nationally syndicated radio shows to WTEM. The programs, now heard on Triple X, include "Mike & Mike in the Morning" and a talk program hosted by Colin Cowherd.

"Mike & Mike" will bump WTEM's current syndicated morning program, "The First Team," and the Cowherd program will displace a syndicated midday program hosted by former ESPN personality Dan Patrick.

The changes will leave WTEM's three local call-in shows intact, with former Redskins star Rick "Doc" Walker airing in midmorning; former Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson Jr. hosting in the afternoon; and "The Sports Reporters," with Andy Pollin and Steve Czaban, carried during the late rush-hour period.

The moves tacitly recognize that Red Zebra's initial forays into radio have been an expensive flop. Snyder paid $33 million to buy his first three stations (heard at 92.7 FM, 94.3 FM and 730 AM), but the stations haven't been able to attract even 1 percent of the listening audience.

The stations' signals are so weak that Red Zebra had to strike a deal with a stronger outlet, Clear Channel-owned WBIG-FM (100.3), for live broadcasts of Redskins games last season.

Red Zebra, headed by former ESPN radio executive Bruce Gilbert, hopes to solve its signal problems with WTEM, which it bought from Clear Channel last month for $24.5 million. The purchase, which included two low-rated AM stations (WTNT 570 and WWRC 1260), gave Snyder control over all the sports-talk stations in the region, raising concerns about how the stations would cover its owner and his hyper-popular team.

Gilbert declined several requests for comment.

The deal also comes at a time when radio, particularly AM radio, is facing a difficult future. Radio advertising was faltering even before the economy's recent difficulties. Traditional broadcasters also have been trying for years to stem the flight of listeners to other audio technologies, such as the Internet, digital music players and satellite radio.

Red Zebra has made no decisions about changing the formats of its newly acquired AM stations, WTNT and WWRC, said station employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because news about the company hasn't been officially released.

WTNT broadcasts a slate of syndicated talk shows hosted by conservatives, such as Michael Savage and Dennis Miller. WWRC airs liberal shows featuring such hosts as Rachel Maddow and Bill Press.

For the time being, all six Red Zebra stations will carry Redskins game broadcasts simultaneously. The team opens its training camp Sunday.

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