When Entercom named its dozen format captains, it was no surprise to see Mark Chernoff being tasked with heading up the company’s greatly expanded sports stations. Chernoff has been programming America’s first 24/7 sports radio station, WFAN-AM/FM New York, since 1993, six years after the station’s groundbreaking debut.
As CBS Radio VP of Programming, Chernoff helped guide similarly formatted stations in markets such as Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Boston and Cleveland, while keeping WFAN at the top of its game. Now Chernoff will lead a group of stations that are home to 44 professional sports teams, numerous college athletic programs and more than 100 local sports talk shows.
Not bad for a former rock programmer, whose early resume entries include legendary New York call letters WNEW-FM and WXRK.
Inside Radio spoke with Chernoff about the synergies that can be gained with the newly expanded sports talk radio division, the new drive time lineups at WFAN, and whether Entercom CEO David Field really knows his sports.
You have inherited a number of new markets. Any in particular you’re looking forward to working with?
All of them. I’m really excited about all the various stations that we have out there. Some are in larger markets, some are in smaller but that had been the case with CBS as well. I’m looking forward to working with WEEI in Boston and (KMGZ) “The Game” in San Francisco. We have a station in Wichita and the PD’s name is Tony Duesing and I remembered that name from many, many years ago. Turns out they were an Imus affiliate so we’ve re-connected and had a couple of laughs about when we brought Imus out there. I’m looking forward to working with him and the station in Wichita. I’m really looking forward to working with everybody.
Entercom has 40+ sports-formatted stations, and 44 pro teams that are carried on a majority of the stations. How will you maximize the scale of the division?
Entercom is very sports-oriented, which is very exciting. We have great teams. CBS Radio had a bunch, Entercom has a bunch, so now we have even more teams. It’s a bigger national platform to work with in addition to all the stuff we do locally. In the case of sports, local works great, but now if you wanted to buy the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Phillies in baseball or the Bears, the Eagles and the Rams in football… it’s a little more one stop shopping. Now a national person can go in and say we have all of these stations and we have these local platforms. The fact is you only have to stop here one time and we can make this work at numerous places for you.
If some choose not to do that—they just want to work with New York or just want to work with Chicago—we can do it that way. But, if they want larger scale, there are many more opportunities now with the amount of teams and the various sports: football, basketball, baseball, even hockey. There is more opportunity for advertisers to get involved with us.
Will you be sharing talent throughout the division, especially on larger events such as the Super Bowl or World Series?
I think we can do that. As a matter of fact, we’ve done some of that with the CBS stations, and it’s something we certainly want to enhance with some of the markets that we have now. I’ll give you an example: Let’s say the Giants and Raiders are playing; we have the opportunity to use talent from both stations to do interviews with each other before a big game. When the Giants play the Eagles, we can talk to Philly, if the Giants or Jets were to play the Bears we can talk with our Chicago stations. At the Super Bowl we can work on getting guests to offer them 10 stations, 12 stations, however many stations. It goes the same with advertisers. We can offer X amount of stations out there. Why don’t you buy time on all? It’s Super Bowl week and it’s a great week to be on the air. There will be a lot of football talk and you’ll get your message out there to a lot of people.
Do you utilize local talent on CBS Sports Radio or for individual shows in other markets?
Sports talk itself, for the most part, is local but on CBS Sports Radio, we often use talent from various markets and put them on the national platform. For example, Adam The Bull does an afternoon drive show in Cleveland but he does a network show on the weekend. A lot stations pick up the show on the weekend, not just in Cleveland. That’s a vehicle for us.
Normally, if somebody is in a market, you won’t necessarily want them on in another one because that person may not know that market. But I can give you the exception. We have a guy at WFAN named John Jastremski and he went to the University of Miami. He’s big on Miami so aside from doing shows here, we let him do some shows down on WQAM because he knows that market so well. So there is a case where we would share talent. It doesn’t often happen, unless somebody grew up in a different market and they have knowledge of it and know it well. If a market needs somebody to pinch hit we can plug in someone in those cases.
Where do you think the next generation of sports talk hosts are coming from?
Wherever we can find them is where the next generation is. There are a lot of people who will come from radio and there are people who we hear do podcasts and we’ll give that person a shot on radio. I’m clearly all in favor of that and I think we have to look beyond what we always used to look at. The person doesn’t necessarily have to come from radio. If they’ve got opinions and they’re entertaining, and they know sports, then you’ve got three factors right there that could make that person appealing to be on the radio.
Entercom recently bought a company, which is now called Cadence13, and it’s a very big thing in the podcasting world. So we will have these new platforms that we can tie in very easily and use our own talent for podcasting and hopefully find new talent out there. Maybe podcasting is a way to get started and maybe those people will gravitate over to the radio.
Your new CEO, David Field, is a champion of radio, and a sports radio fan who recently made an appearance on the WIP morning show in Philadelphia. That’s got to be a positive for your division.
I feel good about it. We had some managers meetings just ahead of the merger and David was right there quizzing me on what I was doing with afternoons at WFAN, what am I doing about morning drive. I think he has good opinions, he knows sports. He’s a P1 to WIP. Philly is obviously his home market and he seems very well-versed in the world of sports. He is going to be a person that I will be able to go to to get some answers if I want some answers. He seems to be very open and available to talk to. He’s not a CEO who is hidden in a back office somewhere. He is out there, he likes people. My interactions with him have been great.
Speaking of WFAN, you have two new drive time shows for the New Year. Tell us about the new morning show.
Boomer Esiason is the main guy in mornings and has been here for 10 years. Gregg Giannotti will be his co-host. Gregg was an intern and then a board op and producer for the midday show here a number of years ago and I thought he had a lot of talent. When we started our Pittsburgh station I suggested that they put Greg on full-time in nights there and give him a shot. Within six months he moved to morning drive and was there for four or five years and when we had an availability here on the morning show on CBS Sports Radio, we brought him back to New York. He grew up here, he’s from Long Island, a New York guy. I used him for fill in work on WFAN when he was available and I thought he would be a good partner for Boomer and they hit it off. He’s funny, he’s witty, he’s smart and quick. It’s a different show. When Imus left, I started Boomer and Carton, and Craig is not here anymore so you can’t necessarily replace somebody with the same type of person. The idea is to hope that there’s chemistry and hope that the new situation works well. I’m convinced that it will and look forward to it.
And how about the creation of your new afternoon show on The Fan?
We put a lot of thought into that and decided that a multiple person show would work. Mike [Francesa] did the show by himself for nine years, and at first, after Dog [Chris “Mad Dog” Russo] left, Mike and I talked a lot and we tried a few different people and thought there would maybe be a partner for him. With Mike leaving, those are very big shoes to fill and you know it’s not like a replacement for Mike, because, like Imus, there is no replacement. I’m trying to put a show on that I think will work in the New York market. We’re bringing in a lot of diversity. Chris Carlin who has worked at the radio station for a long time and is a solid New Yorker. Maggie Gray, who’s been working at CBS Sports Radio and for Sports Illustrated and she worked for Major League Baseball for a few years. She really knows her stuff. She grew up in the Binghamton area but is a fan of New York baseball from watching games up there. She is a fan of the Buffalo Bills, but we’re okay with that. Bart Scott was a player and was not only a star with the Ravens but a star with the Jets. He’s lived in the New York area now for nine or 10 years. He is really involved in the world of sports. He grew up in Detroit but he loves basketball, baseball, and gets an A+ on football. I think he will be able to contribute. I think he, Maggie and Chris will all have different opinions on social issues, and at times they will have the same ones, which is okay, too. It brings a lot of diversity to that afternoon show and will represent our listeners. They’ll deliver the goods.