Sports media: Shepard’s firing leaves WDFN irrelevant – The Detroit News
For being such a great sports town — Chris Ilitch on Wednesday called Detroit the greatest sports city in America — it’s pretty remarkable this market can’t support more than one all-local, sports-talk radio station.
Well, the truth is, it probably can, but the powers-that-be who’ve taken a stab at creating competition for 97.1 The Ticket have done a ridiculously poor job of executing a game plan.
WDFN (1130-AM) once was the king of sports-talk radio in this town, but you can pretty much forget about them now, if you hadn’t already.
With Matt Shepard’s firing following his morning show Monday, that station now offers exactly zero shows produced in the area. It’s gone all national, except for the drive-time “Gregg, Big Drew and Jim” show, which is produced in Grand Rapids and simulcast on WDFN.
Shepard was on the radio from 2001 until his final show this week, with only a slight break since then. His morning show, while not the best-rated, was widely respected, because it gave sports fans an alternative to the content on 97.1. What a concept: He talked sports, and almost always only sports.
“Maybe there are more people who would like to hear and deal with the alternative,” Shepard said this week on the “Schuiling Report” in Lansing, which, by the way, has two local sports stations. “I always felt like they get inundated with their mayoral talk, their political talk, their weather, their cutesy various rankings and poll questions.
“I always thought Detroit and Michigan, in general, was such a great sports area that it could survive if all we did was talk sports. Maybe I was wrong in assuming that.”
To WDFN’s credit, Shepard said the station “left it alone” and never tried to steer him in another direction.
But in today’s media landscape, though — just look at ESPN, or the newspaper industry, which certainly has hit home in recent months — it’s all about the bottom line. And Shepard, a media veteran who will continue his work on Fox Sports Detroit, the Big Ten Network, Michigan basketball and Eastern Michigan football, certainly knows that.
That’s why he told Ryan Schuiling the news Monday wasn’t necessarily a surprise.
“You and I know people who have dealt with cancer, dealt with other diseases, dealt with losing homes, dealt with losing parents,” Shepard told Schuiling in an interesting 20-minute interview. “This is nothing compared to that. This can be career-changing, but I don’t know if it’s life-altering just yet. I hope it’s not.”
It remains to be seen whether Shepard, 50, will land another local-radio gig.
The options, of course, are limited, with Detroit Sports 105.1 getting knocked on its keister and switching formats to hip-hop last summer. Whether he’d be a fit with 97.1 is debatable, because, again, 97.1 isn’t shy about shelving the sports talk for whatever topic lights up the phone calls. And that’s no slam at 97.1, by the way. It’s easily the top-rated station in the market, and not just because it owns the Tigers rights, so it’s doing something right.
Podcasting could be a route for Shepard, as he acknowledged. That would at least give him what he says he’ll miss most — the direct dialogue with the fans, which TV doesn’t really provide.
“I truly embraced that every morning,” he said on Schuiling’s show, on 92.1 FM in Lansing. “I will miss that type of interaction, greatly.”
WDFN is owned by iHeartRadio, which also cut several radio staffers in Grand Rapids this week.
New radio home for Pistons
The Pistons will have a new home next season, moving into Little Caesars Arena. Now, they’re looking for their radio home for next season.
The Pistons’ three-year contract to air on 105.1 FM has expired, the Pistons confirmed.
The Pistons joined then-Greater Media in 2014, with the games to air on what then was Detroit Sports 105.1. Amid low ratings and revenue issues, the sports format was dumped last year in favor of old-school hip-hop, but the Pistons, despite the ability to opt out, stayed on “The Bounce” for 2016-17.
Greater Media owned 105.1 when the Pistons deal went down, but the company was purchased last summer by Beasley Media.
It’s unclear if Beasley is interested in keeping the Pistons, despite it being the only sports presence on 105.1.
The Pistons don’t have a ton of other options.
Last year, WJR (760-AM) got back in the pro-sports business, winning the rights to the Lions game. But approached by the Pistons about taking them, WJR expressed little interest.
That seemingly only leaves the Pistons’ old home, 97.1 The Ticket, as a possible landing spot, unless another non-sports station decides to enter the fray. It’s unclear how interested 97.1 would be in a reunion, given it recently paid through the nose to keep the rights to the Tigers, the station’s obvious meal ticket.
This and that
A baseball game last month between Oakland and Central Michigan at Jimmy John’s Field in Utica was supposed to air on ESPN3, until Oakland officials learned last-minute, surprisingly, that Jimmy John’s Field, the nifty home of the United Shore Professional Baseball League doesn’t have television capabilities.
If the league’s going to grow and continue to flourish, that will have to change.
… The bad P.R. surrounding ESPN continues. Ed Werder, the highly acclaimed NFL reporter who was let go last week, talked on The Doomsday Podcast about how ESPN called his firing “effective immediately,” then asked him to cover the NFL Draft for the company. Not surprisingly, he declined.
… Before we write ESPN’s obituary, however, there’s this: Prime-time viewership at ESPN was up 9 percent in April, compared to April 2016, according to SportsBusiness Daily. Fox Sports 1’s prime-time viewership in the same time frame, meanwhile, was down 24 percent.
… With Mike Greenberg set to go off and start his own TV show, The New York Daily News reports Trey Wingo will be Mike Golic’s new radio partner.
… Former 97.1 morning-shot host Bill McAllister has resurfaced, recently doing some fill-in work on WDET (101.9-FM).
… The soccer match at Comerica Park on July 19 will be televised on ESPN2, at 8 p.m.