By Rick Griffin
In the absence of results from professional sports games because of the COVID-19 pandemic, what have sports talk-radio hosts been talking about? The answer, surprisingly, is “plenty,” according to on-air personalities heard on Entercom San Diego’s KWFN 97.3-FM, known as “The Fan.”
“It hasn’t been as tough as some people might expect,” said John Kentera, weekday afternoon, noon-to-3 p.m. host. Kentera, better known as The Coach, has been heard on San Diego radio stations since 1987.
“In addition to the NFL draft, Tom Brady’s new team and Aztec basketball players turning pro, our listeners have been eager to provide plenty of input on a lot of different topics, some of them historical in nature, such as `Who’s the first pro athlete you met as a kid,’ and ‘Who’s your favorite pro athlete,'” said Kentera. “Listeners also have called to thank us for bringing some fun and levity to this horribly serious time. We’re not ignoring the crisis, but we’re trying to present something positive and entertaining.”
All major North American sports leagues, as well as annual major sporting events, suspended the playing of its games beginning in mid-March as the coronavirus outbreak spread around the world.
The enormity of professional sports as missing-in-action has been unprecedented. Major League Baseball ended its spring training season on March 16 and put Opening Day on hold. The National Basketball League season was suspended March 11. The National Hockey League season was “paused” March 12.
Among cancelled major sports events: the NCAA “March Madness” basketball tournament, Wimbledon tennis Championship, XFL football season, Little League World Series, Long Beach Grand Prix, and several professional golf tournaments, including the British Open.
Rescheduled events include the Kentucky Derby to Sept. 5, Boston Marathon to Sept. 14, Indianapolis 500 race from Memorial Day weekend to Aug. 23, Tour de France to possibly June, and the Tokyo Summer Olympics to next year. NASCAR announced last week it will return in mid-May with auto racing events held without spectators at the Darlington, South Carolina Raceway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. Also, NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 will run on Memorial Day weekend without any fans in attendance.
“Everybody is so scared right now,” said Kentera, who has been broadcasting from his Solana Beach home for the past six weeks. “The pros are not the only ones taking a hit. The losses are significant experienced by college and high school athletes, plus the young kids who are missing soccer and Little League.”
MLB has been perhaps the hardest hit based on lost gate revenues from 81 home games per team and its position in the sports calendar. The league has floated a number of plans for resuming a season, possibly without fans and with realigned divisions based on geography where players could remain in isolation and still play at their home ballparks while severely reducing travel.
“My gut tells me that we’ll be watching golf soon, followed by some semblance of basketball and then real baseball games by July 1st,” said Steve Woods, another Entercom talk-show host who is paired in the mornings with Ben Higgins for the “Ben & Woods” show.
“The virus has 100 percent changed the face of sports forever,” Woods said. “It’s crazy because we all miss it so much. But, honestly, I’m not sure how excited I would feel about sitting in a packed stadium right now.”
Woods notes that missing game results “has caused us to get really creative with four hours to fill. We have talked about trading cards, the Michael Jordan documentary on ESPN and even our flubs on air, which always gets a laugh. We’ve also had actors, musicians and comedians as guests. Honestly, it’s been fun.”
Ben Higgins, Woods’ co-host who also works as a TV sportscaster on KGTV 10News, agrees the void of games has forced a greater effort to be entertaining.
“We’re trying to be creative and irreverent and just really focus on doing an entertaining show,” said Higgins. “As much as I miss sports, it’s actually been kind of fun.”
Paul Reindl, executive producer of “Ben & Woods,” said, “It’s certainly been different not to have games to talk about. However, it has caused us to get much more creative and expand our horizons with different topics and interesting guests outside of the world of sports, so I view that as a positive.
“Because everyone is at home, we’ve been able to get some really fun and interesting guests on the show, such as comedians, actors, musicians, celebrity chefs. And, I think people have enjoyed hearing from guests who they might not usually hear on a sports talk station.”
Chris Ello, another Entercom sports talk-show host, believes the virus will end a long-standing sports celebratory gesture.
“The high-five may be a thing of the past,” said Ello, weekday afternoon, 3-7 p.m. co-host of “Gwynn & Chris” with Tony Gwynn Jr. “Our listeners seem to appreciate that we’re still on the radio, and that makes it all worthwhile.”
The Entercom talk-show hosts admit they have been challenged in dealing with their own virus-related vulnerabilities while projecting calm and poise in front of the microphone to anxious listeners at home.
“We’ve talked about mental health and the quarantine wearing us down,” Reindl said, “so being open about our personal lives has never been an issue for our show.”
“Kelly and I have the same problems as everybody else,” said Kentera, referring to his wife of 37 years. “I mentioned it only briefly on the air but we really miss our four grandchildren (ages 11, 6, 5 and 2). Two of them had birthdays within the last six weeks and we had to talk with them only from one side of a brick wall. It was heartbreaking. I hope we get back some normalcy very soon.”
“Honestly, the job has kept me sane,” said Woods. “My wife is pregnant and we have a two-year-old screaming banshee at home. So, my job has been a respite.”
In addition to 97.3-FM The Fan, the San Diego radio market also includes another sports-talk radio station, KLSD 1360-AM XTRA Fox Sports San Diego, operated by iHeart San Diego. Emails requesting comment sent to several iHeart San Diego sports talk-show hosts were not returned.
‘Padres Social Hour’ Radio Show Airing Instead of Games
Even though the San Diego Padres aren’t playing games on the field because of the coronavirus crisis, a one-hour radio show, called “Padres Social Hour,” has begun airing at 7 p.m., Monday through Thursday, on the Padres’ English-speaking, flagship radio station, KWFN 97.3-FM The Fan, owned by Entercom Communications. The ballclub is producing the show, a statement said, as a way to engage fans while the Major League Baseball season is currently nonexistent.
“As the flagship home of the San Diego Padres, we’re excited to partner with the team to bring premium baseball content to loyal fans,” said Karyn Cerulli, senior VP and market manager, Entercom San Diego. “‘Padres Social Hour’ will keep listeners abreast of their favorite team and keep them close to the off-the-field action as we eagerly await their return to the field.”
The show, hosted by Padres radio voice Jesse Agler, features special guests and Padres TV and radio broadcasters, including Don Orsillo and former major league pitchers Randy Jones, Mark Grant and Bob Scanlan. Agler has worked for the ballclub since 2014. Orsillo joined in 2016.
(W)right On Communications Announces 2 New Hires
(W)right On Communications, a La Jolla public relations firm, reports it has strengthened its digital marketing and PR capabilities with the hiring of Rick Tinney as senior visual strategist and Licia Walsworth as communications strategist.
Tinney, with nearly 20 years of experience in graphic design and digital marketing, was previously at Tealium, where he served for six years leading graphic and identity design, branding direction, video production, web design and management, UI/UX design, analytics and front-end development.
Walsworth has 20 years of communications, sales and hospitality experience. In previous jobs, she was honored with the Manager of the Year award and Cultural Warrior Award from Omni Hotels and Resorts. She also spent six years at Timex Group USA where she led marketing, advertising and merchandising for Timex retail stores.
“Rick and Licia are wonderful additions to our agency family,” said Julie Wright, president and founder of (W)right On Communications. “Apart from being great teammates, they each bring deep technical skills and industry knowledge that will add even more value for our clients.”
Founded in 1998, (W)right On Communications operates offices in San Diego, Vancouver and Los Angeles.
Media Sponsors Named for #GivingTuesdayNow
NBC News and MSNBC have been named the signature media partners of #GivingTuesdayNow, a global fundraiser scheduled for Tuesday, May 5.
Normally held annually on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, Giving Tuesday organizers added another day of giving to nonprofit organizations as an emergency response to the unprecedented need caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Called “#GivingTuesdayNow,” this extra day is designed to drive an influx of generosity, citizen engagement and business and philanthropy activation, officials said.
A number of San Diego-area nonprofits are participating in #GivingTuesdayNow, including the ALS Association Greater San Diego Chapter and Partnerships with Industry.
People are encouraged to show their generosity in a variety of ways on #GivingTuesdayNow, whether it’s helping a neighbor, advocating for an issue, sharing a skill, or giving to causes. Major supporters of #GivingTuesdayNow include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and PayPal.
Other supporters include Fidelity Charitable, Ford Motor Co. and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Other partners include Facebook, LinedIn, United Nations Foundation, World Health Organization, the CDC Foundation, United Way Worldwide, the Aga Khan Foundation, Guardian News and Media, The Communications Network, Philanthropy Together, Teach for All and Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support.
Rick Griffin is a San Diego-based public relations and marketing consultant. His MarketInk column appears weekly on Mondays in Times of San Diego.
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