The Tony Kornheiser era on terrestrial radio in Washington D.C has come to an end. The popular sports personality broadcast his final show Wednesday on ESPN 980. Kornheiser revealed last month that he was leaving the local radio station to launch his own digital venture. He now has a new website and will begin delivering a daily podcast in the next 60 days.
“The opportunity to do this, I walked away from two years left on a contract,” explained Kornheiser. “I don’t know what is being written or what is being said, but the truth of the matter is, I walked away with two years left on a contract, which at my age is so stupid and an indefensible position. Why did I do it? Because I thought it might be nice to see if I could get [not] people to pay for it on a daily basis, but advertisers who I could bring a certain amount of listeners: smart, funny, affluent people all around the country.”
“Not only did I leave money on the table, like a moron; I’m not gonna make any money, and I’m gonna pay people money,” Kornheiser continued. “So if it fails, it can’t fail soon enough, and I’ll come back. But I can’t emphasize this enough: You know, Torie (Clarke), Liz (Clarke), Jeanne (McManus), Chris (Cillizza), and David (Aldridge). It’s the show it is. It’s a radio show.”
Moving away from terrestrial radio is a risky proposition but if anyone can make it work it’s Kornheiser. That’s because his brand and show have national appeal, making the local focus a little less important. He also has a daily profile on ‘Pardon The Interruption’ on ESPN and if he wants to gain promotion for his new project, media outlets won’t hesitate to book time with him and give him an opportunity to promote it.
That said, building awareness, and getting listeners to jump through a few extra hoops to hear a show isn’t always easy. It’s not the same as Howard Stern moving from terrestrial radio to satellite radio but certain similarities do come to mind. When an audience has to do extra work to hear a program they like, they sometimes lose patience and find new ways to be entertained. That will be Tony’s biggest challenge to overcome.
In recent times, Kornheiser’s show wasn’t a huge ratings winner for ESPN 980. Local competitor 106.7 The Fan regularly beat the show head to head. Using that logic, one could make the case that ESPN 980 stands to benefit by replacing his time slot.
However, the Tony Kornheiser brand had broad appeal and was attractive to advertisers for different reasons. In addition, his digital performance on 980’s website was massive. Sustaining those digital numbers and keeping business on the books will be 980’s main challenges especially in the short term until people become familiar with their new programming.