- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The local sports radio market is about to become more crowded, and the established player, WTEM-AM (SportsTalk 980), no longer can ignore the pending challenge from Red Zebra Broadcasting.

The lineup at Clear Channel Radio’s WTEM soon will sound radically different. The biggest change will be the loss of “The Tony Kornheiser Show,” which airs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Mr. Kornheiser has announced that he is leaving the local airwaves at month end to prepare for a job as a TV analyst on “Monday Night Football.”

In addition, all ESPN programs previously heard on WTEM, including the “Mike & Mike in the Morning” show and “The Dan Patrick Show” in the afternoons, are heading to Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder’s Red Zebra outfit this summer.

WTEM executives have yet to announce a new schedule, but “The First Team on Fox” syndicated morning show will take over the 6 to 9 a.m. slot sometime in July, host Steve Czaban announced last week.

“I’m thrilled,” Mr. Czaban said in an interview, adding that he and co-host Scott Linn have been doing the national show together for 3 years, and in the morning slot since January 2005.

Mr. Czaban, who also co-hosts WTEM’s “The Sports Reporters” with Andy Pollin from 5 to 7 p.m. daily, promised that local elements exclusively for Washington-area listeners would become part of the morning show.

“We’re glad that the new management had faith in us and believes in our show,” he said, referring to Dave Pugh, who took over as vice president for Clear Channel Radio’s Washington-Baltimore region earlier this year after Bennett Zier left to run Red Zebra.

“We have a plan in place for SportsTalk 980, which we’ll be announcing shortly,” Mr. Pugh said, declining further comment.

Additional Fox Sports Radio programs could air in the 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. slot now occupied by Mr. Kornheiser and Mr. Patrick.

Mr. Zier reiterated yesterday that all programming decisions and a start date for Redskins Radio would be announced by early May, but declined to comment on anything specific, including ESPN programming. He is surrounding himself with former Clear Channel colleagues after this week’s long-expected announcement that Tod Castleberry had joined Red Zebra as vice president of operations.

Mr. Snyder purchased three local Spanish-language stations — WBPS-FM (94.3), WBZS-FM (92.7) and WKDL-AM (730) — to air Redskins’ games, which had been carried on CBS Radio’s WJFK-FM (106.7) since 1995. The new stations’ combined signal strength is spotty, which analysts said left open the prospect that more purchases could be coming.

After last week’s item about show hosts on Red Zebra, Michael Wilbon, Washington Post columnist and Mr. Kornheiser’s co-host on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption,” and WUSA-TV’s sports director and anchor Brett Haber remained in the running after CBS Sports’ James Brown said he was not the one Mr. Zier contacted.

It appears Mr. Wilbon was the one being sought by Red Zebra, although he has been unavailable to comment.

Darryll J. Green, president and general manager of Gannett Co. Inc.-owned WUSA, said he had not heard from anyone with Red Zebra, and that Mr. Haber has not asked for permission to host a radio show.

Mr. Haber, who is under contract until November 2007 and has hosted a radio show on the now-defunct Z104, declined to comment.

• Channel Surfing runs Wednesdays. Call 202/636-3173 or e-mail dcat@washingtontimes.com.

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