Here's One Radio Format That's Booming

Like all other traditional media, radio has seen fundamental change in the past several years. Through all of the changes and all of the cuts, one format – sports radio – is stronger than ever before.

That strength has led CBS to enlist the help of rival station owner Cumulus to work together to take on sports radio behemoth ESPN. Here are the details announced just last week of the new CBS Sports Radio Network that will begin later this year and grow into 2013. In short, CBS will pair its content from its successful major market sports format stations with Cumulus’ need for high-margin smaller market stations. It’s all designed to give CBS a new national advertising sales platform and provide Cumulus with profitable programming.

So why is sports radio in a growth mode when most of commercial radio is contracting? There are two main reasons. First, with the big market ratings system switch from diaries to Portable People Meters, men who would have previously never recorded listening in diaries are, all of a sudden, being counted in the ratings because they will wear a meter. This has helped sports stations in top markets, many of which have moved to FM, catapult to the top of the ratings and serve as big revenue generators for their corporate owners.

Also, like sports TV’s “DVR proof” nature, sports radio faces less of a threat than most formats from iPod or Pandora competition. Sports changes daily and sports debate is best experienced live. Those are strong attributes for radio loyalty and time spent listening. While your iPod can play your favorite songs, it can’t provide up-to-the-minute opinion or analysis of your favorite teams. Plus, live play-by-play continues to be valuable for the same reasons – it’s just not the same when it’s recorded and if you’re listening to a tight game, you’ll actually listen to the commercials.

No matter where you live, in the midst of all of the changes, expect sports radio to grow while other formats continue to cut back.