TSN1050 Shuffles the Deck

.

by mike in boston @mikeinboston and TSM @yyzsportsmedia

 

Note: Seen & Heard will return. We made an editorial decision to bump it in order to cover the big news of the week in more detail.

 

We had been hearing rumours of changes coming but neither of us knew they would be coming this week. TSN1050 program director Jeff MacDonald has been on the job for a year and has finally put his own stamp on the line-up. On February 22nd TSN will reveal several new and revamped radio shows in an attempt to establish some market share against local behemoth the FAN590.

 

Let’s take a quick trip back 5 years ago when TSN radio was launching. Here is what they were saying:

 

“TSN’s mandate has always been to be Canada’s Sports Leader and TSN Radio 1050 gives the network yet another platform to deliver industry-leading sports coverage to Canadians across the country,” said Phil King, President of Sports and Executive Vice-President of Programming, CTV. “The powerful combination of TSN’s all-star broadcast team and CHUM Radio – one of the most successful radio organizations in Canada – enables TSN Radio 1050 to make an immediate impact on the sports radio landscape.”

 

In their wildest nightmares no one at TSN could have predicted how poorly the network would fare over the next 5 years. TSN1050’s opening day line-up featured popular FAN960 (Calgary) host Mike Richards in the morning, and James Cybulski (& a company including producer Wheeler, then Gentile, and finally Macko) in the afternoons. In between was Dan Patrick, Leafs/Blue Lunch, and Bryan Hayes. You can read some TSM reader reaction here.

 

By February of 2012 Patrick was gone and the Scott MacArthur show took over 9-12. By February of 2013 C-balls was booted from TSN, radio rookie (edit: Naylor did a lot of radio between ’92 and ’00) Naylor was brought in to handle 4-7, and Macko& Cauz took over 9-12 from MacArthur who was moved to the Jays beat. Read the reaction here. This is more or less the line-up that would last for the next 3 years.

 

In its 5 years in the market TSN1050 has struggled mightily with a weak signal, inept podcasting practices, and terrible ratings. The current changes reflect the biggest attempt since 2013 to try something new on the content side. Here are our impressions of the new line-up.

 

Mornings with Landsberg & Naylor

 

MikeThe biggest reason to love this show is that it will once again provide a sports focused option in the mornings. That was Brady&Walker’s biggest asset and it was sorely missed when the FAN brought Blundell on board. Whatever else may be true of Landsberg and Naylor as personalities, both are highly credible on all Toronto sports and on national stories.

 

My biggest questions are the following:

 

1) Can Landsberg sustain enough energy for 3 hours of live radio 45+ weeks a year? He’s been in TV for a very long time and radio is a different animal. I genuinely don’t know how he will handle this aspect of the job, especially since it involves getting up at 4am.

 

2) Does Landsberg still have the passion for sports? Anyone who follows him on Twitter knows how important his mental health advocacy is. If that dominates his on air contributions then I can imagine listeners quickly tuning him out. He will be able to coast on his banked reputation from his TV days with some segment of the audience, but the younger part of the demo will need to be won over.

 

3) Is this the right role for Naylor? As I have written before, Naylor was a huge step up from Cybulski and provided a great alternative to Bob while still being in the same ballpark. Naylor struggled as a host though: too often he got caught up trying to compete with his co-hosts when what he needed to do was guide the discussion. In some ways the new role will be easier, since Landsberg will be the high energy character. Dave just needs to play it straight and deliver solid sports takes in order to do his part.

 

4) Can this duo make gains against the FAN? This has a very Marsden & Derringer feel to it, which could mean good things for TSN. Both guys are recognizable and relatable. I reckon there will be very little shtick, and the excursions into the world beyond sports should be few and far between. Please — no Oscars talk or Trump v Sanders discussion. I also reckon the guest list will be reliably good. Both guys are well connected.

 

Overall this has the potential to draw in a different audience than Richards’ show, and to bring over sports fans from the FAN. Bold move by TSN1050. Let’s see if it pays off.

 

TSM: This is a HUGE win for the Toronto Sports Fan!  When Don Kollins yanked Greg Brady and Andrew Walker off the air, that was the last time Toronto had a real sports radio morning show.  No pressure on Naylor and Landsberg!  For my two cents, TSN has made a major advance here.  They have two guys who can talk sports with the best of them.  They also have guys who can talk about pop-culture and the news of the day.

 

My questions? The first one for me is which Landsberg shows up.  There was a time when Michael was high energy and lots of fun to listen to.  IMHO, it’s been a while since we’ve seen that.

 

Next, How will Landsberg do on radio.  Again, IMHO, I think he was made for radio, and sports radio in that.  I think he’s a lot like John Derringer when he joined the fan back in the day.

 

The next question is, how will Naylor and Landsberg do together.  Let’s hope they avoid the “bit” radio that seems to be the norm these days.  Chemistry is important and it will be interesting to see how these two vets work together.

 

The Answer? No matter what, this will NOT be any worse than what we’ve had for awhile.  Talk about setting the bar low.  This will be a huge improvement for those of us who are in our cars in the am.  Not only is this an alternative to the Fan, it’s an improvement without hearing a word of it.

 

Afternoon drive with Hayes & O’Neill

 

TSM: If ever there was a crew who replicates what it would sound like if my friends and I had microphones on us talking sports, Hayes and crew would be it.  No, they don’t just talk hockey.  They talk baseball (Jays), they talk football (superbowl) and they sound like a bunch of guys who just plain love talking sports.  They are younger, more fun and bring a sense of humour that will be more than just a McCown alternative.

 

Questions: First up, do they alienate their audience who loves them in the noon slot. Leafs Lunch with this crew was the best show on TSN 1050.  Moving them later vs. the KING could kill two birds with one stone, and I don’t mean that positively.

 

Secondly, how will the show play in non hockey high times. Toronto is not a hockey town.  It’s a Maple Leafs city.  Let’s face it, from the day after the NHL trade deadline until the draft and free agent day, hockey will be challenged from an interest level by Blue Jays baseball and Toronto Raptors playoffs.  If you don’t believe that, take a look at how much Jays talk there has been on McCown’s show this year post Jays season.  The audience won’t care all that much about the Leafs on March 7 or April 7 and when the Leafs aren’t involved the ratings on hockey take a hit.  Can these guys keep an audience or gain when in those hockey dead times will make or break the show.

 

Mike: This is by far the biggest risk that TSN is taking with these moves. If this doesn’t work then you will have taken your most valuable brand (Leafs Lunch) and ruined it through overexposure and misuse. You will also have missed an opportunity to have something stable in place for when Bob retires. That said, this pair of moves is clearly a shot across the bow: they are moving their best people into the most important slots. If they make any gains, now all of sudden the FAN has to think about responding. Here are some questions I have:

 

1) Will people be interested in listening to O’Neill talk about the Jays and Raps? O’Neill is currently occupying the same space that Zaun does for the FAN. Big personality, big talk, big ego, ex-jock … All of that works in small doses if you care about the player’s perspective. Once he is talking about things he doesn’t know much about, the wheels come off the bus. Will O’Neill know to dial down the bluster when he doesn’t know what he is taking about? That’s not a switch that is easy to turn off. We shall see …

 

2) Why didn’t they give Hayes & O’Neill the morning show and keep Landsberg & Naylor in the PM slot? That seems less disruptive to me, and it buys you some time for Hayes & Co to develop as generalists before committing to them as the PTS alternative.

 

3) What happens to Mirtle and Feschuk and Graham and Hodge and the rest of the co-hosts? In one sense, it makes sense to keep them around to provide continuity. In another, it’s a terrible idea. I doubt guys with actual journalistic training are going to suffer through having to play third fiddle to the other two. I’m guessing a co-host clean slate is in order here. The aforementioned can always appear as guests if they want to. That said, if TSN stops employing them as co-hosts then they might jump ship over to the FAN for more exposure. The only person who makes total sense to keep around on a regular basis is Simmons. Something tells me he and O’Neill will be a riot together.

 

Some more thoughts: I have followed Hayes’ rise in Toronto sports radio since it began. My complaint has been the same throughout: I’m not sure he delivers enough interesting opinions to carry a show on his own. (This is not intended as a harsh criticism. Bob McCown doesn’t have enough interesting opinions in 2016 to carry a show on his own either.) In my humble opinion as a listener, Hayes has a derivative personality. He is currently most comfortable playing off the big personalities with which he is paired, whether that is O’Neill, Noodles, Bill Watters, or his dad. Just look at how much of how his persona is “I’m the guy who has to keep the O-Dog in check!!!” I’m not sure that is going to work well for 3 hours a day in a prime time slot.

 

Here is my suggestion for how to address this. Give Bryan 1 out of the 3 hours solo and don’t let him take calls or have a co-host. Let him do some interviews solo, and make him carry the conversation. If he is going to last in the PTS slot then he needs to develop as a leading man whose opinion people want to hear.

 

One other thought. My biggest complaint about TSN Drive was that each hour was littered with hockey talk. Feschuk or Simmons talking Leafs at 4, McKenzie at 5, Dreger at 6, and who knows who else in between. It’s too much, and it breaks up the coherence of the show. If this new show is going to be more than Leafs Lunch PM then please try to sequester the hockey insider segments to the 5pm hour, for example. PTS used to do a great job of building from local stories in the 4pm hour up to national stories at 6pm.

 

My hope is that TSN has an actual plan for how to make the show something other than an extended Leafs Lunch. Old habits die hard, and if left to their own devices the hosts will just settle in to what they already know how to do.

 

Middays with Mike Richards

 

Mike: Mike Richards has lasted 5 years as TSN1050’s morning show. He put up better ratings than anyone else on his station. For that he deserves a lot of credit. My guess is that he won’t last long in his new slot. There are other opportunities out there for Mike and if he sees one, he should jump. There is nothing left for him at TSN1050, especially not at a morning show salary.

 

As TSM notes, everyone in the industry regards the day time slots as a wasteland. We hear this all the time: no one is listening during the day and advertisers don’t care how good or bad your ratings are so long as M25-54 are listening on the way in to work or on the way home.

 

To be honest, I find this to be very 20th century thinking. Lots of people podcast shows, and time-slot doesn’t matter when you can listen to everything on demand. Lots of people (mercifully) don’t have to obey the strictures of the 9-5 work day and so are commuting later in the day, or not at all. Lastly, the morning commute ends long after 9am and roads seem to be packed going home before 4pm. So I’m not sure the old clock to which advertisers seem beholden is terribly accurate in 2016.

 

All of that to say that whatever TSN1050 does with and post-Richards, treating the time slot as a black hole would be a mistake. The FAN went from Tim&Sid, a strong show, to Walker&Brady, also a strong show. My suggestion is to surround Mike with some of your best young talent so that when he leaves you have some people ready andy waiting to take over.

 

TSM: If TSN wanted to tell the FAN there was a time slot they didn’t care about, this is the way to do it.  Sticking Richards in the purgatory time slot takes him from the most important show to the most meaningless (as Kollins did with Krystal and then Brady and Walker).  Perhaps Richard’s schtick will play better in a meaningless slot.  I can tell you for sure, this website will have a lot fewer comments about this show than anytime before.

 

I have only two questions: how long does Mike last in this slot, and does Vijay Singh go with him?

 

Mid mornings with Cauz & Wheeler

 

TSM: Not much changes here except perhaps a bit of permanence if the show is in fact their’s for the keeping.  For reasons I don’t quite understand, Jeff Blair’s show has not been a ratings success of late.  So, perhaps skewing a little younger will help generate an audience in a quite time.

 

Questions? Don’t really have any to be honest.  I happen to like both guys, but I am not in a position to listen all that often.

 

Mike: Nothing much to say here other than “get well Macko”. Macko&Cauz built a good brand together and it is a little sad for Cauz that he has to start from scratch.

 

The pairing of Wheeler & Cauz is not ideal. Both guys have that goofy and fast-paced approach so there is not enough contrast on the show. Macko was a very good ballast for Cauz. That said, both current guys bring wide sports knowledge and I rarely feel they are mailing it in. If Blair’s style and delivery are not for you, then C&W provide a plausible alternative.

 

Final Thoughts

 

  • TSN1050 should do whatever they can to get on FM. Many US based sports talk stations went FM years ago, with an interim period where they were on both AM and FM.

 

  • Jay & Dan might not be ready to come back just yet, but things are not going well over at Fox. See if you can get them to do some radio hits or host a weekly podcast.

 

  • Maybe call the new morning show “On the Record”?

 

  • Probably time for a new ad campaign to let people know TSN1050 exists.

 

  • Give some thought to poaching either Brady or Walker to join the 4-7 slot as a full-time co-host.

 

  • Nice work Jeff MacDonald. TSN1050 was DOA at launch with chucklehead shows in the morning and afternoon. This is much better. Better late than never …

 

  • Don’t reduce your baseball coverage in 2016. Rogers took a beating for the AA/Price/etc missteps in recent months. It is important that TSN (especially radio) be a regular voice on the Jays.

 

  • Lastly, fix your website. It’s a jumbled mess. Separate your video, audio, and columns. Also, provide clearer definition between original content and generic stuff I can read anywhere.

 

 

—–

 

Thanks for reading. We look forward to reading your ideas for where TSN1050 should go from here.

 

Mike and Jonah/TSM

About the Author