NEW YORK – Live from New York, it’s … A week of sports talk radio.
Twenty years after Jay Mohr joined Chris Farley, Mike Myers and Adam Sandler as a featured cast member on Saturday Night Live, the 43-year-old is back in the Big Apple, orchestrating an entirely different type of live broadcast.
Mohr has been a stand-up comic, actor, author and, for the past year, national sports radio personality. This week, he is hosting his daily three-hour Fox Sports Radio show, “Jay Mohr Sports,” just 1 1/2 miles from SNL’s legendary Studio 8H.
He’s not alone.
Mohr is one of hundreds of national and local sports radio hosts broadcasting in and around midtown Manhattan in the days leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII. There are more than 100 outlets broadcasting from “radio row,” a cluster of booths inside the Super Bowl media center at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel. Many national hosts, such as Mohr, Dan Patrick and ESPN Radio’s morning team of Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, will either broadcast from their own studios or off-site locations constructed specifically for the week.
If this annual mass assemblage of talking heads seems to be growing every year, that’s because it is.
Between spring 2006 and spring 2013, 289 radio stations moved to an all-sports format, a nearly 55% increase in the number of sports stations.
According to Nielsen Audio, sports radio’s audience has increased by 9.5 million listeners in the past seven years. And more than 50% of sports radio listeners fall into what the researchers categorize as their highest income group — individuals making over $75,000 annually.
“Advertisers have a love affair with the format because it delivers a very affluent, highly engaged male audience that’s very passionate about their favorite teams,” Paul Heine, senior editor at Inside Radio, told USA TODAY Sports. “Sports stations are the best at converting ratings into revenue. Advertisers are especially interested in the audience because it’s a foreground format. You’re listening closely to it.”.
There have been 815 24-hour sports stations open their doors since New York’s WFAN debuted the genre in the U.S. In July 1987. Five of the country’s biggest sports brands have their own original radio networks. ESPN and FOX Sports Radio have been around the longest, but in the past three years, Yahoo! Sports, NBC and CBS have all launched radio networks. SiriusXM also has 12 original sports talk channels.
It’s made for an interesting diaspora of talent, with CBS Sports Radio picking up the syndication of Jim Rome’s long-standing national show and being part of the overall package that lured Doug Gottlieb from ESPN. Rome’s departure created the open spot for Mohr, who had been a frequent guesis st host on Rome’s show when it was syndicated by FOX Sports Radio.
Former WFAN host Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, who joined SiriusXM in 2008 after signing a five-year deal to headline his own channel, has been broadcasting from radio row since 1990. He recognizes that the field of fellow sports radio talkers has certainly gotten a lot crowded since that time.
“I do understand that it’s difficult to sound unique with so many others doing the same thing,” Russo said. “Being first or being one of the early ones helps. Getting guests on is all about who you know and building relationships over the years. If you can get guests these other guys can’t get, it’s a big plus.”.
Another key is finding guys who don’t fit the definition of a traditional sports radio host.
“This, like any other entertainment business, is going to center around the talent,” Bruce Gilbert, senior vice president of sports operations for Clear Channel Media (which oversees Fox Sports Radio) said. “The talent is who the fan gravitates to for whatever reasons. It is subjective so what one person loves, another person hates. That’s healthy because it leaves a lot of room for different types of talent from different backgrounds.”.
In Mohr, he found someone who fancied himself a sports talk guy long before going on to movie roles opposite Tom Cruise and Jennifer Aniston.
“When I was 12-years-old, me and the neighborhood kids would sit at the dining room table on Valley View Road in Verona, New Jersey, and open up the Newark Star-Ledger and we would sit there and be sports anchors,” Mohr said. “We would just read the newspaper and comment back and forth. We did our own radio show at 12-years-old at my dining room table.”.
The same could be said for Fox Sports Radio’s newest host. Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman, who launched a national daily show (3 p.M.-6 p.M. ET) Monday, has been balancing his work with the band and his local Nashville sports talk show for several years. During the Black Crowes’ 2013 tour, the 48-year-old lifelong sports junkie and college broadcasting major would find a different studio in every town on the band’s itinerary and devote three hours to his other passion.
“There’s plenty of Xs and Os and plenty of people to break down defenses and get really intricate but there’s been a new realm lately for more casual fans who don’t really care about that. They want to hear more conversational bits and they really want to hear a different perspective on why we all love the same things. I saw my chance there. I live in Nashville, so a show where musicians are talking about sports, it was easy to get that off the ground.”.
It’s a formula that’s working on a regional level as well. In Boston, one of the most fierce sports radio markets in the country, two former rock DJs, The Sports Hub’s Fred Toucher and Rich Shertenlieb, now present a more light-hearted alternative to WEEI’s famously abrasive morning hosts John Dennis and Gerry Callahan. In Washington D.C., 106.7 The Fan’s morning hosts, The Sports Junkies, are as likely to devote a segment to Justin Bieber’s recent travails as they are to discussing the hiring of new Redskins coach Jay Gruden.
While the advent of internet radio apps like Pandora and streaming music services such as Spotify have somewhat cannibalized the need for traditional top 40, hip-hop and rock stations, technology has been godsend for the sports format.
Hosts are now able to juggle a regular daily show along with other commitments almost seamlessly. Former quarterbacker Rich Gannon broadcasts his daily SiriusXM NFL Radio show from his home office in Minnesota while co-host Bruce Murray is based in New York City. He’s one of a number of SiriusXM sports personalities, including Rick Neuheisel, Dan Hawkins and Jim Bowden, who host their shows remotely.
“When I first started doing SiriusXM NFL radio, I did the show for four months without ever meeting Adam Schein (his first co-host),” Gannon said. “I never met him, I never saw him. The first time I ever met him is when we were on (radio row).”.
In addition to streaming from an individual station’s web site, mobile apps such as I Heart Radio allow fans from all over the world to tune into an array of local shows in any market. If a Pittsburgh Steelers fan stationed on a military base in Germany wants to listen to Stan Savran discuss Ben Roethlisberger’s contract, he can do that from his laptop or iPhone in a matter of clicks.
“A while ago we made the decision that we’re really not in the radio business, we’re in the audio business,” Traug Keller, ESPN senior VP of business divisions said. “First it was the PC, then it was the satellite and then it was the mobile device. All these things have exponentially added to the opportunities for listening and how it’s listened. Sports lends itself to that.”.
And that’s just the start. Keller notes that ESPN registered over 208 million downloads of its audio podcasts in 2013. For as impressive as the Nielsen growth numbers have been, most of those audience figures are only taking traditional terrestrial listeners into account. The company plans to invest a big initiative into creating a full measurement to capture figures of listeners who are accessing the content through streaming, HD, apps and other out of market methods.
While Mohr’s bosses probably can’t wait for such a tool, he doesn’t need one to let him know the magnitude of his new platform.
“If I do a standup gig in San Antonio and I just say on my radio show that I’m going to be at this theater in San Antonio, it sells out within a day,” Mohr said. “That’s just because people that listen to my radio show want to see me live. I learned the power of it.”.