Jock radio in Nashville isn't so good. That is to say, it could be greatly improved upon. There's 104.5-FM The Zone, primarily a conduit for FOX Sports. There's 106.7-FM The Fan, which means primarily ESPN Radio. And then there's SportsRadio WNSR 560-AM, which mixes original local programming with feeds from Sporting News Radio.
There are swampy sinkholes throughout this landscape. Sports freaks being what they are, they'll probably listen to just about anything, which maybe explains something about the level of brainfood we get listening to the sports radio scene. Sports airtime sells. If only we were getting more bang for the buck.
In fact, there are huge opportunities for local sports radio to surpass the syndicated feeds. For example, I've completely cut 106.7 out of my morning diet. Listening early in the morning to Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic on ESPN Radio gives me a headache. Between Greenberg's fast-talking ego run amok and Golic's loud, oafish unpleasant dopiness, I simply can no longer tune in. Then at 9 a.m. (CST), Colin Cowherd enters the ESPN fray, with just possibly the worst sports radio show in the history of humankind. The guy is completely unlistenable, as he desperately tries to force-feed his essentially weak (yet obnoxiously loud) personality across the airwaves. There's nothing more depressing than a Cowherd rant, a device he uses often to fill air-space, presumably because he has nothing else interesting planned for his three-hour stint.
Maybe WNSR's most important contribution locally is broadcasting Nashville Sounds games. They also do local college game broadcasts. They do a lot of original programming during the weekdays, mostly employing a motley crew of broadcasters and "personalities," a situation which yields little that's innovative but generally feeds the average-minded sports radio appetite well enough. Boilerplate announcer types like Bill King and Don West helm call-in shows and SEC oldtimer Max Howell does a folksy set, with "The Morning Sports Page" anchoring the weekday lineup. This latter program, which has enjoyed a pretty good broadcasting shelf life, is co-hosted by Greg Pogue, a veteran Middle Tennessee newspaper editor. Pogue knows his stuff, but it isn't easy to listen to him. He's got a cackling Kentucky drawl that makes Granny Clampett look like a society matron. Then there's his sidekick (with the accent on the "kick"), David Coleman. I Googled Coleman once a few years ago. I think he's from Arkansas. I think maybe he was a jock of some sort. I think he's also an advocate for father's rights. Which is kind of interesting, given that Coleman has been known to shill for online gambling sites. Otherwise, it's a complete mystery what he's doing on the air. His interplay with Pogue is flat-out embarrassing sometimes. He never adds anything original to the content, and he spends a lot of the time as the butt of Pogue's jokes about his ineptness.
To top it all off, WNSR's weak radio signal is sometimes annoying to home in on. It's too often easier to just give up listening.
The Zone is a sports and talk-radio station, which means the fare is mixed. But on the sports side, it means one is subjected to the wholly unpleasant Jim Rome, FOX Sports' big "national" personality. Rome's from the "Who is that sonofabitch?" school of broadcasting. He's another one whose ego is grossly out of control. Like Cowherd and Greenberg, he's loud and insistent, and in lieu of saying anything insightful he'd rather bore us with his personal life, or, worse, outlandishly over-the-top and inane sports opinions. His gig is also unlistenable. The Zone's longest-lived local sports program is "The Sports Zone," an afternoon broadcast that touts itself as "Nashville's top rated sports talk show." It's hard to fathom how teeth-gratingly-bad small-market-nerd George Plaster could ever be "top rated" in anything. Listening to Plaster gets me depressed fast. His associates Willy Daunic and Darren McFarland seem okay. Maybe just get George out of the mix and the show would be worthy of someone's time.
The Fan used to have a typical afternoon interview and call-in show featuring somewhat overbearing, "hardcore" sports announcer Blake Fulton and longtime Tennessean writer Joe Biddle (who actually says "cain't"). It's gone presently—I confess ignorance on this situation, and the station's Web site isn't of any help—and we're currently just receiving more syndicated ESPN feeds, such as Erik Kuselias' "The SportsBash," which is, quite frankly, both tedious and overwrought. The king of the sports radio airwaves remains Dan Patrick. His noon-3 p.m. (CST) ESPN show is consistently entertaining, and as long as Patrick can avoid becoming a legend in his own mind, his basic wit, sophisticated sense of humor and warm radio voice should keep him at the top. The relatively recent addition of Keith Olbermann to one hour of Patrick's show meets with mixed reviews. It's okay. More need not be said.
At any rate, this state of affairs has still left me bereft in the mornings. But I might've found an oasis in the radio desert with 104.5's "Wake Up Zone." There's nothing particularly innovative about the show, but the team of Mark Howard, former Titans tight end Frank Wycheck and Kevin Ingram (pictured, left to right) at least are unafraid to get sardonic on us. Wycheck surprises with his willingness to get edgy, and his insider perspective adds some authenticity to the gab. His voice is pretty much a monotone, but it seems to work okay. Howard, of course, is the former local TV sports anchor who is also an occasional print writer. He reads better on the radio than he did on TV, with a relative dryness still the name of his game. (Alas, I recently heard Howard declare that Tom Cruise was a "brilliant" actor. This statement bears examination by a mental-health professional.) Anyway, Howard is efficiently in the mix here, as is Ingram, nondescriptly but authoritatively along the path of a career broadcasting guy.
"Wake Up Zone" isn't a world-beater but it seems to be a step in the right direction. It's also solid proof that it doesn't take much on the local level to surpass the kind of mediocre stuff that the sports-radio syndicates are currently foisting on listeners.