South Florida’s sports radio landscape, marked by turnover and tumult all summer, is on the verge of undergoing its most seismic change yet:
At ESPN’s urging, Dan Le Batard is expected to move to the 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. slot, replacing Fox-bound Colin Cowherd, provided ESPN Radio agrees to contractual terms with Le Batard’s on-air partner, Jon Weiner.
Though Le Batard is on board with the move, the network must still negotiate with Weiner, known to most of the country as Stugotz. Le Batard naturally wants his friend to be taken care of, so that small hurdle remains.
ESPN President John Skipper is a big fan of Le Batard and the top ESPN executives all advocated his move to mornings, partly because more affiliates carry ESPN Radio from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. (morning drive on the West Coast) than from 4 to 7 p.m.
There has been no decision on whether Fusion television will continue simulcasting Le Batard's show; discussions are ongoing.
Presuming the deal gets done --- and all parties are declining comment --- here are the wide-ranging ramifications:
### Though no final decision has been made, former Miami Herald sports writers Ethan J. Skolnick (most recently of Bleacher Report) and Israel Gutierrez (who works for ESPN) are considered top candidates to fill Le Batard’s afternoon slot locally on 104.3 The Ticket but not nationally on ESPN Radio.
Under that scenario, there would be some consideration to adding a third person in a traffic-cop type host role, but that decision hasn’t been made. Chris Wittyngham and Josh Friedman would be capable options for that position, but station management prefers not to break them up, which seems sensible because of their strong chemistry.
Adam Kuperstein, who would like to resume doing local radio after being dropped by WQAM-560, cannot do a late afternoon show because of NBC-6 commitments. Friedman, Brian London and Eric Reed would be internal options.
The program would run from either 3 to 7 p.m. or 4 to 7 p.m. There is some thought being given to airing a “Best of Le Batard” show, with highlights of his morning program, from 3 to 4 p.m.
Even a taped Le Batard hour probably would be a stronger lead-in to Skolnick and Gutierrez (should they land the gig) than a live show hosted by someone else.
Over the past three years, Skolnick has appeared regularly during the 1 to 3 p.m. slot with Reed and former NFL player Leroy Hoard. Gutierrez appears twice a week on The Ticket’s morning show with Jonathan Zaslow and Joy Taylor.
### Le Batard and Weiner have expressed a willingness to do a “local hour” from 9 to 10 a.m., similar to their current 3-4 p.m. hour that airs only The Ticket.
Joe Rose has been the most competitive of any WQAM host in the ratings battle against The Ticket, with Rose and Zaslow/Taylor each winning multiple ratings books against the other over the past few months. A Le Batard hour at 9 a.m. might draw some listeners from the final hour of Rose.
### Wittyngham and Friedman, who shifted to mornings following Cowherd’s departure last month, likely would return to 7 to 10 p.m., unless the station decides to shift them to afternoon drive.
### Bomani Jones, who hosts a 9-11 p.m. show on ESPN Radio, is the front-runner to replace Le Batard nationally from 4 to 7 p.m. But The Ticket --- which has a marketing partnership with The Miami Herald --- prefers to air local programming during those hours.
ESPN Radio is expected to ask The Ticket to air an additional ESPN program besides Le Batard’s, but the station’s contract doesn’t explicitly require that.
### Marc Hochman, whose WQAM show recently moved up an hour (to 2 p.m.) and added Channing Crowder, would no longer be competing with Le Batard, whose program Hochman previously produced. Le Batard generates the market's highest sports-talk ratings.
Le Batard's shift to mornings could give the personable Hochman a chance to make inroads in the ratings, though a potential Skolnick/Gutierrez pairing also would have wide appeal and name recognition inside the market.
### One other notable local media change that has nothing to do with Le Batard: Former UM All-American safety Bennie Blades will be WQAM-560’s new analyst on Hurricanes postgame shows, replacing Duane Starks, who has been working as a Baltimore Ravens scouting intern.
Those UM postgame shows have increasingly become a vent-and-bash-the-coaches session after losses and even after unimpressive wins. Blades was critical of UM coaching in an interview with Kuperstein last week. Randal Hill, who’s running for U.S. Congress, will remain WQAM’s pre-game analyst.
AROUND THE DIAL
### Even though HBO’s Miami-based Ballers often mentions the Dolphins, the fictional series’ first season --- which concludes Sunday night --- has featured more current Marlins and Heat players (Giancarlo Stanton, Chris Andersen) than current Dolphins players, though Will Davis filmed a scene.
There were several former Dolphins who had cameos: Larry Csonka and Jared Odrick, as well as legendary coach Don Shula. Ballers has generated ratings higher than HBO’s Entourage and was recently renewed for a second season.
### Interesting to hear Texans coach Bill O’Brien encourage his players to use mindless clichés during HBO’s Hard Knocks this week.
“Remember guys, [reporters] have a job to do,” O’Brien said. “We’re very respectful of their job. They’re a conduit to the fans. In the end you’re in the control of the interview.
“If you’re asked a question,” O’Brien said, “and you really don’t understand the question or you really don’t want to answer the question, here’s some suggestions: ‘I’m working hard.’ ‘I’m trying to be a good teammate.’ ‘I’m trying to go out there every day and do my job.’ ‘I’m taking it one day at a time.’
““Don’t comment on other players… When you talk to the media, you just worry about speaking for yourself.”
O’Brien then provided this example:
“What’s your impressions of Brian Cushing so far as a player?”
O’Brien’s suggested answer: “I’m just here trying to make the team better.”
C’mon Bill; there are only about 100 ways to answer that question without saying anything controversial or divisive.
### Former ESPN analyst Craig James filed a lawsuit against Fox, alleging religious discrimination led to his firing from FS Southwest after he previously voiced opposition to gay marriage in an unsuccessful run for a U.S. Senate seat and urged Christians to “stand up” on the issue. Fox denies that was the reason for his dismisal.
### Fox Sports 1 will simulcast Cowherd’s Fox Sports radio show, which will air from noon to 3 p.m. starting Sept. 8. Cowherd also will appear on the new 11 a.m. to noon hour of the Fox NFL pregame show that debuts this season…
Andy Roddick left Fox Sports 1 after having a prominent role as a general sports commentator on Fox Sports Live when the network launched in 2013.
### Please see the last post for my "media" segment of our Dolphins 50th anniversary package.