When I was young I always used to get American edition Sports Illustrated magazines brought back from people at my mother's work who had travelled to the states. Strangely I never got the swimsuit issue which would seem to indicate that either there was some serious censorship going on or that these guys were pocketing them for 'later' use. Didn't really concern me, my opinion even then at that impressionable was "why would you buy a sports magazine to see half naked ladies?" Of course this is a good five years before the Internet became a reality for most of us so it was obviously much easier for guys to buy a copy of SI to knock one out to than to actually go to the newsagent and pick up a copy of "Top Heavy Over 40 Mature Jugs Readers Asian Wives" magazine so I guess it made sense somewhere. What they did the other eleven months of the year is a horrifying thought that I'd rather not entertain if it's all the same.
ANYWAY. The point is that I'd read these magazines and they'd always be talking about these all-sport 24/7 radio stations. They'd have dumbass Americanised names like WFAN and KSPORT but the concept was simple - talkin' sports all day, every day. Even in places like Indianapolis where they've only got two major league teams - what in gods name did these people discuss all day? I always wondered over the years whether an all-sports-all-day radio station would work - even in a massive sporting market like Melbourne - and I came to the conclusion that it simply wouldn't. Unless you have the rights to call AFL, cricket, racing and most of the other major games in town you're left with nothing but an entire day to fill with gab about these particular sports.
Melbourne has got Sport927, formerly known as 3UZ, but nobody is mad enough to try and pretend that it's anything but a racing channel with some token discussion of other sports thrown in during the hours when there's no gambling going on - we call it breakfast. And that's great for them because they don't need to fork over massive amounts of money to be part of the ratings circus. They know there's a core audience of people watching, and they've cut some mysterious deal that means their audio is played in most TAB's around the state. That's a massive potential audience to take and wave at any prospective advertiser.
Somebody is finally going to give it a bash though, and they're either going to make it or go down in a blaze of glory and spiralling financial debt. From yesterday morning the frequency formerly occupied by AM basketcase 3AK, 1116, is occupied by the "Sports Entertainment Network" whose slogan is simply "Let's talk sport". They've got a fairly decent lineup with Gary Lyon, Tim Watson, Bill Brownless, Kevin Bartlett, Francis Leach, Dermott Brereton, Anthony Hudson, Matt Hardy (the comedian, not the wrestler you'd assume), Tony Jones, Simon Marshall, James Hird, Shane Crawford, Leigh Colbert, Andrew Gaze, Scott Cummings, Russell Gilbert and Mark Doran but is it enough? Do people care enough to listen all day and make it an attractive proposition to sponsors? I seriously doubt it. A newspaper story the other day quoted a radio industry 'insider' as saying they need to at least pull a four percent share of the ratings just to break even - but usually when journalists quote 'insiders' they've just made the story up so believe what you will. I'm not sure if Sport927 actually make money or not but I'm sure I'd rather be doing their finances than this new entity.
And how much is going to devoted to what? If the lines are stacked by people discussing the situation at Richmond am I going to be there for an hour hearing about how Richo is the most underrated player in the history of the game? No thanks. Believe it or not the fact that we have so many teams in this city might actually work against them. Let's take Indianapolis for an example again - you can get away with discussing the Pacers and Colts all day because 99% of your audience supports these two teams. If you provided me with a station that discussed Melbourne all day I'd probably listen to it - I might be the only one - but if I'm having to share that airtime with discussion of all these clubs I don't give a monkeys about then I'm not going to bother listening. You simply can't get ten or twelve hours a day out of AFL issues, even during the season, without it becoming horrifically repetitive. How many different callers do you need to ring in and say they don't think Nathan Buckley/Wayne Carey/David Neitz should have been reported/suspended/elected king of the world before it becomes dull. Not many. If I'm interested in, say, the Women's National Basketball League and ring up are they going to hear the thousands of sets turning over to 3AW and hustle me off the air ASAP to devote more time to AFL? You just can't please everyone.
While we're at it you've got to question some of the programming decisions. They've got a basketball show hosted by Andrew Gaze on Friday Nights - when a great deal of NBL games are played. And who, let's face it, wants to listen to a basketball show anyway? They can't even get more than 2000 people to a game in this city - how are you going to sell advertising with a potential market that low? You may as well have a show discussing the National Soccer League - it's got more fans than the NBL but they, presumably, couldn't find a 'big name' like Gaze to host it. But "big names" are only good for attracting interest, and some credability and if they're not actually providing decent entertainment it will all be wasted.
I hope I'm proved wrong and they make an absolute fortune. Just because I won't be listening to it - because frankly talkback radio shits me up the wall these days - doesn't mean it can't be good and can't attract an audience. They should give me a show, then their station identity can be "250 famous sportsmen, and one dickhead off the street". We'll make a mint.
Were I in charge of this sort of station the way I'd do it would be to cut the sports talk with music. Make it classic rock, the type Triple M used to play before they sold out to Creed, if you're trying to appeal to a Male 25-50 audience. Not sure what I'd do with the actual programs - because as I said there might be merit in discussing the 'minor' sports but merit doesn't pay the bills or keep you living in a non-cardboard-box environment. I just don't think it will work under any circumstances, but under my music/talk plot you'd at least halve the amount of talkback thus making the discussion fresher and keeping people listening with the songs. Logic would say that they should think about doing live coverage of the NSL, NBL or NRL if it can be done cheaply enough but will they be willing to take the chance that nobody will be listening? Or is it better to fill Saturday afternoon with sporadic updates of AFL games and talkback callers discussing Lance Whitnall's hamstrings? I would assume, and I hope for their sake, that they've done some forward planning and thinking because if the idea of 24/7 talkback stiffs in the ratings they're going to have to come up with a Plan B very quickly to avoid going under.
Further entertainment can be had by viewing what used to be the 3AK website. Apparently "This site is undergoing maintenance and will return shortly". My arse it will. Your station is dead - get over it. It will probably be back in six months time when this enterprise goes under but for now it's defunct. Meanwhile while we were discussing 3UZ earlier my favourite memory of that station was the show hosted by Brian Taylor on a Friday night at about 11pm probably ten years ago. They'd try to valiantly discuss American sports and card trading (when it was big - and if anyone wants to buy the 1992 Upper Deck Reggie Jackson hologram card then I'm here for you) but it turned out that every second talkback caller they had was pranking them; leading to BT throwing some world class tantrums on air. A sign of things to come for the new network? For comedy value one can only hope so.