South Florida’s sports radio landscape, marked by turnover and tumult all summer, is on the verge of undergoing its most seismic change yet:
At ESPN’s urging, Dan Le Batard is expected to move to the 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. slot, replacing Fox-bound Colin Cowherd, provided ESPN Radio agrees to contractual terms with Le Batard’s on-air partner, Jon Weiner.
Though Le Batard is on board with the move, the network must still negotiate with Weiner, known to most of the country as Stugotz. Le Batard naturally wants his friend to be taken care of, so that small hurdle remains.
ESPN President John Skipper is a big fan of Le Batard and the top ESPN executives all advocated his move to mornings, partly because more affiliates carry ESPN Radio from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. (morning drive on the West Coast) than from 4 to 7 p.m.
There has been no decision on whether Fusion television will continue simulcasting Le Batard’s show; discussions are ongoing.
Presuming the deal gets done — and all parties are declining comment — here are the wide-ranging ramifications:
### Though no final decision has been made, former Miami Herald sports writers Ethan J. Skolnick (most recently of Bleacher Report) and Israel Gutierrez (who works for ESPN) are considered top candidates to fill Le Batard’s afternoon slot locally on 104.3 The Ticket but not nationally on ESPN Radio.
Under that scenario, there would be some consideration to adding a third person in a traffic-cop type host role, but that decision hasn’t been made. Chris Wittyngham and Josh Friedman would be capable options for that position, but station management prefers not to break them up, which seems sensible because of their strong chemistry.
Adam Kuperstein, who would like to resume doing local radio after being dropped by WQAM-560, cannot do a late afternoon show because of NBC-6 commitments. Friedman, Brian London and Eric Reed would be internal options.
The program would run from either 3 to 7 p.m. or 4 to 7 p.m. There is some thought being given to airing a “Best of Le Batard” show, with highlights of his morning program, from 3 to 4 p.m.
Even a taped Le Batard hour probably would be a stronger lead-in to Skolnick and Gutierrez (should they land the gig) than a live show hosted by someone else.
Over the past three years, Skolnick has appeared regularly during the 1 to 3 p.m. slot with Reed and former NFL player Leroy Hoard. Gutierrez appears twice a week on The Ticket’s morning show with Jonathan Zaslow and Joy Taylor.
### Le Batard and Weiner have expressed a willingness to do a “local hour” from 9 to 10 a.m., similar to their current 3-4 p.m. hour that airs only The Ticket.
Joe Rose has been the most competitive of any WQAM host in the ratings battle against The Ticket, with Rose and Zaslow/Taylor each winning multiple ratings books against the other over the past few months. A Le Batard hour at 9 a.m. might draw some listeners from the final hour of Rose.
### Wittyngham and Friedman, who shifted to mornings following Cowherd’s departure last month, likely would return to 7 to 10 p.m., unless the station decides to shift them to afternoon drive.
### Bomani Jones, who hosts a 9-11 p.m. show on ESPN Radio, is the front-runner to replace Le Batard nationally from 4 to 7 p.m. But The Ticket — which has a marketing partnership with The Miami Herald — prefers to air local programming during those hours.
ESPN Radio is expected to ask The Ticket to air an additional ESPN program besides Le Batard’s, but the station’s contract doesn’t explicitly require that.
At some point, The Ticket might air ESPN Radio on one of its signals (790 AM) and local programming, plus Le Batard, on the other (104.3 FM).
### Marc Hochman, whose WQAM show recently moved up an hour (to 2 p.m.) and added Channing Crowder, would no longer be competing with Le Batard, whose program Hochman previously produced. Le Batard generates the market’s highest sports-talk ratings.
Le Batard’s shift to mornings could give the personable Hochman a chance to make inroads in the ratings, though a potential Skolnick/Gutierrez pairing also would have wide appeal and name recognition inside the market.
### One other notable local media change that has nothing to do with Le Batard: Former UM All-American safety Bennie Blades will be WQAM-560’s new analyst on Hurricanes postgame shows, replacing Duane Starks, who has been working as a Baltimore Ravens scouting intern.
Those UM postgame shows have increasingly become a vent-and-bash-the-coaches session after losses and even after unimpressive wins. Blades was critical of UM coaching in an interview with Kuperstein last week. Randal Hill, who’s running for U.S. Congress, will remain WQAM’s pre-game analyst.
Credit to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald who broke this story and published this article