ESPN Radio Change: More Cowherd, Less Van Pelt

I started SbB in 2001 because was I was bored working in the sports talk radio biz.  I couldn’t take being hemmed in by the daily local yocal game analysis, pushover interviews, formulaic guy talk, and same ol’ fallback topics on slow days. So I created SbB to escape that noxious environment, if only for my own amusement.

Scott Van Pelt Mike Tirico

(Van Pelt’s solo show, rusty folding chair, left out in the cold)

Today if you listen to Dan Le Batard’s radio show in Miami, and plenty of others, you hear sports talk radio going in the direction of what I’ve been onto for years: Giving the visitor breaking information accented by clever commentary. That now-burgeoning trend in radio now has trained me back to the medium. And with that, I was very interested when ESPN announced changes in its national radio schedule this week.

First the good news (no, they didn’t blow out Mike & Mike): Beginning on March 16, Brian Kenny is getting a daily show, from 8-10p ET weeknights. Kenny has been the most underrated sports personality on the network for over a decade (sorry Sal Pal!), and it’s nice to see him get some recognition. I’m guessing he’ll be great listen, but those of us in L.A. will have to catch Kenny on the web, as his show will likely be covered by KSPN-AM in afternoon drive. (By my guys Mason & Ireland?)

Another underrated talent and the best radio talk host ESPN has, Doug Gottlieb, is moving his show to 4-7p ET.  Colin Cowherd, who in my estimation is the most overrated host on the net, will get another hour tacked on to his midday show (10a-2p ET). So those of you wondering about the day’s produce selection at Wegmann’s and/or menu specials at your friendly neighborhood Fleming’s, have at it.

Colin Cowherd

(Miracle! Despite disabling TMJ attack, Cowherd still menaces radio audience)

Those time changes mean the show hosted by Mike Tirico and Scott Van Pelt will move to 2-4p ET, with the one-hour Van Pelt solo show now a memory.

So why the elimination of Van Pelt’s show?

In an interview with THE BIG LEAD today, Van Pelt said of working in radio:

Radio’s no joke, man. I have learned very quickly to respect the medium and those who have mastered it. I just assumed I would have plenty to talk about and if I could do TV, how hard could it be, right? I found out in a hurry that doing it well is a full-time gig and I had one of those already. The challenge is to try to come up with topics daily that you feel are compelling on a national level. The tradeoff is it gives me a forum for opinion. As sports fans, we ALL have an opinion and the chance to share mine is something I really wanted to explore.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get his reax about the removal of his show in the interview with TBL. I did contact Van Pelt about it and he elected not to comment on the decision.

Of course, I have my own ideas about the change and Van Pelt’s broadcasting future.

I really like Van Pelt’s personality and think he could be very successful in radio, when paired with the right partner. When I was in NYC for the baseball all-star game, Van Pelt did some shows with Michael Kay, and they were a good listen. And when Kirk Herbstreit co-hosted with Van Pelt on occasion, that was as good as radio gets.

So the potential is there. But solo and with Tirico? It’s just not happening. And I don’t blame Van Pelt, I think he was just put in a no-win situation by well-meaning ESPN Radio programmers. I’m also not aware that Van Pelt had much-to-any experience hosting a show solo, and working with the sober, image-conscious Tirico isn’t exactly a recipe for radio excitement.

Perhaps if Tirico decides to move on at some point, which I think he eventually will, hopefully Van Pelt will end up paired with a more dynamic, opinionated host.  I can’t imagine the ratings for the current show are that stellar, despite the fact that Tirico is one of the bigger names on the network. The name only gets people to give you one listen. The show’s entertainment quotient is what lands appointment listening.

But then again, Mike & Mike is a big success, so what do I know?

So what we’re left with here is more Cowherd and less Van Pelt. But that doesn’t make SVP the loser. He’s still the rightful owner of perhaps the most powerful position in sports television: Regular ESPN SportsCenter anchor.

Meanwhile Cowherd, who has always secretly aspired to be a late night TV talkshow host and displays a strange disdain for blogs at every turn, is cleared to broadcast live on ESPN Radio’s owned-and-operated stations in major markets, and an assortment of cities the size of Dothan, Alabama. Not to mention dial positions in the vicinity of 1830AM.

So yes SVP, you still owe us all an Amstel when we cross paths at 3am in some bar in College Park.

As for Cowherd? The Appletini’s on me.