You know a radio station has a stronghold in a market when it has a lead in the ratings, revamps its midday and afternoon lineup and stays in the lead one month later.
That’s what happened at 670 The Score, which shook up its midday and afternoon pairings March 14 under new leadership but increased its wintertime lead over sports-talk rival ESPN 1000 in the April ratings book.
In the key demographic of men ages 25-54, The Score finished 1.1 points ahead of ESPN 1000 weekdays from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the first three months of the year, according to Nielsen (5.3 share to 4.2). From March 29 to April 25, The Score was 1.5 points ahead (5.4-3.9). The May book will be released Monday.
It begs the question why changes were needed at all. But Entercom senior vice president Jimmy deCastro, a 30-plus-year veteran of Chicago radio who took control in November of the company’s seven stations in town, and Score operations director Mitch Rosen, who has been at the station for more than 13 years, believed it was necessary to act.
Out were midday host Matt Spiegel and afternoon host Jason Goff. Dan Bernstein was moved from afternoons to middays and joined by returning Score personality Connor McKnight. Danny Parkins was moved from middays to afternoons and joined by Chicago radio veteran Dan McNeil, who’s on his third tour at the station.
“You look at Matt Spiegel and Jason Goff, these are great broadcasters, these are great people,” Rosen said. “But sometimes you look at a ballclub, like a general manager looks at his team and goes, how can I tweak it? I’m going to try to make it different or make it better.
“These people did nothing wrong. This was just a time that change took place. It was a time Jimmy and I thought was best to do it. And the results we’ve seen have been fantastic. Data backs up that our listeners like our station. They’re listening to our station more than any other sports station in the market.”
There has been speculation that the Bernstein-Goff show had strayed too far from sports talk and spent too much time on social issues. But that was some of the best radio on the station. For example, the pair aired a one-hour, commercial-free examination of the USA Gymnastics scandal featuring reporters who were covering the story.
Nevertheless, The Score has created such a following in 26 years that it will be inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame on Oct. 3. And the changes deCastro and Rosen implemented show promise.
Bernstein, who has been at the station since 1995, has ditched his trademark abrasiveness from his time with Score original Terry Boers. With McKnight, who won the station’s “Score Search” contest for an on-air job in 2009, Bernstein is much more affable.
“I think everybody, the evolution of what you do in a career, sometimes you have to make changes,” Rosen said. “Sometimes you have to take a self-inventory and look in the mirror and say, hey, I had a great run with Terry, had a great run with Jason, this is a new partner, maybe I do some new things.”
Bernstein’s extensive vocabulary remains, and he and McKnight are excellent interviewers. Bernstein also finally found someone whose passion for analytics matches his. Though their similarities give the hosts a sameness, the show is interesting and insightful.
The most notable change came in afternoon drive, to where McNeil returned and to where Parkins ascended after being hired just last year. Parkins, who also has filled in nationally on CBS Sports Radio, interned for McNeil at ESPN 1000 in 2007. Their age difference has posed some challenges, but nothing like the challenges McNeil has faced in his roller-coaster career.
McNeil has the benefit of a long personal relationship with Rosen, who believes McNeil’s third time at The Score will be a charm.
“Mac, when he’s on his game, is one of the best in the country,” Rosen said. “Mac has had some issues, and when those issues arise, they’re tough on everybody. Tough on his teammates, tough on the listeners and tough on management like me. •
“So I think this time, Mac is humble. Three, four months ago he was selling cars in a showroom in Northwest Indiana. Today he’s hosting afternoon drive on The Score. I think when people like him are hungry and humble, they work harder and they want to prove everybody wrong. And I know he will this time.”
McNeil has overcome a rocky start because of a paralyzed vocal cord, and he sounds like his old gregarious self, bringing to mind his successful “Heavy Fuel Crew” days with Boers in the 1990s. McNeil and Parkins already have made for enjoyable listening, but Parkins’ holdover segment “Can’t do it” causes more discomfort than it’s worth.
Overall, The Score gets a big bump from airing Cubs games and from a sizable edge in the mornings. “Mully and Hanley,” which is in its 12th year, dominates ESPN’s national “Golic and Wingo,” which 1000-AM is obligated to carry. In the April book, “Mully and Hanley” owned a 4.4-point lead (7.0-2.6).
But it all counts to Rosen.
“The Cubs don’t play 5 in the morning when ‘Mully and Hanley’ are on,” he said. “They traditionally don’t play at 9 or 11 a.m. The benefit of having a play-by-play team [is] it helps grow your audience.
“The Cubs are a part of our station, just like ‘Mully and Hanley,’ which is an iconic brand. [The morning edge is] not just because of the competition. It’s what the show has built.”
In addition to the Cubs, Rosen looks forward to a long relationship with the Bulls, who joined The Score in February. He believes owning a team’s local rights is a must for a sports station.
“In local sports radio, to be really successful, it’s vitally important to have at least one local sports franchise on your airwaves,” Rosen said. “It’s the best marketing campaign you can have.”
“We’re big about live and local programming, and I think that’s what differentiates ourselves from others.”