An update on looming sports media changes, several of which will come into play next week:
▪ With Dan Le Batard’s popular ESPN Radio show losing an hour - it will run 10 a.m. to noon nationally instead of 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. beginning on Monday - Le Batard and Jon Weiner will serve up new regular podcast content, with two fresh offerings daily.
A new digital-only episode will be recorded and posted before their radio show. And after their radio program airs, Le Batard and Weiner (known to much of Western civilization as Stugotz) will offer, as ESPN puts it, “more thoughts and ramblings” as a digital-only “post-game show.”
Also, each hour of the radio show – as well as their local hour that has a strong and loyal South Florida audience – will continue to be available as podcasts.
“Dan and Stugotz already have a large digital-only audience, and we wanted to better serve that audience with exclusive podcast content,” said Tom Ricks, ESPN Audio’s vice president of digital marketing and strategy. “They are a unique show on sports radio and now their podcast listeners will get more unique podcast content each day.”
Le Batard and Weiner have a unique monthly U.S. audience of nearly a million listeners, per ESPN. That makes their podcast the second-ranked among all sports podcasts, according to The Podtrac Podcast Category Audience Rankings for July 2020.
Also beginning Monday, Le Batard’s TV show, Highly Questionable, shifts to the 2:30 p.m. slot on ESPN’s weekday lineup.
▪ Le Batard’s show shrunk an hour as part of a major overhaul of the ESPN Radio lineup. But besides Le Batard, only one other daytime ESPN radio show will be heard in South Florida: Mike Greenberg’s new program from noon to 2 p.m.
WQAM-560 will now simulcast all four hours of Marc Hochman’s and Channing Crowder’s show that already airs from 2 to 6 p.m. on sister station 790 The Ticket.
On WQAM’s lineup, Greenberg will follow Le Batard (just as it will nationally) and replaces Stephen A. Smith, who is discontinuing his ESPN radio show.
ESPN debuts a new morning show on Monday, with Keyshawn Johnson and Jay Williams joining SportsCenter anchor Zubin Mehenti, but that won’t be heard in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market. They replace Trey Wingo and Mike Golic.
▪ TNT will be without four of arguably its top five NBA announcers when it begins its coverage of as many as 29 first-round games on Tuesday.
Here’s why: Marv Albert, as many readers know, and TNT mutually agreed he would sit out the NBA re-start because at 79, he’s in an age group especially vulnerable to COVID-19.
Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller, who were ubiquitous on TNT seeding games, were given the first round off so they wouldn’t need to spend two consecutive months in the bubble. They’ll be back for later rounds. We’ll miss Harlan’s exuberant call in the first round.
Ian Eagle, who teamed with Stan Van Gundy on TNT seeding games, is unavailable to Turner during the first round because he’s also the TV voice of the Brooklyn Nets, who play Toronto in the first round.
So Van Gundy - during the first round of postseason - instead will work with Spero Dedes, the steady CBS NFL/college basketball announcer who has done NBA games for Turner in past years.
Chris Webber, left off TNT’s schedule for seeding games, has been summoned to the bubble to work first-round games with TNT staffer and Milwaukee Brewers TV voice Brian Anderson.
TNT also is using Pelicans velvet-voiced play-by-player Joel Meyers (the former NBC NFL announcer) and Golden State Warriors announcer Bob Fitzgerald to call first-round games, with former Heat guard Jim Jackson and ex-NBA point guard Greg Anthony as game analysts.
▪ NFL Live, a staple of ESPN’s weekday coverage, will have a new time (4 p.m.) and a new cast beginning Monday.
Laura Rutledge, a former host and reporter on ESPN’s and SEC Network’s college coverage, replaces Wendi Nix as host, and the primary cast of analysts will be Dan Orlovsky, Mina Kimes, Marcus Spears and Keyshawn Johnson. Adam Schefter will contribute news.
It’s another big career step for Kimes, who has earned a loyal following for her in-depth writing on ESPN.com and her light-hearted touch on regular appearances on talk shows on both ESPN television and radio.
Beyond Nix, ESPN has used a cast of thousands on the show in the past year - Orlovsky, Chris Mortensen, Suzy Kolber, Ryan Clark, Mike Tannenbaum, Louis Riddick, Rob Ninkovich, Jeff Darlington, Field Yates, Dan Graziano, Diana Russini, Tim Hasselbeck, Jeff Saturday, Damien Woody, Tedi Bruschi and Kimberly Martin.
All of those will continue to have roles at ESPN and some will still appear on NFL Live.
Nix tweeted recently that “I’m staying right here to work on some other projects that we will talk about soon.”
▪ NBC-6 did not renew the contract of Keith Jones, who has juggled sports and news anchoring assignments in recent years, but he will be permitted to work through December, unless the station changes its mind.
That will leave the station with just one sportscaster: Ruthie Polinsky, who has done good work since joining NBC-6 in March from the CBS affiliate in Providence.
Migdalia Figueroa, NBC-6’s vice president of news, declined to say if Jones will be replaced, why he wasn’t renewed or if Polinsky - who’s already anchoring sports five nights a week and Sports Final on Sundays - will be given the sports director title that CBS-WFOR 4’s Jim Berry and ABC-WPLG 10’s Will Manso carry, or the lead sports anchor designation given to Fox-WSVN 7’s Steve Shapiro, the longest-tenured sportscaster in South Florida history.
▪ If you missed this, TNT’s Charles Barkley - very late Thursday night - said this of the Heat-Pacers series: “The Miami Heat don’t scare anybody. And Jimmy [Butler’s] going to have to control his emotions. Like, he’s the best player on that team. He’s a leader of that team.
“But if he’s going to spend all his energy going at T.J. Warren, that’s not going to work. Because when you’re the best player, you can’t get in foul trouble and you cannot get sidetracked. So, to me, that’s a pick ’em.”
TNT’s Kenny Smith made a good point, asserting that the Heat is “serviceable or really good” at every position, “similar to Toronto.”
▪ Ratings plunged for the first episode of HBO’s Hard Knocks, with 273,000 viewers compared with 705,000 for the first episode last season. This year’s series focuses on the Rams and Chargers and was COVID-heavy in the first episode. Last year’s Hard Knocks chronicled the Oakland (now Las Vegas) Raiders.
Here’s my Saturday Dolphins notebook with lots of things.
Here’s my Saturday piece on the Dolphins’ revamped defensive line, with good insight from defensive line coach Marion Hobby.