TORONTO (Apr. 17) — John Rea. Bob Mackowycz. Nelson Millman. Don Kollins. Dave Cadeau. Then… ???
Five men and one mystery. The names, since September 1992, with the title of Program Director at Canada’s first all–sports radio station. I worked for the first four. Dave Cadeau was mostly a producer in my years at The FAN–590; elevated to the big chair after I was bounced in 2011. Cadeau got the rinse treatment a few months ago and Rogers Communications, owner of the radio station since 2002, hasn’t yet replaced him. Which is rather baffling in and around the industry. Should Sportsnet–590 not have identified a successor before relieving its incumbent P.D. of duties? We’re not talking about a part–time, overnight producer here. This is the Big Kahuna. The decision–maker. The desk where the dollar stops. Or, so it should be. What, then, is holding up such a critical appointment?
I could go directly to Rogers, but I’d be wasting my time. This corner isn’t big on claptrap. Instead, I’ll simply call upon my 23 years of experience in radio and my privilege of being on the ground floor of Canada’s first all–sports entity, when CJCL AM–1430 became The FAN–1430 on Sep. 2, 1992. My involvement began more than four years prior (May 30, 1988) when Telemedia network manager Allan Davis (currently program director of all–sports WGR–550 Radio in Buffalo) recommended to CJCL that I be hired at the princely, part–time wage of $270 a week; not knowing I would have paid them $270 a week to finally get my foot in the door. It led, of course, to the delightful assignment of being the first radio beat–reporter for a National Hockey League team when I began covering the Maple Leafs, home and away, in the lockout–shortened season of January–to–May 1995; a role I enacted for 17 years. To this day, and with a somewhat–jaundiced eye, Millman claims I had “the best gig in the city” during that time. For which he annually budgeted. 😛 So, yes, Allan Davis (and Nelson) carry a soft spot in my heart.
ALLAN DAVIS: CREDIT, OR BLAME, HIM FOR MY 23–YEAR CAREER IN SPORTS RADIO.
Though I am unaware, perhaps mercifully, of the strategy at Rogers, questions abound regarding the hold up in naming a successor to Cadeau. Foremost: Is the company looking for an experienced radio manager… and is it willing to pay that individual to do the job effectively? Does it want Allan Davis and Nelson Millman — radio guys to the core — or someone to merely fill in the dance card and keep the train on the track? For most of the years I worked at The FAN–590, there was no visual component to the role of program director. That changed, dramatically, in the latter part of my term, when radio became strictly an adjunct to a much–bigger TV platform [with Sportsnet]. There were many days when it felt we were barely a factor in the Rogers behemoth. So, I wonder, again: Is the company looking for an ‘audio–only’ guy… or someone to pitch in with all platforms — radio, TV and digital?
If it’s a radio person, there are specifications for the job.
He or she has to worry, solely, about what’s coming out of the box; about creating and building personalities that can hold an audience for minutes and hours. The ratings system here in Canada is overblown. Anyone can dial up a station and listen for two minutes; then go elsewhere. Far more important is building credibility and entertainment so audiences stay with the product. And, come back to it every day. As with Bob McCown for so many years on Prime Time Sports. You need a personality that will engage with and hold audience attention. The program director has to cultivate a strong, lasting relationship with that on–air host. It is not, in any way, a part–time position.
Is Rogers intent on harvesting such an individual, once again, via the post of radio program director? As it did with Davis, Millman and McCown for more than a decade of exponential profit? I’d say it’s rather unlikely, given that Sportsnet–590 continues to simulcast — in the afternoon–drive slot — Tim & Friends, with host Tim Micallef. This is no knock on Micallef, who’s an exceptional talent. But, Rogers is airing a TV show on radio, in prime time.
As mentioned, Sportsnet–590 is hardly the autonomous, self–reliant enterprise of the early years in Canadian all–sports radio. When Ted Rogers died in December 2008, and the company fell into the hands of his son, Edward Rogers III, radio programming fell interminably beneath the bottom line. Suddenly, it mattered not “who” was on the air, but “what” came out of the box. Every decision, no matter how small or big, was governed by a financial component. It ranged from no longer reimbursing Howard Berger for parking at the Air Canada Centre to blowing off McCown, in 2019, after 30 years. The FAN–590, once the radio beacon of the Rogers empire, turned into a poor second cousin to the Sportsnet TV monolith; at times, almost a fundamental nuisance. That perception continued over the winter months, this year, when Rogers became the first owner of a Major League Baseball team (the Toronto Blue Jays) to stamp out a dedicated radio crew. This season, the company is simulcasting Blue Jays games from the Sportsnet television feed. Whether it’s a short–term “pandemic” decision remains to be seen.
But, when Rogers devises a way to conserve money, it isn’t likely to re–open the vault.
WILL ROGERS EVER–AGAIN CULTIVATE A RADIO–FIRST PERSONALITY SUCH AS BOB McCOWN?
The website TorontoSportsMedia.com claims that former FAN–590 morning host Greg Brady is among those being considered for the P.D. role. Greg is a gifted broadcaster with an abundance of sports knowledge. Though he was rather involved with Talk–640 program director, Gord Harris, in personnel decisions when that station held radio rights to the Maple Leafs, Greg is not long on managerial experience. If appointed to Cadeau’s vacant chair, he’ll likely become Rogers’ radio “babysitter” while helping to build the more important digital and TV platforms.
From my perspective, radio under Edward Rogers III is no more relevant today than when the company fired me nearly a decade ago. Perhaps that explains the difficulty in appointing a credible P.D. for Sportsnet–590.