WARNING: I’m about to sound like a bitter old man. You will here some “back in my day” throughout this article, but it’s for good reason. I grew up with Ted Leitner on Channel 8 and on 760 KFMB, back when you could flip on sports talk radio any time of day and it was a pretty good chance you’d find people talking about baseball. After spending over a week in the region, it was shocking to me how hard it was to find baseball on the radio. When I did find the topic discussed, the personalities doing the talking nearly made me want to turn it off.
Last season, the Padres announced that their partnership with AM radio station 1090 was coming to a close, and games would be carried in the FM band, on Entercom station KBZT 94.9. (Mike Dee is now the president of Entercom Sports, but that’s a topic for another day.) Here I go sounding old again, but I remember “K-Best 95” as the oldies station, since my mom always had that on in her car, and that’s why I have an unusually uncanny mental encyclopedia of pop hits from the 50’s and 60’s... but I digress. When it was announced, it was presented as though the move would spark some kind of revolutionary evolution of sports radio in San Diego. That clearly hasn’t been the case.
The first issue at hand is simply the range of coverage. I live in the Sacramento area. At night I can pick up 1090 loud and clear, because they operate in Mexico and can still operate a megapowerful station that isn’t permitted under US regulations. When I lived in Portland, OR I could occasionally pick up the station. If you want to spread a brand, broadcasting ballgames and sports talk over half of the continent is a pretty darn good way to do it. Since 94.9 is an FM station that operates in the US, its range is very limited, as you can see in this graphic that @Padresjagoff posted a while back. It doesn’t even cover San Diego County, which is just absurd. Yeah, the audio is crisp and clear, and I hear that HD radio units can display things like the score and stuff, but what’s the point if your fans can’t pick up the station? I subscribe to MLB.tv and have a phat data plan, so I can stream the games, but that’s beside the point. I’ve gone on enough on this topic, and @PadresJagoff really did cover this well, so I’ll just defer to his excellent article from last year.
You would think that a radio station that carries a major sports franchise would actively support that franchise. Nope. Instead it’s an alternative rock station that treats what should be their flagship product as a side-bit. The fact that they didn’t take Padres radio seriously was clearly evident during spring training, when many of the games were carried on a partner station, KSON, or were relegated to a substation only available to those with HD Radio receivers, which is a small slice of the market. It was clear that they were much more interested in pushing their generic alternative rock playlists on their listeners than in presenting their new flagship product, to a market that wanted the latter much more than the former.
Apparently their plan was to try to convert non-sports-listeners into the church of baseball. If that really is the case, the execution is beyond awful. It’s actually backfired on them, as they lost listeners after the first month of baseball coverage. They’re trying to push PadresRadio.com on us, but when you listen to the station, you hardly hear anything Padres. In fact, they’re busier pushing their app, so when their normal programming is interrupted by a baseball game, you can just cue up the app on your smartphone and keep listening to the corporately-driven playlists that are set for you by some market study group in a national headquarters somewhere. But I digress...
Speaking of Dan Sileo, when I heard that Padres baseball was migrating away from 1090, I was optimistic that we would get a radio staff with some qualified Padres fans who could speak to listeners with understanding and appreciation of the organization’s history and its connection with its fan base. Nope, we got Rich Herrera. We have a guy with a voice straight out of a strip club who’s well-travelled nationally but has zero ties to the San Diego area. Like Sileo, he’s a Mike Dee hire who’s a Giants fan (barf) and has plenty of experience elsewhere, but has zero ability to relate to the Padres fan base. Check out Gwynntelligence’s latest podcast, where they played some snippets of PadresRadio’s own new podcast. Herrera had some local bloggers and podcasters on to have some kind of “community round table” discussion. All he wound up doing was puff out his own chest and embarrass himself as he essentially insulted his guests and demonstrated a complete inability to relate to them. It’s clear to me that Rich Herrera is disconnected from his listener base, and I don’t see that improving any time soon. He may be a pretty good Senior Executive Producer, but it’s clear to me that he is a poor fit in front of a microphone. Apparently this is a known thing, because job listings have been popping up for the post-game show all over the place. If you have any on-air experience and are reading this article, please apply!
What really surprised me during my trip last week was the general dearth of Padres radio coverage in San Diego. The pregame show starts like a half hour before the first pitch, and the postgame was over before I could get my car out of the parking garage at the Convention Center. The radio station switches right back to alternative rock, and good luck finding baseball talk anywhere else. I feel like the postgame show used to go on for a good hour, and after that the local sports talk station would carry on talking about the game and what else was going on around the league. Nope. Flip over to 1090 and you hear Dan Sileo still talking about the Chargers and the rest of the NFL, only occasionally changing topic to stadium negotiations about soccer and the Aztecs, presumably because it leads back to the chances of the NFL coming back to San Diego. I get that the NFL is a huge thing, but there are baseball fans in San Diego. I grew up in a community where it felt like all the kids played baseball, while soccer and football were secondary sports at the time.
Of course, there are exceptions to all of this. Darren Smith does an excellent job of covering all San Diego sports fairly, and he speaks to baseball with knowledge and understanding. His interviews tend to be insightful and he’s not afraid to ask poignant questions. Craig Elsten is a passionate San Diego sports fan and always brings enthusiasm and a positive yet critical stance to his shows. Off the broadcast air, there is a “Golden Era of Padres Podcasting” flooding the net, with shows like Elsten’s own “Make the Padres Great Again” to Gwynntelligence’s work, as well as podcasts from East Village Times, The Kept Faith podcast from Voice of San Diego, and so many more. The problem is that there is a void on the airwaves, and the beautiful thing is that there are so many passionate fans out there that are filling that void in their own ways.
Baseball is a wonderful sport to listen to on the radio. There is something about the pace of the game and the pastoral setting that make it the perfect venue for a broadcaster to call the game while having time in between to tell stories. On Father’s Day, we were treated to Tony Gwynn Jr. in the booth with Ted Leitner, as he told stories about his dad and about his own time in the sport while Teddy kept us abreast of what was happening on the field. Once the game is over, there is an endless supply of side-stories to keep the mind entertained, whether it’s about player development, roster moves, or on-field controversies. For a city that loves their home team, San Diego deserves to have a radio community that supports the Padres just as much as the fans do. It’s time for Padres management to take a look at who is running these stations and who is behind the microphones, and make some changes to get the radio waves back in tune with the ears that are eager to listen.