The radio home of the Orioles, 105.7 FM, changed its format yesterday from news talk to sports talk, giving Baltimore its first FM sports station - even though programmers there stopped short of embracing sports 24/7.
From 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., the newly christened WJZ-FM, formerly WHFS-FM, will feature local sports-talk programming, with hosts including such familiar names as Mark Viviano, Scott Garceau, Bruce Cunningham and Anita Marks. Ed Norris, the former city police chief and state police commissioner whose afternoon news-talk show had been one of the few ratings bright spots in the 105.7 lineup, will move to the key weekday morning drive time slot.
In addition to adding a sports station to Baltimore's weekday airwaves, yesterday's announcement included the addition of several national voices to the local scene. Sister station ESPN 1300, which had been host to shows featuring Viviano and Marks, as well as other local sports talk programming, will shift completely to ESPN Radio programming. Its call letters were changed from WJFK-AM to WJZ-AM, reflecting its ties to CBS-owned WJZ, Channel 13.
"Baltimore's a great sports town, and Baltimore deserves a great sports station on the FM dial," said Robert Philips, senior vice president and market manager for CBS Radio Baltimore, which operates both stations. "Nationally, you're seeing a lot of product move from the AM dial to the FM dial."
Philips said Norris will continue to focus on news and current events but promised "sports will be a big part of his show, as well."
Yesterday's announcement marked the latest effort to improve ratings at the former WHFS, which finished the third quarter of 2008 tied for 13th place in the ratings among Baltimore radio stations. Last year, station officials persuaded the Orioles to end a 19-year relationship with WBAL (1090 AM) and plucked top-rated morning-show hosts Kirk McEwen and Mark Ondayko from 98 Rock (WIYY/97.9 FM). They also heavily promoted Norris, whose show's success has enabled it to move from late morning to afternoon drive time to its current time period in morning drive time, weekdays from 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Not all the station's strategies have worked as well as the Norris move. The Orioles, coming off an 11th straight year with a losing record, have not been the ratings powerhouse CBS officials had hoped for, while the Kirk & Mark morning show never regained the audience it had at 98 Rock.
The new 105.7, now advertised as "Sports Radio 105.7 The Fan," will feature WJZ-TV's Viviano and The Bulldog (Damon Yaffe) from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., followed by Ravens public address announcer and WBFF-TV sports anchor Cunningham from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. ESPN 1300 host Marks will be joined by former WMAR sports anchor Scott Garceau from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., followed from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. by shows headlined by various present and former Ravens, including Jonathan Ogden, Jason Brown and Terrell Suggs. Ken Weinman and his Playmakers show will air from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.
The weekday ESPN programming on 1300 will include Mike & Mike in the Morning (6-10 a.m.), T he Herd, with Colin Cowherd (10 a.m.-1 p.m.), Mike Tirico and Scott Van Pelt (1-3 p.m.), Van Pelt (3-4 p.m.), Sp orts Nation (4-7 p.m.) and ESPN Game Night (7 p.m.-midnight).
Although the new WJZ-FM will be Baltimore's only FM sports station, three AM stations, WBAL (1090), WNST (1570) and WVIE (1370), will continue with their sports programming.
WBAL, where the evening weekday programming includes Sportsline with Steve Davis (6-9 p.m.) and Fox Game Time (9 p.m.-midnight), is signed to carry the Ravens through 2011. Fox Sports 1370 carries a mix of local and national programming, while WNST and its founder, "Nasty" Nestor Aparicio, feature shows from Bob Haynie, Rob Long and former Ravens coach Brian Billick.
WBAL general manager Ed Kiernan said he was not worried about the changes at the two CBS stations. He said he was glad to see 105.7 largely abandon the news-talk format that WBAL mainly relies on. "We feel very good about where we are and what we're doing," he said.
Philips would not comment on the futures of McEwen and Ondayko, who did not find out until this weekend they were off the air, or of Troy Johnson, whose show was also canceled. The CBS moves announced yesterday also mark another departure from the radio airwaves by Brian Wilson, whose afternoon show had been broadcast into Baltimore from his home studio in Toledo, Ohio.
"It didn't surprise me," McEwen said yesterday from his home. "They're not sure what they're doing over there, I think."