Inside sports business
The proverbial writing on the wall for The Steve Sandmeyer Show should have been evident following a pair of February sports events in Arizona just weeks apart.
The first was the Super Bowl, in which Seattle homegrown radio host Sandmeyer, 42, was forced to watch his beloved Seahawks on television for a second straight year instead of broadcasting on-location all week like his rivals. Then, a few weeks later, as the Mariners opened spring training ahead of their most-anticipated season in years, Sandmeyer and noted baseball analyst co-host Jason Churchill were again denied a travel budget.
So, it wasn’t a total shock two weeks ago when CBS 1090 The Fan had the plug pulled on its only locally-produced sports show. For Sandmeyer, who’d spent 2½ years waiting for CBS Radio’s head office in New York to give local management better resources, what hurts most is wondering what could have been.
“I was under the impression that eventually they would expand their local lineup and that the station would be more of a destination on the dial,’’ Sandmeyer said. “Because we were so new and just starting to gain momentum, it honestly seemed like an odd time to deliver this kind of news.’’
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But ultimately, he adds: “CBS didn’t have the budget locally or nationally to support many of its affiliates.’’
So, when CBS Radio cut more than 200 positions nationwide, the No. 3 sports show locally behind time-slot counterparts on Sports Radio KJR and 710 ESPN Seattle wasn’t spared. That leaves 1090 The Fan with only nationally syndicated content, an outsider’s perspective on sports Sandmeyer and others say was already too prevalent and impeded his show’s growth.
The Sandmeyer Show was hands-down the best baseball talk in town and offered routine Huskies, Sounders, Storm, NHL and NBA topic alternatives for Seattle radio listeners weary of the usual two-dozen daily takes on Russell Wilson’s contract situation.
But without the budget to compete on big events, nor additional local programming to draw new listeners to the channel, ratings suffered and left the show vulnerable.
Sandmeyer is largely philosophical about it, noting CBS was among the last major networks to institute widespread layoffs in a “volatile” industry he still loves.
“I signed up for this line of work, so I have to take the bad with the good and I can’t complain when something like this occurs,’’ he said.
In many ways, the radio industry is experiencing what newspapers have grappled with the past decade: desperately seeking profits and listeners in a digital age where competition lines have blurred between print, audio and visual media.
Many stations have spent big on print websites, with blog and video posts produced by both newly-hired staffers and on-air talent. But 1090 The Fan’s website pales next to offerings from Seattle’s other sports stations and did little to increase the chance of Sandmeyer’s show surviving.
Everyone involved says local management — including marketing manager Kevin McCarthy and program director Carey Curelop — did its best to support the show and scrape by on scant budget crumbs. But growth takes money and from its January 2013 launch onward, 1090 The Fan hasn’t deployed the resources to truly compete.
“Our Seahawks are in the Super Bowl two years in a row and they couldn’t send us because the budget wasn’t there,’’ Churchill said. “So, that was really frustrating.
“You lose a lot of traction. You get all this momentum going, we’re having really good shows and the Seahawks are the hot thing and they go to the Super Bowl and we’re nonexistent. We’re still here, we don’t have the guests and we don’t have the exposure. Those are missed opportunities.’’
The show didn’t have a dedicated, full-time executive producer until Brian Lambert was hired two months ago. But veteran on-air host Bill Swartz was dismissed at almost the exact same time. Now, Lambert, who’d barely moved in to his new office digs, is also back looking for work.
Nobody in CBS management, either local or national, would comment.
CBS Radio in April hired Andre Fernandez as its new president, responsible for 117 stations in 26 major markets. To say Fernandez, 46, a Wall Street veteran with limited broadcast industry exposure, lacks “street cred” among staffers would be like suggesting the Mariners might have trouble making the playoffs.
His predecessor, Don Mason, was hailed as a champion of quality radio and there’s a growing sense he was pushed into retirement so the network could trim its bottom line.
And trimmer it is, especially here, where the local lineup is now nonexistent.
Churchill continues to run his popular Prospect Insider baseball website but says all options are open even if it involves leaving town. Sandmeyer says he can’t yet fathom leaving the area he’s grown up in and is exploring options locally.
“The fact that I have a lot in common with many of our listeners resonates with people,’’ he said. “Jason Churchill and I put on a damn good radio show. And I think we did it the right way.’’
And with that show dropped to appease shareholders in some far off boardroom, local sports fans are lesser for it.