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Wanted: local quality, with touch of national

By SHARON GINN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 16, 2001


Now that WQYK-AM 1010 says it has solidified its daily lineup, it's apparent Tampa Bay is going to remain a two-sports-station market, at least for now. The question is whether it should be.

For Infinity and Clear Channel, the companies that own 1010 and WDAE-AM 620, respectively, the answer is easy. Even if the stations sometimes struggle to crack the top 20 in the local ratings, the revenue is there to keep them running. Any time you hear a local host broadcasting from a golf course, a bar or a car dealership, that's extra money for the host and the station -- even if it doesn't always translate into good radio.

But more than that, the stations have deals with teams to air their games and put their coaches and players on the air. And some hosts are in demand for personal appearances. WQYK's SportsChix, for example, once known in this market for their Hooters on the Radio show, are understandably popular at station-sponsored events, even if their ratings are low.

The revenue potential is the reason almost any time you turn on your radio on a weekday, you'll find local programming. WQYK operations manager Eric Logan said he went entirely local after the Fabulous Sports Babe's show shut down in January because a) he thinks most people want it and b) it can bring in more money.

But that doesn't make it good.

The problem for Tampa Bay sports fans is there is not enough quality local programming to fill two stations. And the Bucs' off-season is the worst, with listeners subjected to many callers who just like to hear themselves talk (we already know the hosts do; that's their job), or worse, few callers and almost nothing worth talking about for three or four hours.

WDAE's Chris Thomas (10 a.m.-noon), also Ch. 8's sports director, is the best of the local bunch. When you get past the bathroom humor and gambling chatter -- neither of which this particular listener has a desire to hear -- Thomas is quite entertaining. Most of the time he is funny and insightful, and even when he's not at his best he is pretty good, especially for a guy working a second job.

WQYK's T.J. Rives (7-10 a.m.) is the best on his station, and his show has improved now that sports-ticker host Jim Lighthall shares the studio with him. Rives is informative and a good local alternative to Fox Sports Radio host Tony Bruno, who airs opposite him on WDAE, but the show lacks flair -- something that could be provided by an official co-host, perhaps.

The afternoon hosts are a matter of taste. WDAE's Steve Duemig rants a lot, but a lot of people like to listen even if they don't agree. He is often controversial and sometimes will snag an important guest or float a rumor that turns out to be true. (He has been famously wrong, however.) WQYK's Scot Brantley is good-humored, has a great Rolodex and an able new partner in Ronnie Lane.

But for discriminating sports fans, all that isn't good enough. This listener would love more thought-provoking sports radio, with national-caliber guests and clever commentary. The station's program directors are committed to local programming. Fine -- then make it better. Or give us more quality national shows, with guests who lend true insight into the big events of the day.

Currently, though Logan said WQYK brought in more revenue than WDAE last year, WDAE has the stronger weekday lineup and the corresponding better ratings. The main reason it is stronger is because of national shows such as Bruno's and Jim Rome's, though Bruno's morning-drive show is not the one to listen to the day after Bucs games.

Even if it won't happen for financial reasons, it would be nice to hear a quality national show or two on WQYK during the day. Unfortunately, WDAE has locked up the local rights to both Fox and ESPN radio networks, which are by far the best in the business.

So look for more of the same from both stations, especially now that WQYK might be finished with its lineup tinkering. But it's okay to wish -- and ask -- for something better.

- To contact Sharon Ginn, e-mail ginn@sptimes.com.

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