For the last 22 seasons, radio broadcasts of the NFL’s Chicago Bears have aired on Audacy-owned WBBM Newsradio 780 AM/105.9 FM. Now, its flagship station and live game broadcasts are set to move to ESPN 1000, owned and operated by Good Karma Brands, beginning at the start of next season in a multiyear agreement.
“We were incredibly impressed with the enthusiasm shown by the leadership team at Good Karma Brands,” Chicago Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips said in a statement included in the team’s press release. “Their plan for presenting Bears football on the radio is first class and we know that ESPN 1000 will be an excellent home for our games and an axis for Bears talk year-round. We look forward to working with the station beginning in 2023.”
There had been much speculation regarding the broadcast rights for the team with reports in June indicating three stations were involved in the bidding, according to Daily Herald media columnist Robert Feder.
In the end, ESPN 1000 Chicago has earned the distinction of adding an NFL team to its slate of programming and live game broadcasts, which also includes all games for Major League Baseball’s Chicago White Sox. In a span of nearly three years, the brand secured its second professional media rights agreement, and the first under new market manager Keith Williams.
“I think it all started with a conversation back in March where we were just asking questions about their needs, their goals and their ideas,” Williams told Barrett Sports Media. “Over the next few months, [it was] just conversations, developing relationships and understanding what would make the most sense for us and for them to form a partnership.”
Although ESPN 1000 was acquired by Good Karma Brands as part of a larger transaction earlier this year, the station has been operated by the company since October 2019. As a competitor to 670 The Score, ESPN 1000 continuously seeks to distinguish itself from others in the marketplace, or as Williams puts it: “Much like our company always does – when others zig, we zag.”
While they are unable to disclose specific changes that will take place under the agreement since it takes into effect at the start of next season, management at ESPN 1000 Chicago knows the Bears are central to covering sports in “The Windy City.”
“The Bears are the biggest team in town,” said ESPN 1000 Director of Content Danny Zederman. “Even though we’re not the home of the Bears currently, we’re still talking Bears from the minute we [go] on the air… to the minute we go off the air; however, we’re not going to treat the Bears as just 17 games. It’s a 365-day a year product.”
As part of the new media rights agreement, ESPN 1000 Chicago figures to gain more access to players, coaches and other team personnel. Additionally, it will air pregame and postgame programming, along with an additional Bears show once per week, according to Zederman, to maintain its coverage of the team which he says is “the best in the business.”
Just how the addition of the team will impact its ratings is yet to be seen – but it will now have the radio rights to two professional teams just as Audacy-owned 670 The Score does with the National Basketball Association’s Chicago Bulls and Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs.
“We’re not worried about that,” Williams said of the effect the deal may have on ratings. “We’re worried about putting the best product out to our fans that we have. If we can satisfy our fans and get results for our advertising partners, that’s what Good Karma Brands is all about.”
As the implementation of digital platforms and creating content tailored towards listeners proliferates in emphasis across the industry, ESPN 1000 Chicago will seek to remain at the forefront of innovation. Moreover, it will continue to produce and distribute content to consumers to ensure the brand is able to satisfy the overall fandom and aspiration that exists for entertaining and compelling coverage.
“As the radio industry pivots, we are going to pivot and grow with it,” Zederman expressed. “Any way we can reach the fans and provide them with something that they want to consume, we’re going to be there and doing it.”
For companies or brands looking to advertise, game broadcasts give them the ability to reach specific demographics within somewhat of a captive audience fixated on the gridiron. Since coverage of both the White Sox and the Bears will be year round on ESPN 1000 Chicago starting in the 2023 NFL season, advertising partners will have the ability to disseminate their messages to listeners and the potential to reach new sectors of the marketplace.
“In today’s time-shifted world of podcasts and recorded television programs, where ears and eyeballs are is in live sports,” Williams said. “Our belief is that the fans will be there; they’ll be listening and what better way to get your brand and your product out there from a marketing standpoint for some of our advertising partners to do it inside and around the game.”
Since its loss of the Chicago Bulls in 2016, ESPN 1000 did not have professional broadcast rights, although it was airing games for both Notre Dame football and University of Illinois Flames men’s basketball.
Nonetheless, one could argue the brand was losing potential streams of both revenue and listenership, thus weakening its position in the marketplace. Yet it has remained in steady competition with competing brands both inside and outside of radio, and now continues to strengthen its standing as the broadcast home of professional baseball and football teams.
“E-S-P-N are four of the most powerful letters in sports,” Zederman said, “and in the city of Chicago, there’s not a more powerful team than the Chicago Bears. I think that marriage speaks for itself.”
“The brand’s already strong,” added Williams. “We are ESPN 1000. Adding the Bears in addition to having the White Sox just continues to elevate everything. There’s credibility with ESPN, there’s credibility with the Sox, there’s credibility with the Bears. I think we were already strong. Now we’re just even stronger.”
There exists a distinct possibility that come opening week next season, the Chicago White Sox, led by new manager Pedro Grifol and young stars Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez, could find themselves in contention for a playoff berth with the hopes of it culminating into a deep postseason run.
With that possibility comes the chance that the White Sox may be playing in a postseason game while the Bears are on the field, creating a quandary for ESPN 1000 Chicago; however, a plan is already in place if that situation were to arise.
“If the White Sox are in the playoffs, they will be on ESPN 1000,” Williams said, “and the Chicago Bears will be on a conflict station that we will determine in the future.”
As the new flagship station for the Chicago Bears starting next season, ESPN 1000 Chicago and the team will work to collaborate and maintain a mutually-beneficial, professional relationship with the goal of generating success.
Although that term is implicative of a connotative definition up for interpretation by those in different industries, it is quite bilateral in sports media from the perspectives of content and revenue, two properties which ostensibly garner a dependency on one another.
“If our advertising partners are increasing their business, it means we have a lot of fans that are listening to their message,” Williams said. “If the fanbase is there and they’re supporting our advertising partners, then that is success to us. I guess the flip side of that too is just… are the Bears happy with the broadcast and the coverage that we’re providing because they are partners with us in this venture.”
The city of Chicago has not had sports radio on the FM dial over the last several years – the HD2 partnership between Good Karma Brands and Hubbard Radio notwithstanding – yet it is still able to attract listeners on AM and various digital platforms.
As radio continues to utilize innovations in technology and adapt within the crowded sports media landscape, ESPN 1000 Chicago management believes that consumers know where to go to receive the best content.
“It doesn’t matter where you are on the dial,” Williams said. “I think if you’re putting out enough good content, people will find a way to get to you.”
With the addition of the Bears to its airwaves, along with the existing partnership with the White Sox and vast array of talk shows, ESPN 1000 Chicago looks to be a leader in the evolution of sports media. In so doing, it intends to utilize new technologies and methods in reaching both its dedicated listeners and those who occasionally tune in to the station or consume its content on digitally-based platforms.
“The more we can continue to push our team and just sports radio in general to educate, to inform, but most importantly [to] entertain, is going to grow fanbases and bring people to the format,” Williams said. “Obviously whether that’s live; whether that’s time-shifted with podcasts or videocasts or whatever ends up happening here in the future, we have to be fun; we have to do it in a fun way, present it with personality and grow from there.”
Since sports fans are easily able to find out the latest scores, statistics and news about their favorite teams or players through the internet, the compelling draw of sports radio is in its personalities. Even so, people can tune in to radio shows on-demand, diminishing the impact live programming has on the industry.
Yet with sporting events, fans want to be tapped in regarding the latest action and express their fandom through social media or mediated forms of communication; therefore, they opt to listen live and remain on the station during advertising. Part of the reason football fans enjoy listening to games on radio as well is because it is the medium on which local broadcasters are heard since the commentators in the television booths broadcast games nationally, and thus are subject to change by the week.
“The only thing you don’t consume on-demand are live games,” Zederman said. “You want to see the action when it’s happening; you want to hear the action when it’s happening. If you’re a Twitter person, you want to react with the fans on Twitter as the action’s happening. Having live games, be it the White Sox or the Bears, is a game-changer for us because people come to hear live sports; that’s what it’s all about.”
“We’re aggressive to grow our fanbase; we’re aggressive to get live sports on the air,” added Williams. “Combining that with ESPN will lift everyone’s brand.”
ESPN 1000 Chicago will officially become the flagship radio station for the Chicago Bears at the start of the new NFL league year in March 2023. The remainder of Bears games this season will be broadcast on WBBM Newsradio 780 AM/105.9 FM, along with TUDN Deportes Radio 1200 AM and Latino Mix 93.5 FM.
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Evan Roberts: Boomer Esiason Was Taking Shot at Craig Carton With FS1 Dig
“He said they only put the stuff no one cares about on FS1. And he did it with his Boomer smile where I knew what he was mentioning.”
WFAN afternoon host Evan Roberts was listening to the station’s morning show, Boomer & Gio, and heard what he believed was a slight towards his current co-host Craig Carton Wednesday from Boomer Esiason.
“I heard Boomer this morning taking some shots at you. I did not like it,” Roberts said. “Did not like it. Big shots at my partner. He made a comment about how FOX puts stuff that no one cares about on FS1. And he meant that directly at you.”
“First off, he wouldn’t say that,” replied Carton.
“He said it. I listened. He said they only put the stuff no one cares about on FS1,” Roberts reiterated. “And he did it with his Boomer smile where I knew what he was mentioning. He wasn’t talking about anything other than his old, dear friend Craig. What a cheap shot.”
Carton, who hosts The Carton Show each weekday morning on FS1, said no one must have been listening to Boomer’s attack because he didn’t get any tweets or emails about it.
“Boomer’s probably listening — because he does listen to us — and he’s probably smiling saying ‘Evan’s right!’,” Roberts said before laughing out loud.
“If he did say it — next time — I’ll just ask a favor,” Carton asked of Esiason. “Reminder your listeners that I am on FS1 from 7:00-9:30 AM, but only until 9:00 AM this week because of World Cup soccer. If you’re gonna take a shot, it allows me to promote it. And I don’t promote it here.”
A caller later told Carton & Roberts the exact moment, down to the minute, of when Esiason made the quip about FS1. Producers then pulled up the clip, which they played on the air.
After hearing the clip, Carton joked FOX puts they stuff they don’t care about on FS2 before asking “Now I gotta figure out, do I respond or not? Or do I just let it go?” before concluding that he’s more mature than making a response.
Fred Toucher Tells Paul Finebaum: Your Greatest Talent Is Not Losing It On Callers
“What you’re actually taught in radio — and not to the benefit of people — is to move things along and cut people off.”
98.5 The Sports Hub morning show Toucher & Rich has frequently pointed out the absurdity of callers into The Paul Finebaum Show. Thursday morning, the Boston show welcomed in the southern college football host to discuss what makes his show tick.
“I can’t tell you how big a thrill this is for me, because I didn’t realize how funny our show was until I started listening to you guys,” Finebaum joked.
“Part of the brilliance of your show is you just let these people go,” Fred Toucher said. “For those that don’t know, the instinct in what you’re actually taught in radio — and not to the benefit of people — is to move things along and cut people off. At what point did you realize ‘I’m just gonna let these dudes talk and see where they take it’?”
“I listened to all these radio goobs — I mean all these people in the corner office — tell us how to do it and I realized I can’t do that. I didn’t have the radio voice, I didn’t have the style, I didn’t have the energy. So I just sat there and literally listened to callers ramble on and I started to find the humor in it.
“It hit me one day that these people don’t have a voice,” Finebaum continued. “Especially in the south where we don’t have six or seven professional sports franchises. Callers started becoming famous and becoming a part of the show. We started having lunches with them for Christmas and various other things and days and I think we realized what we had and we made the most of it. Some of these callers really defy logic. I think I’ve given four or five eulogies at various callers funerals and I think that there’s a connection there.”
Finebaum then mentioned one of his more notorious callers, Legend. The caller actually spent more than 20 years in prison after shooting someone six times. Toucher said Legend has actually called into their show but they have never taken his call.
“We don’t take Legend because we’re not gonna do as good a job with him,” Toucher said. “I told our producer, I do not want to take Legend.”
“Paul’s a master with him,” Rich Shertenlieb added.
Gregg Giannotti: CBS Won’t Show Deshaun Watson Accusers Sunday
“I think people know what’s going on. You’re not gonna show them and start trashing them on the broadcast.”
Quarterback Deshaun Watson is set to make his 2022 season debut against his former team on Sunday following an 11-game suspension. Watson has been accused of sexual misconduct, and 10 of the women who believe the now-Cleveland Browns QB preyed upon them are planning to attend the game in Houston. On Boomer & Gio on WFAN on Wednesday, co-host Gregg Giannotti had a thought on CBS cameras dedicating a snippet of the game broadcast to showing the women in attendance.
“I wonder does like the broadcast show them?” Gio asked to co-host Boomer Esiason. “Are you guys gonna have to talk about that on The NFL Today?”
“I have no idea,” Esiason responded. Boomer explained that they hadn’t had their production meeting for this week’s show, but he felt like beyond that he and Gio had already discussed the Watson situation at great length.
Still, Gio said if he were in charge of the CBS broadcast, he would find a way to show the alleged victims’ faces.
“I mean you could show them and explain the situation,” he said. “I think people know what’s going on. You’re not gonna show them and start trashing them on the broadcast.”
Once the 2022 NFL season started, and Watson accepted the suspension and began going through the various processes he needed to go through in order to be reinstated, the focus shifted away from the story. But Gio added that now that Watson is ready to play, the story gets thrust back into the limelight.
“Nobody was talking about it for weeks and weeks and weeks, and now he’s back,” he said. “And now it’s back.”
Jordan Bondurant is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. He works full-time as a multimedia specialist at the Virginia State Corporation Commission, while also putting in part-time work for News Radio WRVA and 910 The Fan in Richmond. Additionally, you can find Jordan contributing coverage of the Washington Capitals for the blog NoVa Caps. His prior media experiences include working for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Danville Register & Bee, Virginia Lawyers Weekly and ABC 8News. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @J__Bondurant.