95.7 FM The Game

How important is local talent on sports talk radio?

It’s difficult — no, impossible — to come up with a formula for the perfect sports talk radio host in the Bay Area. Determining what people don’t like around here … that’s relatively easy (all one has to do is scan the comments on any of the posts on this site about KNBR and/or 95.7 “The Game”).

Even habitual listeners will complain if a host is a shill for certain teams, speaks with a cadence that makes it seem like he’s yelling at the audience (yes, “he,” since this area seems no closer to employing a woman as a full-time host than it was 20 years ago), is disrespectful to callers, lets bad callers talk for too long or espouse especially stupid theories, does too many commercials, laughs excessively at his own jokes, constantly interrupts callers and guests, talks about niche sports that most of the audience doesn’t care about, doesn’t talk about enough different sports and/or teams … the list goes on and on, and I’m sure we’ll see some more complaints in the comments under this post.

While a lot of people complain about KNBR (and to a lesser extent The Game, which is just getting started), there’s no doubt that local content does FAR better than nationally syndicated radio. Taken a step further, most of the shows around here focus on a narrow set of local topics as opposed to national stories. All of the shows vary on this, but overall you’re going to hear a lot less about Sportscenter story lines … unless they’re front page stories like the Penn State scandal or Tim Tebow’s existence.

Homefield advantage

Another common complaint you’ll hear/see about a radio host is along the lines of “he’s not from here.” But since such a large percentage of the people who live in the Bay Area weren’t born and raised in the Bay Area, the definition of “from here” can mean a lot of things. If you’re an aspiring talk show host, living here one’s entire life isn’t required for acceptance by the general populace, but it helps to have worked in the Bay Area in a position where people become familiar with you.

For example (and forgive me if my facts aren’t 100% correct; I’m stalking as hard as I can), here’s a breakdown of KNBR’s lineup…

— Tom Tolbert (who seems to be the most popular host in the region, or at least the one with the fewest detractors) grew up in Los Angeles, but he became a fan favorite during his time with the Warriors and stuck around after his playing days.

— Bob Fitzgerald’s college and pro allegiances are to Notre Dame and the non-Cubs teams in Chicago, but he also went to Serra High.

— Rod Brooks is from Houston, but he’s been around here so long that a lot of people who listen to his show probably don’t know that.

— Damon Bruce grew up in New York and went to Indiana University. He worked in Bay Area radio for a while, moved away, then came back when KNBR came calling.

— Larry Krueger, Ralph Barbieri, Gary Radnich, Eric Byrnes, Brian Murphy and Paul McCaffrey are probably the most “local” of all the KNBR hosts, seeing as they grew up around here. Byrnes also made his name during his time with the Oakland A’s, and seems more interested than anyone in keeping defending Bay Area traditions — like shunning “The Wave” and ripping those who call San Francisco “San Fran” and/or “Frisco.”

From KNBR to the other “Game” in town

Based on the December ratings, The Game has built a following that remained pretty stable during the holidays. However, to experience sustainable growth they’re going to have to do more than continue to bash KNBR in commercials. Short of dropping tons of cash for the rights to Raiders, Warriors and/or Sharks games to go along with their A’s coverage, how can the Bay Area’s upstart FM sports station really make KNBR (and Cumulus) sweat?

If I had the answer to that, I’d be a program director. But in an area that can get a little provincial, The Game’s lineup contains some interesting choices.

— The Rise Guys are certainly count as local, with Whitey Gleason listed as a Vallejo native on The Game’s website, Mark Kreidler previously writing for the Sacramento Bee and Dan Dibley coming over after several years at KNBR. The Rise Guys used to do their thing in Sacramento before coming over to The Game.

— John Lund’s been just about everywhere before coming to San Francisco, including Dallas, Salt Lake City, Detroit and Pittsburgh. Lund’s last stop was Portland, where he worked at another station called “The Game.”

— Eric Davis played the first six years of his 13-year career with the Niners and serves as the team’s color analyst on their radio broadcasts. Brandon Tierney’s a New York guy who’s also worked in Detroit, and doesn’t hide his east coast roots. As a result, Tierney sounds different than anyone else talking sports on either station.

— Chris Townsend played baseball at San Jose State and worked at KNBR for a while; he’s probably known as the host who talks more about the Oakland A’s than anyone else here (or anywhere, really).

It’s hard for a “stranger” to break into this market, which is probably why The Game regularly pairs Lund with guys like Matt Steinmetz, Mychael Urban and Greg Papa. Same with having Tierney work with Davis, who owns the ultimate piece of Bay Area sports cred — a Super Bowl ring for starting across the field from Deion Sanders with the 1994 49ers.

I’d like to open this up to see what you, the readers (and listeners) think. Do hosts need to act and sound like they’re from the Bay Area? Is it harder to get into a show where the host doesn’t root for the home team, or is it even worse when a host pretends to care about the local teams to curry favor?

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