Sportsnet–590 Rudderless

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.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

7 comments on “Sportsnet–590 Rudderless

  1. Again, Howard, you are one hell of a raconteur.

    It’s clear that the decisions at the Fan have been made by people who’s never owned a radio or driven in a car over long distances.

    Two days ago I drove from Vancouver to Edmonton. It’s was mostly CBC, classic 70’s rock and country and western but I would have gone bonkers had I not had my radio.

    I still remember Marsden’s last day on Radio. I don’t know who hooked it up but somebody got Brian Mulroney to call in and chat with him. Mulroney is a class act and Pat was happier than a 5-year-old at Christmas.

    Thank you for all your wonderful stories.

  2. Brady is great. Best morning host by far since Stelick and Landry.

    I’d listen again and I haven’t in two years.

  3. Rudderless, indeed. Have read the item from Toronto Sports Media about Greg’s possible 3rd kick at the 590 can and can appreciate how challenging this is. One needs only ask the bunch in places like Vancouver.

  4. Brady would be an extremely smart choice, but the implication was it’s a hybrid role on-air and as a PD.

    He is greatly missed at 590 and I haven’t listened to mornings since he left and his partners simply couldn’t keep up with him the last couple years. Didn’t need them, really.

    I have listened to him at AM640 a great deal and if there’s a role for him there, that might be the best overall fit for him. He’s a brilliant host. The FAN feels like a huge job to fix without easy answers or solutions.

    The amazing thing is my group of friends used to debate which shows we liked, which personalities drove us crazy but we listened to most of the shows.

    That has not been the case. Not one conversation about it, not one show or personality that grabs us. McCowan, Brady, Kypreos, MacLean, Walker, they all did. All 5 of them were on 3 years ago and now none are, so why is their lack of success a surprise?

    Thanks, Howard.

  5. Great article. It’s obvious we are moving toward more tv/video as technology allows, so radio must be losing some listeners, and with that, income for radio. The decision to let radio fizzle now is too early. Far too early, and maybe it should never fizzle. With the right programing, and that is an important caveat, radio can still thrive. It still does on some stations. I still listen to Jim Bowen on the radio when I watch the Leafs TV broadcast. His emotion and enthusiasm is priceless.

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