Detroit cannot support all sports radio

wdfn logoI’m not surprised that WDFN and 105.1 FM are out of the sports business and that 97.1 The Ticket stands alone talking sports in Detroit.

When I did radio at 97.1 with Mike Valenti I was taught that if you only talked sports that eventually you’d go out of business because you could not get a large enough audience in Detroit to attract advertisers and compete with the big boys in radio. There are not enough passionate sports fans in the Metro Detroit area to sustain an all sports station.

If the goal is to get a two or three share in the market, you could do it if the company was willing to sustain financial losses and back the product. If the goal was to compete with 97.9 FM, WWJ-950 AM, WRIF and WMOC you had to venture from sports and take a lot of phone calls.

Mike and I talked about former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his legal problems when that story was hot. We talked race and culture and best burgers in Detroit. We wanted to crown a Miss Sliders queen. Every time we did it people would call in to bitch. “Stick to sports” they would scream.

We ignored those calls because our ratings kept increasing.

We shot to the number one afternoon show in Detroit because Mike is the most unique talk radio host in Detroit. He goes off like a fire cracker, but he also has the ability to tell a good home spun story for four hours. The rest of us did talk radio. Mike gave fire side chats.

Our station thrived because it was willing to spend money to carry the Tigers, Red Wings and Lions games. That carried our station at night and kept listeners around for when the morning shows began.

We thrived because we were willing to step outside the world of sports.

People are romanticizing about the days of WDFN. And I guess I am one of them because I worked there. But to be honest I was not sad when The Fan switched from all sports to black information talk radio a few weeks ago.

WDFN left the building many years ago. I was sad many years ago when WDFN management decided it did not want to compete with 97.1 FM. It had the chance to move to the more powerful FM dial but declined. It had the opportunity to build up its lineup with young and hungry talk show host but declined.

That cost money.

Instead it ran cheaper syndicated shows and fired local talent. That’s when I became sad about my old station.

Actually the slow death of the Fan began three or four years into it hitting the airwaves. That’s when management asked all of us to come into the garage where we did shows and watch in horror as 70 percent of the staff was let go.

I survived that day but mourned my friends who were out of a job and mourned for the station. I knew it would never be the same.

I also felt sorry for the folks who tried to make a go of 105.1. They openly bragged about doing all sports, all the time. I knew they were signing their death warrant.

That format just lasted a few years with low ratings. It is now a ratings hit after switching to The Bounce where it spins urban tunes in addition to providing some talk radio.

My friends at the Fan and 105.1 would get upset with me when I said they were not our competition. But it was true. We never got praise from management for beating them in the ratings. We never got a bonus for having more listeners than the Fan.

We were competing against urban talk radio, hip hop stations and all news talk.

The all sports stations were small potatoes.

Find Terry Foster Podcast here:

Published by terryfoster8

I am a 58 year old retired sports journalist, husband and father of two living outside of Detroit in search of his next big adventure in life.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: