Sports columnist Jason Reid said goodbye to his Washington Post colleagues on Wednesday and headed off to his next job: hosting a morning radio program on Washington’s ESPN 980 (WTEM AM).
But he never got there.
Late last week, station managers told the would-be radio host that his new program, “The Man Cave,” wasn’t airing as scheduled Monday despite several weeks of promotional buildup. It’s not clear whether it will ever air, at least with Reid running the show. What’s more, the station executive who conceived the Reid-hosted program, Chuck Sapienza, resigned from the station Monday, apparently over the show’s demise.
The quick turn of events, stunning in its own right, is even more so in light of an intriguing who-shot-Jason subplot surrounding the program-that-never-was.
ESPN 980 is the flagship station of Red Zebra Broadcasting, the media company controlled by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. The football team’s president and general manager is Bruce Allen.
People close to the Redskins and the radio station say Allen has been a key player in the events that buried “The Man Cave.”
Last fall, during his waning days as a Post sports columnist, Reid made it clear that Allen bore responsibility for the Redskins’ woeful play. After the team dropped to 3-11 after losing to the New York Giants on Dec. 14, Reid began his column this way: “For the Washington Redskins, the good news is that their embarrassing season is almost finished. The bad news is that President and General Manager Bruce Allen remains on the job.”
But things got even hotter at a season-ending news conference featuring Allen. Reid fired questions that clearly irritated the football executive, say people who witnessed the exchange.
Reid left no ambiguity about where he stood in his subsequent column: “Bruce Allen continued to tap dance Wednesday, sidestepping questions about how the Washington Redskins plan to improve after another wasted season. And although the team president and general manager vowed to re-evaluate the football operation and make changes, it appears the Redskins will remain on the wrong path as long as Allen is in charge.”
The bad blood seemed to be forgotten as ESPN 980 began developing a morning program built around Reid and Chris Paul, a veteran radio and TV personality (“The Donnie Simpson Show,” “Tom Joyner Morning Show”). The idea: a local sports-talk show hosted by two African American personalities and aimed at African American men that would counter-program “The Sports Junkies,” a drive-time program on archrival The Fan 106.7 (WJFK FM)
ESPN 980 hasn’t had a local show during the lucrative morning drive hours in many years and had all but ceded the local sports niche for the time period to the Junkies, four white guys who have been friends since they grew up together in Prince George’s County. The Snyder-owned station had also intended to air its new show on two smaller local stations that it owns, WWXT (92.7 FM) and WWXX (94.3 FM).
In any case, the idea was unlikely to have been a surprise to the Redskins’ front office. The station has been promoting Reid, Paul and “The Man Cave” for almost a month. A Feb. 20 news release announced the program’s March 16 debut, with Sapienza describing it as “a blend of sports, comedy and entertainment.”
“I’m very excited to be part of this new venture,” Reid said in the release. “I look forward to bringing a dynamic and entertaining program to our listeners.”
It also quoted Rick Carmean, chief executive of Red Zebra Broadcasting, who said that Reid and Paul offered “the perfect combination of sports knowledge, humor and personality.”
The station boosted its promotional efforts last week with on-air spots and a Twitter feed, @980mancave.
Late last week, however, only days after Reid had officially severed ties with The Post, unidentified Redskins executives ordered the station to cancel the debut of “The Man Cave,” said people close to the station, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized by the station to discuss the matter. Sapienza resigned soon after, according to these people, who said that the resignation was related to the cancellation.
ESPN 980 will continue to air the syndicated “Mike & Mike” program during the morning spot once intended for Reid’s and Paul’s program. It’s unclear what Reid, who did not respond to requests for comment, intends to do. Along with the program, he had signed a contract to write columns for ESPN.com part time, which could preclude a return to The Post. But Post Managing Editor Kevin Merida said: “Jason is loved here. We never wanted him to leave.”
All the other principal players remained silent. Sapienza declined to comment. Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie referred calls to Carmean, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment.