95.7 FM The Game

2011 year in review: Top 10 stories in sports talk radio

I wrote an all-encompassing year-in-review post this morning for SB Nation Bay Area titled “Bay Area Sports in 2011: the Year of Harbaugh” that I highly suggest you read. Why? Because my memory’s not the best, so it took a lot of time and research to recall just what the hell happened in 2011. For instance, did you know the Giants were the defending World Series champions throughout most of 2011? Would’ve been nice for them to remind us of that fact during the season. Talk about squandering a good marketing opportunity.

In 2011, I also kind of became a media blogger. Okay, a media blogger who only writes about one VERY specific topic, as I started posting an obscene amount of stories about the so-called “radio wars” between KNBR and 95.7 FM “The Game.” We even started writing posts on each station’s ratings and put together a KNBR vs. The Game survey that over 400 people took. Borderline obsessed? Nah, I have lots of other interests — like watching sports on TV. My life’s pretty balanced.

While I never imagined that I’d break stories on the personnel moves of radio stations when we started this site four years ago, I have to admit it’s been an entertaining venture, one that took BASG into an interesting direction. I’ve even had a well-known TV personality tell me I should focus on local sports media full-time, a move that would almost certainly increase the average number of comments per post.

I have no plans to stop writing about sports, but it’s been a wild year in sports talk radio in the Bay. During the first few months of this year, Cumulus-owned KNBR (which spans two different stations, 680 and 1050) had absolutely no competition after 860 AM KTRB went to an all-Spanish sports format. English-speaking sports fans without satellite radio could listen to either KNBR or … KNBR. That is, until Entercom switched 95.7 FM’s format from country music to all-sports.

95.7 FM became the A’s flagship station at the beginning of April, and on tax day became Sports Radio 95.7. KNBR may not have taken the FM station seriously at first, even though Dan Dibley, their morning sports anchor who contributed to both Murph and Mac and the Gary Radnich Show, jumped ship. At that point, 95.7’s lineup featured Chris Townsend and several hosts that are no longer with the station (including Tim “Monty” Montemayor, who filled in on KNBR during the last two weeks of 2011).

In August 95.7 FM became known as “The Game,” switched their call letters from KBWF to KGMZ and heavily altered their programming lineup, adding The Rise Guys, John Lund, Brandon Tierney and Eric Davis. In doing so, The Game made it clear that they wouldn’t sit quietly and allow KNBR to continue its monopoly on local sports talk — even though “The Sports Leader” is home to the San Francisco Giants, San Francisco 49ers and Golden State Warriors.

The battle between the two stations has been fascinating and filled with drama, intrigue, backstabbing and hurt feelings. In other words, just the kind of stuff that makes blogging about all this worthwhile. Here are the top 10 radio-related stories covered on BASG over the past year, in chronological order:

1. KNBR soap opera: Lee Hammer drops Mychael Urban (Jan. 21)

Mychael Urban was the weekend host for KNBR before and after Giants games for a few years, also handling fill-in duties during the week as needed. Known for his optimistic takes on the Giants, Urban’s weekend shows featured regular segments with Barry Zito (“The Unicorn Hour”), Shawon Dunston and Chris Lincecum (Tim’s dad).

Marty Lurie joined KNBR in 2010. He’d take over after Urban’s half-hour long postgame shows, often taking calls and playing interviews until the midnight replay. Lurie also works for free (he sells his own ads), so Hammer asked the marathon man to take over Urban’s duties in addition to what he was already doing. In response to the move, Urban tweeted: “Hammer basically said he didn’t like the show. It’s a subjective business, and he’s the boss there. Feel free to let him know how u feel.”

2. Eric Byrnes: next KNBR Sportsphone 680 host? (Mar. 1)

I got a tip that the former Oakland Athletics outfielder would take over for his buddy F.P. Santangelo, who left after one year hosting Sportsphone to become the Washington Nationals’ TV color commentator. It ended up turning out that way, and Byrnes still holds that role.

3. Source: Mychael Urban returning to KNBR 680 (June 15)

This is when KNBR started to seem worried about 95.7 FM. If they felt the need to bring Urban back a few months into the season, why’d they drop him in the first place?

4. KNBR Gossip: Gary Radnich and Damon Bruce joining forces? (July 26)

This was probably the most surprising story I came across all year doing this, since Radnich and Bruce had always been solo acts and their egos made a possible pairing seem like a strange idea at best, disastrous at worst. The show began soon after this post ran, but it wouldn’t be on the air for long…

5. 95.7 keeps the pressure on KNBR, adds “Insiders” (July 27)

95.7 wasn’t just planning a name change on August 1, they took CSN’s “insider” model and ran with it — hiring several CSN Bay Area insiders, including Matt Maiocco, Matt Steinmetz and Urban, who left KNBR a few weeks after rejoining “the leader” (and was let go from CSN Bay Area in November).

KNBR responded in kind, hiring several “insiders” of their own (originality in sports radio isn’t valued all that much, apparently), including Andrew Baggarly, Henry Schulman, Matt Barrows and Michael Silver. They also gave Ray Ratto a twice-daily segment.

One of the fallouts from all this insidering: some local mainstream media people who aren’t tethered to either station (like Monte Poole and Tim Kawakami) now refuse to do guest appearances for free.

6. 95.7 disses KNBR in 2 commercials, KNBR fires back (Aug. 2)

Whether proclaiming themselves as “the new hotness” or referring to Hammer as “the chimp,” The Game’s commercials are straight-up attack ads against KNBR, which The Game’s commercials portray as “old and busted.” KNBR has largely tried to stay above the fray, promoting the teams they carry and how they’ve been the Bay Area’s main source for sports talk for 30 years.

Some people who are tired of KNBR’s Giants-centric programming like The Game’s commercials, while others have called for The Game to show a little more class.

7. Tony Bruno calls Ramon Ramirez an “illegal alien” (Aug. 5)

Talk about a busy week — this story about Bruno’s deleted tweet (which was broken here) blew up nationally, getting coverage from DeadspinYahooSFGate, Baseball NationThe Huffington Post and many other outlets. Bruno was suspended for a week, just days after KNBR (which carried his syndicated show on KNBR 1050) canceled Bruno’s daily segment with Radnich after Bruce came aboard.

8. KNBR bombshell: Damon Bruce out, Larry Krueger to co-host with Gary Radnich (Aug. 30)

After just two weeks of working with Bruce, Radnich went on a 2-week “vacation” that actually lasted a few days longer than that, as Radnich supposedly was stuck in New York due to problems getting a flight back home — a dubious story, at best. Radnich seemed to be on strike until KNBR figured out a way to get Bruce out of his hair, and when Radnich returned he had a new cohost in Krueger, who was fired in 2005 for comments he made about “brain-dead Caribbean hitters hacking at slop nightly.”

Bruce was jettisoned back to KNBR 1050 from noon-to-3 (he previously hosted his show on 1050 from noon-to-4). Radnich has maintained on the air that it was just a situation where things didn’t work out with Bruce and the station made a change. Bruce told a similar story to a caller one day, but with a little dig thrown in:

“What happened with me and Gary was we tried something, it wasn’t a fit, neither one of us liked it, and we went back to the way things were before we tried it. That’s all. That’s all that happened. You know, you try things, they work out, they don’t work out. I mean sure, he whined about it like a little girl the entire time we were doing it, but I’m not going to say that on the radio.”

9. Tony Bruno leaves Fox Radio, heads back to Philly (Sept. 8 )

In Cartman-esque fashion, Bruno said, “Screw you guys, I’m going home.”

10. Ralph Barbieri tells SF Chronicle he has Parkinson’s (Oct. 5)

In rather startling news about KNBR’s most tenured (and polarizing) host, Barbieri told Scott Ostler a secret he had been hiding since 2005. From Ostler’s story:

After all that, why address it now?

“My contract is expiring soon,” Barbieri said, “and if I am to continue at KNBR, I’d like to start with all our cards on the table, face-up. I’ve gotten to know Lew Dickey (CEO of Cumulus Media, parent company of KNBR) a little bit, and my gut feeling was that he could deal with my situation at an honorable level, so I gave him a call and told him everything.

“He let me know that KNBR wants me back. He didn’t say on what terms, but the fact that he didn’t view the Parkinson’s as a red flag, that was a huge relief to me.”

Cumulus ended up renewing Barbieri’s contract at terms unknown, meaning the Razor will be a central figure in these “radio wars” for the foreseeable future.

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