TORONTO (Mar. 30) — At some point, Rogers Communications and Sportsnet will get around to letting us know their plans for the coveted and important time–slot being vacated by Tim Micallef on Apr. 11, as Tim & Friends goes off the air after a pretty good run. And, the person that created a franchise for the company over the span of three decades said, late today, he’d be all ears if Rogers were to consider a return of Prime Time Sports.
“Oh, I’d have to listen,” offered Bob McCown from his Mississauga, Ont. home while keeping an eye on the Blue Jays season opener in St. Louis. “There’d be no reason to not listen. That said, I don’t think there’s any chance of it happening. If Rogers were interested in having me return to the four–hour window late in the afternoon, I assume they would have called by now. To be honest, there’s nothing I can see that would stand in the way of such a conversation. The company let me go [in June 2019] for economic reasons and there was absolutely no animosity on either side. So, it’s not as if we would need to repair a relationship. Neither do I think the concept would be unwelcomed. My podcast has done very well in terms of listenership since it started. I’m not making as much money as I did in radio, but neither do I work as hard. I broadcast now from home. But, I’d be open to a chat about returning to my old gig. Rogers owns the Prime Time Sports label. So, they would have to pick up the phone.”
McCown will be 71 in May, but he remains the most–recognizable and prolific host in Canadian sports history. For close to 30 years, beginning in October 1989, he drew enormous ratings — first, exclusively on radio, then nationwide on radio and TV as Prime Time was simulcast by Sportsnet. Bob worked alongside a plethora of co–hosts, beginning with Bill Watters and the late Jim (Shakey) Hunt; then later with such figures as Damien Cox, Stephen Brunt and Richard Deitsch. What began as a 50–minute production (6:10 to 7 p.m.) aired locally on CJCL AM–1430 grew into a four–hour bonanza on Canada’s first all–sports radio station (The FAN–590). No guest was too big or too important to appear on Prime Time Sports, even as McCown moved away from interviewing athletes and concentrated on those in business, management and ownership. Neither had any afternoon–drive radio program endured for even close to the period in which McCown dominated the sports airwaves. Why, after nearly a four–year pause, could the program not reappear and flourish? What reason would listeners/viewers have to not re–embrace the voice that ushered sports fans through more than a generation of discussion and debate?
“Those are all valid questions and I don’t see a downside to any of them,” answered McCown. “Am I too old now for sports listeners? Well, I can’t predict the audience today on radio but there’s no age issue on my podcast; that I can assure you. I built a good following through the years and I don’t believe people have forgotten who I am, particularly not in the Toronto region. But, neither am I going to lie to you — it would take a pretty good offer [from Rogers] to get me back in the studio five afternoons a week. And, as mentioned, there’s been no indication of interest in re–establishing Prime Time; at least not with me as host. That said, I would be open to any type of conversation along those lines. The company hasn’t successfully replaced our show since it ended. I can’t imagine anything else in that four–hour radio and TV slot that would have the impact and longevity of Prime Time. So, there’s no reason, beyond economics, to not give it another try. But, I may be alone in that appraisal.”
Actually, he is not. This corner is naturally biased, having cut my radio teeth as the first producer of Prime Time Sports. It was later, beginning in 1993, that I began covering the Toronto Maple Leafs as a reporter for The FAN–590. It is hardly common for any weekday show, on radio or TV, to catch fire in a bottle the way McCown did with Prime Time. Neither could there be reasonable expectation of such an audience surge, regardless of how Rogers plans on replacing Tim & Friends. The afternoon–drive period can make or break a radio enterprise. The Bobcat is still robust. So, why not go back to a concept that worked for so many years in Canada’s biggest media market?
One drawback could be the not–so–gradual move away from stout opinion in the era of team/network co–proprietorship. No radio listener or TV viewer has prospered from Rogers and Bell controlling 75 percent of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. The absence of such outspoken voices as McCown, Don Cherry, Brian Burke and Al Strachan is common in today’s vanilla sports environment. Not that it couldn’t be re–established, if so desired.
“The format was very simple,” said McCown of Prime Time. “It didn’t change during our 30–year run and I’m doing it successfully today on my podcast. Establish a good co–host (such as former Sportsnet hockey voice John Shannon, who shares the podcast microphone with McCown) and invite interesting guests to take part. People that have something to say… and say it well. There’s no big secret, other than being on your game every day.
“I think we did that very well on radio for a long time. And, yes, I think we still could.”
Bob, just like Pat Marsden, always knew the right thing to say. If anyone at Rogers had any brain power they’d figure out a way to get bobcat back on the airwaves/TV waves/Youtube. My favorite sports shows is now on Youtube – The Pat McAfee. It’s much like what The Fan-590 was in its heyday: sports news, business, science, comedy, advertisements (God, I miss Saul Korman shilling his store and Canali suits; I bought two suits from Saul after I finished school just because he advertised on The FAN), and interesting guests. In terms of interesting facts…Bob explained to listeners the epistemology of the phrase “Winner Winner Chicken Dinner”. I’m not sure why that bit has stuck in my tiny Man Brain, but it’s the power of radio.
Please come back !! Toronto sports broadcasting has such a hole in it since you left.
I think it could happen if Bobcat would take a pay cut, I’m convinced his salary was the only reason Prime Time went off the air.
Bobcat has the “A” List of guests, many of whom have mutual respect and affection for Bob. They won’t necessarily appear (or call in) on other shows.
Tim (and Sid) were a weak second cousin to Prime Time and I think Overdrive (which I occasionally watch) is a different style.
Hope it happens.
Yes. the Bobcat should come back to tv and radio. But Howard, so should you.
Howard, always enjoy your work. I’ve been listening to Bobcat since the late 80s and I honestly prefer the podcast format. Even though they have one commercial in between the main guest, I find the guests provide more insight during the interviews and seem more comfortable than on radio. Keep up the good work.
Bob’s whole shtick is that he doesn’t give a crap about the guys upstairs and is going to give it to you straight. Can’t imagine that would go over well in todays world of “media partnerships”
Bob is not a fan in the traditional sense and does not fawn over teams and players. I’d welcome it but can’t see it happening.
Howard, as a guy who listened to Bob from my teenage years, it would be fantastic if this happens, but here are two reasons why it won’t. Bob is not a homer, which precludes him from any employment at Rogers/Bell. He stated that it would have to be a substantial financial package to get him back in studio, you are talking about a company that for the last 3 yrs has told Joe Bowen he has to call all Leaf road games, including playoffs, from a studio in Toronto because they do not want to pay travel expenses, even though the majority of NHL clubs have found a way to get their broadcast crews back on the road.
Everything is cyclical though! I’d welcome it !
Great interview and insight Howard. I am seeing more and more how the media has moved more and more from objective observations to more of a raw raw support for the home team. Obviously team/media ownership has a lot to do with that.
Though I would love for it to happen Howard I’m certain it won’t. First, Rogers would have to pay more than a low level interns salary so the entire concept dies there, but even if they pried open the purse then next issue is controlling editorial content, particularly around NHL hockey. Sportsnet and TSN couldn’t (wouldn’t?) allow a host to speak ill of either the Leafs or the NHL game itself, something Bob has done over the years.
At the same time I think the old saying, “You can’t go home again” is sadly correct. I think the real concern for Sportsnet is their unwillingness to cultivate new talent to replace people like yourself and Bob. Note I didn’t say inability as I believe Sportsnet & TSN intentionally (as you point out) avoid giving a platform to a host or personality that will offer an opinion counter to the company line/interest. it’s a problem across the media landscape near-wholly owned by Bell and Rogers.
I don’t know why people forget “origin stories”. It’s like CityTV never celebrates or acknowledges the beginnings of City News. It started as a most simple broadcast with my own father, Bernard Cowan as the anchor in 1972. Bob’s “Prime Time” may have started in 1989 but he was doing radio sports talk and phone-in back in 1975 on the then, CKFH with yours truly on the board. He invented sports radio in Canada and it’s unbelievable to me that he isn’t on the air in Toronto. There’s only one reason for that. M O N E Y!!! Bob was extremely well paid and considering the national juggernaut that Prime Time became, I can’t believe that Rogers wasn’t making money from it. The mandate for a license should be to present the best possible programming for the listeners over “the PUBLIC airwaves”. That costs money. That’s radio’s ONLY motivation today.
I must have spoken to you. I used to call the “Talking of Sports” when I was in my early teens back in the 70’s. Got to talk to Bob a few times too. Not nearly as much as “Montreal” though.
Best show ever. I listened almost every day. BRING BACK THE BOBCAT!!