Let's face it: Conventional wisdom would tell any local radio exec Portland needs a second sports radio station like Greg Oden needs another knee injury.
So non-radio folks were scratching their heads when Rose City Radio Corp. recently announced it would silence the hip-hop on Jammin' 95.5 FM and switch to an all-sports format called "The Game" on Monday, May 12.
A town with just one major-league team—the NBA's Trail Blazers—needs a sports radio station besides KFXX 1080 AM "The Fan"? Portland getting one of only a handful of FM all-sports stations nationwide? For real?
"I just don't think there's room for two," says David Deckard, a 39-year-old lifelong Blazers fanatic and one of two chief bloggers on the Blazers' Blazersedge.com.
Rose City's move is certainly bold.
According to a 2001 report by Arbitron (the Nielsen of the radio world), AM sports radio stations often struggle because the AM band is "the radio equivalent of a torn ACL." And in the latest Arbitron listener ratings for winter 2008, Portland's "The Fan" ranked 19th overall out of the market's 60 AM and FM stations.
Officials at Rose City Radio (which also operates news radio KXL 750 AM) say more talk radio is moving to FM, and that Portland could support an FM sports station. With a heftier local lineup, they felt confident enough to challenge Entercom Communications' "The Fan," which has monopolized local sports-talk radio for nearly two decades. James Derby, 95.5 "The Game" programming director, thinks there's room for two but obviously wants ultimately to "be the station that listeners choose."
"It's not that what they're doing down the street is wrong or bad," Derby says. "We just think that Portland sports fans deserve more."
And that means more local. While "The Game's" programming will feature national favorites including The Jim Rome Show and FOX-affiliate shows like Costas on the Radio, it's offering eight hours a day of local talk shows featuring Blazers broadcaster Brian Wheeler, KATU sports director Katy Brown, sportswriter and former KFXX host Ken Vance, The Bald-Faced Truth with John Canzano ("Bald-Faced Conflict," WW, Aug. 15, 2007) and Overtime with Gavin Dawson, also formerly with KFXX.
That's four more hours each weekday of local talk shows than 1080 AM, which offers four hours of Primetime with Isaac & Big Suke.
"The Game," owned by Blazers owner Paul Allen, will also broadcast the Blazers, University of Oregon football and basketball, and the NFL's Seattle Seahawks—which Allen also owns.
This isn't Allen's first venture into local sports programming. In 2002, he pulled the plug on his Action Sports Cable Network.
This week, "The Game's" opening-day fare—interspersed between station IDs with a deep-throated announcer proclaiming, "Finally, a brand new sports station built just for you, Portland"—included a score by Canzano, who got an interview with Sen. Barack Obama. The Democratic presidential front-runner predicted he would beat GOP presidential candidate John McCain "15 to zip" in a one-on-one basketball game. Obama also talked about the Blazers and Oregon State University, which recently hired his brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, as its new men's basketball coach. Obama dropped several compliments on Oden, who has publicly endorsed Obama's candidacy.
"Not only is Greg a great basketball player, turns out he's one of the sweetest, nicest people you could ever meet," Obama said. "I'm going to be rooting for this young Portland team."
Erin Hubert, Entercom's general manager in Portland, says KFXX's status as an ESPN affiliate gives it an edge, as does its longevity.
"The best content wins, whether you're on FM, AM or satellite," says Hubert, a former Blazers executive vice president. "If you can be an ESPN affiliate, that's always your first choice if you're a sports radio station. And that's what we have.… We've been in the market for 18 years."
Hubert believes the two stations will increase interest overall for sports talk.
But even a sports fanatic like Deckard remains a skeptic, saying he "doubts that both [stations] will last" and that "The Game's" local approach may be the one that prevails.
"The reality is that Portlanders are provincial—and ESPN rarely mentions Portland, or Portland sports, or Northwest sports very much," Deckard says. "I see national programming being useful in the evening hours, but if you're trying to do your drive time on national, and someone else is doing local talk, especially about the Blazers—you're gonna lose."
Other U.S. cities with two sports radio stations include Dallas and Denver. Both cities have four major-league sports franchises.