When 670 The Score announced March 14 that it was revamping its midday and afternoon shows, ESPN 1000 senior program director Adam Delevitt took the news as validation of his radio station’s work.
He also took it as a victory in the heated local sports-talk arena, where listeners determine the outcome, and another game is just a ratings book away.
Those ratings can be sliced and diced any way you want them. But the bottom line is this: Aside from Joe Maddon, you’re not changing your lineup unless it needs to be changed. And that’s with the immense ratings boost carrying Cubs games provides, not to mention a local morning show that dominates its national competitor.
“The Cubs help their station overall, and it gives kind of a halo effect of maybe people coming back in the morning for ‘Mully and Hanley,’ ” Delevitt said. “But they just changed their lineup a year and a half ago [when Terry Boers retired], and then this one again. It’s two lineup changes in two years.”
Ten weeks is hardly enough time to know whether The Score’s pairings of Dan Bernstein-Connor McKnight and Dan McNeil-Danny Parkins will have lasting power. But the changes reveal a growing pressure to perform since Jimmy deCastro took over leadership of the seven local stations Entercom bought as part of its merger with CBS Radio in November. DeCastro has been on the Chicago radio scene for more than 30 years.
Continuity issues haven’t befallen ESPN 1000, which has had the same hosts from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. since David Kaplan came aboard Sept. 16, 2015. The only change was a flip-flop in the order last year, with “Kap and Co.” moving to 9 a.m. and “Carmen and Jurko” moving to noon.
And relationships among hosts extend farther back than that. Carmen DeFalco and Marc Silverman have been at the station since 1998, when it became ESPN Radio. John Jurkovic has been there since 2001 and Tom Waddle since ’06.
“Consistency is important,” ESPN 1000 senior vice president Jim Pastor said. “Anytime you make a change, it could be a year or two years before you figure out what kind of audience [you have]. We trust our ears as much as anything else.
“A show like ‘Waddle and Silvy,’ for the first two years of existence, didn’t pull the numbers. But we knew deep down that that was a show that, once it developed its following, it was going to be significant. And that has certainly proven true over the last 11 years.”
“I feel it and I hear it all the time when I go out to events and talk to listeners,” Delevitt said. “Sometimes we get some feedback about, ‘I can’t listen to [The Score] anymore. You guys are consistent.’ ”
While The Score has bolstered its inventory of local broadcast rights, adding the Bulls to a stable that already includes the Cubs, Illinois and DePaul, ESPN 1000’s only local agreement is for Notre Dame football and basketball.
As an owned-and-operated station under ESPN, it has its share of games for which the network owns the national rights, including MLB, the NBA and college football. But the station passed on the Bulls and White Sox when they became available this past winter.
“We just felt like neither of those made sense given what the terms were and everything else,” Pastor said. “Play-by-play is a tricky business right now. No two deals are alike, and very few of them are profitable.
“A lot of stations will use play-by-play to prop up their talk. They try to recycle [it] into talk the next day. Our talk is very strong. We have built a radio station and a loyal following around really strong talk, first and foremost.”
That talk is unique, and listeners sense it. Conversations are genuine, which is particularly evident during cross talk. The banter among the hosts suggests a familial atmosphere that only comes from working together for so long.
It also extends to the producers, who are encouraged to join the hosts — and even push them — in conversations. What they share from their lives connects with the audience, and they’re more than willing to share just about anything.
“All our hosts are open books about their lives,” Delevitt said. “These guys are real.
“Everybody gets along, and Waddle always says, ‘You know, guys, this is special. This doesn’t happen at radio, TV stations where everybody gets along and has fun with each other.’ He always reminds us, and so does Jim.”
The Cubs’ series against the Giants this weekend includes just one local TV broadcast (1 p.m. Friday on Ch. 7), but that doesn’t give play-by-play voice Len Kasper time off.
Kasper will call the game Saturday on a Fox regional broadcast starting at 6 p.m. with Tom Verducci that will reach 19 percent of the country. Verducci wrote the book “The Cubs Way,” about the team’s transformation into a World Series winner. Giants fans might wonder how they got so lucky.
Kasper also will help on The Score’s broadcast Sunday, when ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” takes over. He’ll have his usual interview with pitching coach Jim Hickey and call the fifth inning.
* Speaking of SNB, play-by-play voice Matt Vasgersian and analysts Alex Rodriguez and Jessica Mendoza will call the game starting at 7 p.m. from the right-field bleachers and lead the seventh-inning stretch.
If the Cavaliers-Celtics Eastern Conference finals series goes to Game 7, the Cubs’ game will move to ESPN2.
* Another tradition unlike any other will come to an end Sunday. After 54 years, ABC will televise its last Indianapolis 500. The race will move next year to NBC, which in March bought the rights for the IndyCar series starting in 2019.
For its last hurrah, ABC/ESPN will use a record 110 cameras, including four in each of the cars of 14 drivers. Pre-race coverage begins at 10 a.m., and the green flag drops at 11:19.