by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / email
Beyond the abrupt and short-lived change to 3-6pm, the 4-7pm slot has been sacrosanct at Fan590 for decades. The final hour, 6-7pm, was the supposed “national” hour and the first was the “local” one. In theory this meant the show could build from the parochial to the profound over the course of three hours. Prime Time Sports endured many lead-in shows of varying quality but did not seem to suffer much from the absence of a consistent set up man.
Dave Cadeau, Jason Rozon and the rest of the Fan590 management team have blown up the 4-7 slot while creating cost efficiencies for the television side. The new schedule on both radio and TV features Writer’s Bloc from 2-5pm and Tim&Sid from 5-7pm. PTS used to compete with Tim & Sid for viewership – a Scott Moore genius idea – often drawing the ire of the already cantankerous McCown. By shuffling the timeslots Sportsnet was able to cut a large number of producers and technical staff, and double-dip Tim and Sid as both a radio and TV product, paving the way for McCown’s dismissal.
We don’t know if Sportsnet TV is forcing this change on Sportsnet Radio, or if this new arrangement is genuinely mutually agreeable for both platforms. What we do know is that money is as tight as it has ever been at Rogers, and things took another bad turn in recent days. With all that by way of background, I have listened to two full weeks of the new shows on FAN590’s podcast feed and have some thoughts.
“Sharp takes, not hot takes”
It’s hard to listen to Writers Bloc without thinking of Bob McCown. The three hour show is largely based on the blueprint he developed. They discuss the big topics of the day and work in guests with expertise who can deepen the debate. They don’t take calls. This is perhaps the biggest change from what usually defines the 2-4 slot in Toronto sports radio. The dynamic between Brunt and Blair is excellent. There is clearly a lot of mutual professional respect and friendship which makes the conversation fluid for the most part. This is in stark contrast with the McCown mode of operation, where he tried to antagonize co-hosts into largely uninteresting debates. The overall sports IQ of the show is quite high.
In terms of content, the results are very mixed after two weeks. Their opening “roundtable” featured Shi Davidi (Sportsnet Jays) and Nick Alberga (Sportsnet Leafs + Fantasy). For anyone hoping for the end of the PTS tendency to force feed minor Sportsnet personalities onto the listening audience, this was not a good start. I’m sure Davidi has lots of opinions on the Leafs and the NFL but I’m also sure that I don’t want to hear them. Alberga may well have a bright future at the station but no one knows who he is right now, and if this is supposed to be their signature discussion show then this is not the place for training wheels.
The same mistake was repeated the following Monday when the roundtable featured Michael Grange (Sportsnet basketball) and Richard Deitsch. While these are arguably journalists who can function as generalists, the results were still very lacklustre. All of these people can be heard in spades across Rogers platforms. Why would anyone make a point to tune in for the Monday roundtable? Is there no one the two hosts know from outside the Sportsnet universe who could come in for an hour?
Beyond the roundtables, the other shows were a predictable mix of in-house experts with a few interesting outsiders. A perfect example of the uneven nature of the show came on Friday. Hazel Mae (Sportsnet Jays) appeared to discuss the Astros’ firing of their AGM Taubman. In other posts I have argued that Sportsnet continually devalues Mae by treating her as merely a sideline reporter. She has a wealth of experience both here and elsewhere and deserves a larger platform to speak on the Jays and baseball more generally. In her interview she was articulate and educated on the nuances of this story. However absent the gender angle, Sportsnet would have deferred to Davidi or any of the other insiders. Mae has proven her value many times over the years and did so again on Friday.
Mae’s interview was stellar but it was sandwiched amongst Corey Hirsch (Sportsnet Hockey) and Gord Stellick (Sportsnet Leafs). This is, in my opinion, a complete waste of time, and a loss of momentum on an important topic that deserved deeper analysis. Sportsnet was carrying two Leafs games on Friday and Saturday, so these interviews serve the brand but not necessarily the audience. Listening to Brunt discuss Leafs line matchups with Stellick is painful. The other interviews on Friday were with TFC GM Ali Curtis and MLB discussion with Justin Morneau. They were fine, but Morneau also appeared on Tim&Sid.
This brings us to the nub of the issue with the new show. It seems that Brunt (and Deitsch) will be expected to put in a full three hour shift, as opposed to the two hours they did with McCown. A better approach would be to front load all the in-house and promotional guests from 2-3 and let Blair do that hour solo. Then devote 3-5 to meaningful stories that won’t be covered to death on the rest of the network. This was what made PTS special (at times), and there is no reason to throw that baby out with the Bobcat.
Overall, the show needs focus and structure. Right now it’s a soup of random Sportsnet stuff. The three hosts are very well connected, with Deitsch in particular having contacts that no one else in Canada can match. Given the weak time slot they occupy I don’t expect them to break the bank in terms of guests. However the show needs to distance itself from generic sports radio menu fare.
Tim & Sid
The triumphant return of Sportsnet’s viral video superstar and his trusty laughtrack sidekick remedies an unstable programming decision made back in 2015 when Tim & Sid were moved from their 1-4pm slot on radio to 5-7pm on television opposite PTS. For the last four years the two shows catered to very different audiences, on different Sportsnet channels, with one of them being a radio show that happens to be on TV and the other focusing on visual bits, clips, and gags.
The logic of the 2015 decision was fairly simple: Tim & Sid made a lot of money for the 1-4pm radio time slot and could be better used as a driver for Sportsnet’s ample offering of live sports content. Sportsnet committed to an expensive show with a new set and crew, replacing the looped clip show that had been running during this time. The hope was that Tim&Sid would bring in a lot of viewers and advertisers. Sources indicate that these windfalls did not materialize.
The end result was two “signature” shows on TV. On radio, it was business as usual. The problem is that when times are tough, the efficiencies are too obvious to resist. Why spend money on all these shows on both TV and radio when you can merge them and cut staff. As we know, this is what led Moore’s replacement Bart Yabsley to sign off on cutting ties with both McCown and Greg Brady, and several people whose names the reading audience would not know.
Now that Tim&Sid is back on radio we can compare the current version to the old Score podcast, the old Fan590 afternoon show, and the previous TV-only product that ran from 2015-2019. In my estimation there is about 20 minutes of visual content out of the 90 minutes that make it to podcast once advertisements have been removed. For podcast listeners this means scrubbing down the line until this is over but those of you stuck in your cars will need to endure segments mostly organized around video clips and funny faces. Whether this counts as a successful multi-platform show is a topic to be discussed in the comments.
In terms of the sports content itself, both Tim and Sid bring strong sports knowledge to the table and each can be enjoyable for a time. Together they can engage in interesting debates, though more often than not this involves scripted yelling. Fans of the old podcast may see elements of what made that product interesting in the new show. One of the problems with the 1-4pm radio show was the amount of time devoted to in-house guests and this continues with the TV/radio show. There is often a Leafs person teeing up that night’s game, which has little value to the TV audience, since they can just tune in to the pre-game show. It might be valuable to the radio audience. However your average PTS listener stuck on the 401 is not used to pre-game content, having been raised on this being the “national” hour.
This is the switch that Tim&Sid will need to try to flip: getting the radio audience to buy in to a much more local comedy-based show versus what they are used to. Presumably Sportsnet management has run the numbers and think this is a gamble worth taking. That having been said, these changes seem to be motivated by cost-cutting as opposed to revenue-generation. So maybe a shrinking of the audience has already been factored in to the decision.
Overall, if you loved the Tim&Sid TV show then you’re probably not going to notice much difference. If you’re hoping for a radio show with the breadth of PTS you’re going to be very very disappointed. If you were dreading a purely visual show crammed into your ears then they deserve credit for avoiding that result. It’s a listenable show for the most part. As with Writer’s Bloc, you can expect a steady diet of Brian Burke and Dan Shulman depending on what is on TV that night.
Local radio has been a driving cultural force in Toronto sports media for 30 years. We now have two established all sports radio stations pumping out mostly local content every day of the week. At the same time, the economics of local radio are changing. The rise of podcasting is drawing advertising dollars away from over the air mediums, more and more people are commuting in ways that don’t force them to be captive to either 590 or 1050 for content, and as we are now seeing TV is driving the radio bus in new ways.
All of this explains why Fan590 has chosen the path it is now on. Whether these moves turn out to be good decisions or not remains to be seen. What is clear to me is that two of PTS’ distinctive staples are now definitively gone: 1) there is no more generalist journalists roundtable (arguably John Shannon and Ken Reid killed that concept a long time ago), and 2) there is no longer a “national” sports hour. This applies to both stations, by the way. If TSN were smart they would find a way to wedge a Reporters podcast into their schedule somehow.
Sportsnet needs to think about the future in the coming months. Is Tim&Sid going to be their signature show for the next 5 years? 10 years? They have already made the decision to blow up the flow of afternoons on radio. Are they committed to a shared 5-7pm radio + TV show for a while? The reason I ask this is because both Boston sports radio stations run their drive time shows from 2-6 as radio first shows. This leaves 6-7 to be filled with pre-game stuff and whatever else bridges them into evening programming. Both stations have massive audiences, far beyond what either Toronto station draws. What do they know that Sportsnet doesn’t?
Over to you: how are you enjoying the new radio shows? Do you miss Good Show?
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)