It’s a weekday morning less than a month before the start of college football season, and Teddy Heffner and Rick Sanford, aka “Dr. Rick,” are – no surprise – disagreeing about something on their “Talkin’ Sports” radio talk show.
This day, though, the topic is not Steve Spurrier or Dabo Swinney, but the just-announced nickname of Columbia’s new minor league baseball team.
Heffner, 64 and a veteran of 25-plus years in sports radio, is not exactly enamored of the name “Fireflies,” which will debut in 2016. “Why don’t you call ’em ‘Lightning Bugs’? Who in the South says ‘Fireflies’?” he says, all but shouting.
Sanford, 57, who has as a sponsor Spirit Communications, the company whose name will grace the minor league team’s under-construction stadium, fires back. “Don’t be dissing the Fireflies,” he says with a laugh.
For long-time listeners to “Talkin’ Sports,” it’s nothing new. But, in fact, it is.
Heffner and Sanford are in their sixth month with WGCV-AM 620 and FM 105.1 (full disclosure: this writer is a weekly guest on the show). For years, they were part of an all-sports lineup at then-Clear Channel Broadcasting’s “SportsRadio 560 The Team,” until management fired virtually its entire local lineup last October, putting Heffner and Sanford on the street.
To say they’re happy to be back on the air – they were absent four months – would be a wild understatement. But there’s still this: Not everyone who listened to them before knows they’re back.
“I still have friends who say, ‘What are you doing now?’” Heffner said. “Or callers who say, ‘I just found y’all on the air.’” Four months is a lifetime in local radio.
That’s why, when Glory Communications agreed to bring them aboard, it was both a financial and emotional lifeline, especially for Heffner. “(Glory owner) Alex Snipe took a gamble on us, and I think they’re pleased with us so far,” he said.
Now, they have to keep it going. That means, Heffner knows, they have to have more listeners, and more sponsors.
“We’re not going to challenge 107.5,” he said, referring to Columbia’s 400-pound gorilla of a sports-talk station, which owns radio rights to University of South Carolina athletics. “Heck, they put us out of business at (Clear Channel).
“But we think there’s still a need for local talk radio. We want to give listeners a choice.”
Sanford, a former USC and NFL defensive back, as well as a chiropractor (hence “Dr. Rick”), says his football experience – and the “he said-he said” chemistry between the two – is part of that. “I think what we offer is, we do our homework and we’re informative,” he said.
“We keep up on local sports, and I’m going to tell you what I think – which might anger some of my USC fans when I say Clemson can be a top-10 team this year. I have no problem saying that (because) it’s true.”
Gary Pozsik, a longtime host on WGCV, served as go-between to bring the duo and the station together. Alexis Campbell, Glory’s general sales manager for 17 of her 19 years at the station, says choosing to do so wasn’t automatic, though.
“We had a morning show of inspirational music, and the concern was, with an older audience, would we lose them,” she said. “Because we have all-talk from 10 a.m.-7 p.m., though, we thought sports would be a good transition. And we didn’t lose that audience.”
“Talkin’ Sports” remains an underdog in the battle for Midlands listeners. Heffner and Sanford have put together a lineup of fall regulars that includes ex-USC linebacker (and WACH-TV sportscaster) Corey Miller and former Gamecocks and Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, as well as regulars Kirk Burnett (Airport High coach) and referee Dennis O’Keefe.
And Sanford can point to his past analyses of the Gamecocks, Heffner said. “Last fall, when everyone was saying USC was a top-10 team, Rick was saying, ‘I don’t know about that defense.’” The 7-6 Gamecocks were one of the SEC’s worst defenses, “so Rick knew what he was talking about.”
That means little if the show doesn’t draw listeners and sponsors. Campbell says WGCV has vigorously promoted “Talkin’ Sports” on social media and is negotiating a billboard campaign, “to rebrand who we are.” She says she wants the show to survive, and thrive. “They’re part of the family now,” she said.
As for the future, “we’re trying to make a living, have fun, and give Columbia sports fans an alternative,” Heffner said. “You can switch to 107.5, or to us, or both.
“We just want (listeners) to know we’re here.”
Credit to The State who originally published this article