CBS May Mount a Challenge to Daniel Snyder's Sports Talk Dominance

Ex-Redskin Brian Mitchell was laid off by Daniel Snyder's operation.
Ex-Redskin Brian Mitchell was laid off by Daniel Snyder's operation. (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)
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By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 10, 2009

When Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder added WTEM 980 and two other radio stations to his growing portfolio of radio outlets last summer, he essentially became the region's king of sports talk radio. Now it looks like he might have some competition.

CBS Radio plans to take on the Snyder-owned stations in July by switching WJFK (106.7 FM) from its guy-centric talk programs to sports talk, people involved in the change say.

Bruce Gilbert, a former ESPN executive who heads Snyder's radio operations, Red Zebra Broadcasting, said he welcomed a direct challenge from CBS.

"Anytime there's competition in radio, it usually means there will be more listeners," he said. "More people doing what we're doing exposes more people to sports radio."

CBS officials declined to comment.

CBS would have an advantage in terms of signal strength: Broadcasting on the FM band, WJFK can reach far more potential listeners than the area's only current all-sports station, renamed ESPN 980 after Snyder's purchase. In Washington, all of the highest-rated stations are on the FM side, including top-rated WTOP, an all-news station that expanded its audience when it began broadcasting at 103.5 FM several years ago.

At the moment, neither WJFK nor ESPN 980 is widely popular. During the first three weeks of May, according to audience figures compiled by Arbitron Inc., WJFK tied for 17th place among local stations, attracting an average of just 2.4 percent of the audience during its broadcasting day. ESPN 980 ranked 19th, with 2.2 percent. Both stations did somewhat better among the core market of adults 25 to 54: WJFK tied for 13th among this age group and ESPN 980 ranked 17th.

In addition to trying to broaden its audience, CBS also might be looking to reduce WJFK's operating costs. Its programming lineup has not been completed, but WJFK likely will retain the Junkies program in the critical morning "drive" hours. CBS has been talking with former Redskin LaVar Arrington and Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise about hosting daily programs.

Red Zebra's stations hold the rights to broadcast Redskins games, the most popular sports program in the region. Snyder's ownership of local sports talk stations occasionally has heightened scrutiny of the stations' coverage of the NFL franchise. Last season, ESPN 980 gave the team's executive vice president of football operations, Vinny Cerrato, a daily call-in program. Recently, in a cost-cutting move, it laid off two on-air personalities, Al Koken and former Redskin Brian Mitchell, who have been harsh critics of the team. At one point last year, Mitchell engaged in an on-air argument with Redskins running back Clinton Portis.

WJFK's hosts often discuss sports now -- the four Junkies hosts, in fact, were formerly known as "the Sports Junkies" -- and the station has the broadcast rights to Capitals and University of Maryland men's basketball games. The station briefly aired Jim Rome's syndicated sports program in the evenings this year but dropped the program because of poor ratings.

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