End of an Era: Sportsnet Cancels Blue Jays Radio

by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail


The legacy left behind by Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth will be on pause in 2021, and its future is not looking very bright.


On Friday Sportsnet announced that the Blue Jays would not have a dedicated radio broadcast for the coming season, relying instead on the TV audio feed. This will be provided by Dan Shulman and Buck Martinez from Toronto, who will be calling the games off of monitors. The Jays recently announced plans to play their initial home series from Dunedin, as the border between Canada and the U.S. remains closed.


According to Sportsnet’s press release, the move is pandemic related:


“In an effort to minimize travel and closely adhere to team, league, and government protocols related to the pandemic, Sportsnet will be streamlining production for the 2021 season by simulcasting TV broadcasts on Sportsnet 590 The FAN and across the Sportsnet Radio Network. Blue Jays fans can now enjoy the legendary voices of Buck Martinez, Dan Shulman, and Pat Tabler on both TV and radio. Ben Wagner remains part of the Blue Jays on Sportsnet broadcast team, joining Jamie Campbell, Joe Siddall, Hazel Mae, and Arash Madani in covering all the bases throughout the season.”


As indicated, this means recently hired Ben Wagner lacks a platform for 2021, and will be merged into an already stuffed roster of extra voices on the TV broadcasts. With the addition of Shulman in 2018, Pat Tabler was relegated to third man status in 2020. Since the start of the pandemic he has been joining the broadcast for additional commentary remotely from Ohio. With respect to sideline reporting, 2020 saw both Mae and Madani contributing from the studio. The desk show features viewer-favourite Campbell, and recent radio convert Siddall. It is unclear where Wagner will fit in.

The decision to simulcast will yield significant salary savings, as they will not replace the departed Mike Wilner, and will not need to employ the complement of technical crew required to produce live radio. In addition to these savings, the network will not be sending its own camera crew to Florida.


Sportsnet has not indicated this move is permanent. It is unclear at this time whether FAN590 intends to host a Blue Jays pre and post game show in 2021.


Several MLB announcers voiced their opposition to Rogers’ decision:




As did several local media members:




The local writers also covered the story:


Gregor Chisholm, Star: “The decision to go with one broadcast this season is an obvious move to cut costs. Sportsnet claimed the change was made “in an effort to minimize travel and closely adhere to team, league, and government protocols related to the pandemic.” What isn’t said in the release is that similar rules were in place last year and yet both television and radio broadcasts continued as in-studio products.”


Rob Longley, Sun, featuring quotes from Jerry Howarth: “The broadcasting world is changing almost daily in this country — much of it not for the better — but those passionate about the Jays are having trouble digesting the Sportsnet lunacy. The rebuilding ball team that reported to spring training amid so much excitement and begins its exhibition schedule on Sunday in Tampa, has rarely seemed in such a buoyant place for owner Rogers Communications. That same owner’s broadcast division has decided to wipe out radio broadcasts, replacing them with a simulcast of the TV call from Sportsnet’s Dan Shulman and Buck Martinez.”


Sean Fitz-Gerlad, Athletic: “With no program director in place at The Fan, it would appear the decision is being made without the input from a senior voice on the content side of the station. It is not clear if the company’s play-by-play voices will be asked to adjust their calls to be more descriptive for the audience that is listening, rather than watching.”

The Globe & Mail chose not to cover this story.


This decision is about money not public health. If they wanted Wagner to broadcast the games, he would be. He already lives in Florida. So let’s talk about money. Rogers pays both George Springer and Ben Wagner out of the same budget. Rogers pays for the plane the Jays travel on and the hotel rooms they stay in. There are clear economies of scale to be had if a few extra Sportsnet radio bodies were traveling with the team.


The larger cost picture is the important one. By doing everything from a studio in Toronto the network can cut a significant number of jobs on both the radio and TV side. These jobs could be replaced in 2022, with presumably cheaper labour as the more experienced folks look for other work in 2021. Or, these jobs may not be replaced at all. While Bell made headlines in February for its massive restructuring plans, Rogers has been quietly eliminating jobs in their media wing as well.


The major difference here is that live sports has always been the crown jewel of content, justifying lavish spending on production costs, with these costs being passed on to both advertisers and consumers. The signals here are twofold: 1) radio is not very important, and 2) post-pandemic a lot of technical jobs may become gig work rather than a full-time career.


The first point has been made abundantly clear by both Bell and Rogers. AM radio is a horse and buggy industry, outside of news and traffic updates. There simply isn’t enough of an audience to draw the kind of national advertising dollars needed to sustain significant investment. There will never be another Bob McCown. So, while Overdrive enjoys the spotlight now, there is a ceiling to how much money TSN can make off the show going forward. If they are going to avoid the fate of PTS, which was nickel and dimed to death over the last decade, Bell needs to figure out a way to monetize the show beyond radio.


The second point has been the subject of lots of discussion around here over the last several years. Since the cutting began at Rogers in 2016 we have been talking about how expensive it is to produce live sports. At the same time, audiences are becoming more fragmented. The pandemic has forced both innovation and recalibration of the way live sports are brought to air. The net outcome is that networks are learning to do more (or the same) with less human power. Sportsnet executed a similar reduction with their Tim & Sid TV show in 2019. This is a topic for larger conversation another time. Point being, many production jobs won’t return.


As so many have pointed out, this is a Sportsnet decision not a Blue Jays decision. These two Rogers entities have almost always been on the same page, perhaps to a fault when it comes to Sportsnet’s journalism operation. With Mark Shapiro publicly distancing the Jays from the lack of spring training coverage, there is a public admission that these cost cutting measures don’t serve the best interests of the team. This is a change of course for the Jays who have been able to rely on Sportsnet as an unqualified ally.

More on this story to come.


thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)


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Brian Waugh
Brian Waugh
February 26, 2021 4:32 pm

Another nail in the sports coffin

Paul G.
Paul G.
February 26, 2021 4:54 pm

The SN release indicates that Tabler is back this year. While I don’t like the elimination of a separate radio team; in terms of the TV product I liked the two man pairing of Buck & Dan last year. The addition of a third voice is not needed and only results in unnecessary comments and interruptions.

February 26, 2021 6:52 pm

So Rogers has the top sports station in the market for 25 years or so. Then they fire the stations only recognizable star, the face of the station, and replace him with a TV simulcast. Now, the station of Tom and Jerry are ending Blue Jays radio play by play and replacing that with a TV simulcast too? They’ve taken the two properties synonymous with The Fan, and not only wiped them out, but also essentially replace them with nothing. What a disgrace. Why do they bother operating the station anymore? It’s clearly not something they see any value in. Just give us a Blair and Brunt podcast or something and hopefully some other outlet starts hiring good people to produce good sports content, and it kicks Rogers butt.

Paul G.
Paul G.
February 26, 2021 7:00 pm

@Daniel Sadly an Epitaph so true!

Mike S
Mike S
February 26, 2021 8:19 pm

In the final segment of the last edition of Tim & Sid there was some music along with a montage of video clips which lasted several minutes………….but of course anyone listening to the simulcast on 590 couldn’t see any of those clips…………this seemed somewhat appropriate given the news earlier in the day that there will be a simulcast of Jays games on radio this season…………the moves that Rogers has made over the last few years has made it perfectly clear what they think of their radio listeners

Bob Jones
Bob Jones
February 26, 2021 11:41 pm

I just commented on the Sportsnet website that this move is a shameful, embarrassing disgrace. The y promptly disabled it. Enough said.

February 27, 2021 1:25 am

Interesting that other big markets like NY, Chicago, etc are sustaining distinct radio coverage while the TO market isn’t (despite vertical integration between media and content).  Something is awry…or else it’s just a public company trying to save some $ and nothing more complicated than that.

February 27, 2021 5:26 pm

I would like to say that I will be listening less to Fan/590 in the future but, that is not possible.
Hell, I even gassed it on my car radio presets.

February 28, 2021 12:34 am

Paul G,

Dan works for ESPN, so he won’t be able to do some games. I think that’s where this will come to a head, as Buck and Pat are not going to be a good team for radio. Buck is not a great play by play man to begin with, and it’s why Dan is in their in the first place. Buck is brilliant at color, but he does not have the chops for a play by play guy. On radio, it’s going to be a disaster.

This has to be one of the worst ideas Rogers has ever had. Hopefully they’ll reverse this soon, as the money lost in reputation, respect and Q rating, is far more than anything they’ll save in the broadcast itself.

Paul G.
Paul G.
February 28, 2021 1:30 pm

@66muds99 Thanks for the fuller picture.

I had neglected to take into account Dan’s ESPN commitments. When coupled with the fact that MLB is aiming for a full season; your explanation makes sense. Unfortunately, I also agree with your take on Buck without Dan. Factor in Tabler’s too often inane comments, the decision to simulcast and you are left with a “cluster f..k” production.

February 28, 2021 3:45 pm

For years, I had an annual tradition where I’d tune in to the start of the first Jays spring training game on radio just to hear Jerry say “Live from Dunedin Florida, it’s time for Blue Jays baseball. Hello friends…”

In the dead of winter, it was a hopeful sign that warmer weather was on the way and I’d get to hear my favourite baseball broadcast again.

Sportsnet’s short-sighted decision to cut the radio feed hits home on a day like today.

Paul G.
Paul G.
February 28, 2021 6:52 pm

Another view from former Fan590 broadcaster Howard Berger:

Paul G.
Paul G.
February 28, 2021 6:53 pm
February 28, 2021 7:10 pm

I feel like it’s also worth mentioning – if Rogers eliminates Blue Jays radio play by play, there is no way this is going to stop with them. If this precedent is established, you have to think the Raptors radio feed is next. From what I’ve read their radio audience is quite small, as basketball doesn’t have that same radio connection. I think it could even happen to the Leafs. Obviously they’re the bigger team, with the far bigger legacy, but hockey isn’t ideal for radio and my understanding was baseball radio ratings compare quite favourably to play by play of hockey. It sounds crazy, but if they’re doing it to the Jays (a sport that is perfect for radio) then I think anything is possible. Very sad, and I hope it’s avoided somehow.

February 28, 2021 8:21 pm

If I may, an alternate view. Yes It’s true that Rogers (and Bell and Corus and others) are bottom line oriented. It’s been a long evolution to get where we are right now and none of this should shock anybody. Have a look around; almost without exception, companies today cut to the bone to get more profit, often losing the plot along the way. Decisions get made that turn out to be wrong because the very thing that made a company successful gets forgotten. Remember Schlitz beer? It was at one time the number one beer in the U.S.( yes bigger than Budweiser) but the owners started to change the recipe to increase production. Ended up completely ruining the product. In essence that’s what’s happening to the radio business. Yes, listenership is down but the product is still sellable. The problem is the greed of management. Rogers believes we will listen to the simulcast because they think the Jays will be good enough that they can get away with it.And they’re probably right. If the Jays are contenders, you will listen to the games on the radio. They are counting on it  and if they’re right and this “experiment” works it will be permanent. It’s not that management doesn’t care about the product, it’s that they care more about the bottom line.

March 5, 2021 1:02 pm

Great post!

Marguerite Beaulieu
March 9, 2021 12:52 pm

Just another reason to get rid of Shapiro and Atkinson.

It doesn’t add up. How can you save money by releasing peop who do their jobs well and ADD value by keeping on those two dweebs with fat salaries who add no value?

Keith Mills
Keith Mills
March 9, 2021 8:38 pm

Just heard on CBC about this.  A blind listener mentioned that a simulcast isn’t the same as audio from TV.  The radio team has to be much more descriptive to make up for the fact that the listeners can’t see the action.  The story here mentions that the TV commentators are calling the games of monitors and aren’t traveling to the games.  A radio crew could do the same thing, with a bit of live audio from the game mixed into the radio commentary for atmosphere.  It wouldn’t be hard to do, and wouldn’t be a huge cost, considering that they’re already saving on travel costs.  Sportsnet just isn’t trying. 

Bill Devilla
Bill Devilla
March 13, 2021 2:19 am

This is another key factor.

July 24, 2021 10:23 pm

 Buck is great as a colour commentator but is very weak as an annnoucer..I love listening to Blue Jays while driving but the
simulcast method sucks..Come on Rogers ..you’re looking very cheap …..Bring back Ben Wagner .

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