Cleveland Scene Killed Cleveland Sports Talk Radio. Almost.
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Cleveland Scene Killed Cleveland Sports Talk Radio. Almost.

The qualities I appreciate the most about Cleveland Scene Magazine are on full display in this week’s cover story about the sad state of Cleveland sports talk radio; aggressive style, civic responsibility, and swear words.

Civic responsibility may seem heavy-handed for praise about a column excoriating sports talk radio stations, but for a citizenry who is more concerned about tailgating than the 2016 Republican National Convention coming to town, opening some eyes about what we listen to all day seems pretty important. We are, after all, the sum of our experiences.

My initial takeaway from Daniel McGraw‘s feature is I wish the column were more aggressive. There could have been a real bloodletting today, but, in fairness to Scene and McGraw, I understand why there wasn’t. Let’s take a walk.

However well documented the issues with Cleveland sports talk radio are to informed listeners, what ran in Scene today is going to be informative for a lot of the people who are still in the dedicated listening demographics the article talks about.

I asked friend and radio veteran Tony Mazur what he thought of the Scene piece, and his reply is a perfect example of the intricacies of demographics.

For many of us who are either in radio, are passionate about radio, or just casually listen to it, the Scene piece broke no new ground. It just kinda confirmed what many of us already surmised.

Sports radio in 2015 is, to be honest, all bullshit. It’s 4-5 hours of time filler with very little opinion or entertainment. The average 4-hour sports show includes multiple guests who provide little to no value to the program. That’s mainly because radio hosts are pretty lazy and don’t put enough effort into their product. What’s the point of having Dave McGillicutty from Pro Football Twaddle to talk about the Jacksonville Jaguars in Cleveland? Who the hell cares?

But it’s not all just on the hosts and producers. Management does force round-the-clock football chatter on the hosts. “Why aren’t you talking Browns now? Don’t you realize we’re the home of the Browns?” This comes from program directors who’ve never hosted shows before, yet think they can tell long-time sports talkers how to structure a show. They’re the same folks who decided, like, four years ago that baseball talk on the radio is stale and boring. ~ Tony Mazur

Tony isn’t lying. There are some great hosts in town – Hell, I’ve been trying to buy Ken Carman a beer for a year now –  but what’s happened to the bulk of sports radio is bullshit. Here’s why.

Not only are ratings somehow impossible to track in the digital era – they shouldn’t be, by the way, but we’re talking about radio compounds with rooms full of audio equipment who can’t even manage to have an iTunes feed for their after-air podcasts – but the segments of the ratings are just as worthless. I’m a 25 to 54 male, I listen to less than two hours of sports talk on the Cleveland airwaves per day, and yet I feel heavily invested in the quality of sports talk in this town. I care. I want it to be great. I talk to people about radio, I make it a point every month or so to make sure I’ve listened to a show I haven’t heard in a while, and I get involved in more conversations publicly about radio than is probably healthy for a person.

And yet, when I go out into the world later today and talk about this Scene column, I already know the reaction I’m going to get.

“I didn’t agree. I like The Really Big Show. Rizzo is the only guy in town who really sticks up for Cleveland.” ~ Old Guy at Work

“Cleveland Browns Daily is great. I like hearing from so many players. I didn’t even know that show was owned by the Browns.” ~ Guy Who Owns More Browns Jerseys Than Ties

I can predict those reactions with confidence because I’ve heard them before. I hear them all the time. What McGraw was up against with that column is there are still many more of them than there are of us. So, when Tony says that piece didn’t break any new ground, he’s right. It didn’t break ground for our portion of the demo, but I know for sure it did for the other group. That’s not a criticism of McGraw or Scene, either. Sure, I was hoping for a trail of destruction from the studios, through the halls, and all the way to the fancy offices. I wanted to see the sins of pandering to the lowest common denominator laid bare. I wanted all the budget crunching moves made by CBS Radio recently to be hung on the line for all to see. But I get it.

The reason I’m such a big fan of Scene regarding this feature, even though I wanted to see more, is that it makes evident where the publication’s ears are, and that’s much more important than where they choose to point their loud speaker on any given day. We’re filling – and creating – this void with great independent writing and podcasts. These are the things podcasters are avoiding when crafting shows that are infinitely more interesting and worthwhile than what McGraw is describing. The people and practices that the blossoming Cleveland community of independent media have been complaining about for years are being talked about somewhere with a much louder loudspeaker today.

Remember, when all else fails, subscribe to podcasts. Go follow established pods like the WFNY PodcastTribe Time Now, and Scene’s podcasts. And, find startups like What are we doing in Cleveland. That will get your feet wet. Then, by the time you’re feeling good, I’ll have my new show ready for consumption.

Follow me on Twitter: @Railbirdj or email me: joshflagner.com

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