A jovial group of local radio personalities and executives gathered on the floor of Verizon Center on Tuesday to announce details of Sportsradio 106.7 “The Fan,” the new all sports-talk station set to debut next week.
Former Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington, local radio personality Chad Dukes and columnist Mike Wise of The Washington Post jogged into the arena past a crowd of advertisers and a row of cheerleaders, playfully tossing T-shirts with the logo of the new WJFK-FM.
It was official: D.C. area sports fans soon will have two sports-centric stations to choose from, with WJFK featuring a largely local programming lineup.
The new WJFK will launch Monday and compete directly with ESPN 980, the long-standing lone all-sports station in the area. The popular foursome who again will be known as the “Sports Junkies” will start daytime programming from 5 to 10 a.m., handing the station off to Wise and George Mason play-by-play announcer Bill Rohland for the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. midday show. Arrington and Dukes will work the afternoon drivetime slot until 6 p.m.
WJFK will be the flagship station for Wizards games beginning this fall. It also will be the radio home for several NFL games each week, including all of the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl. Weekend and evening programming and possible partnerships with other local teams will be revealed later.
Tuesday’s event did not go on without a number of jabs directed at the competition, specifically ESPN 980, which was purchased last year by Red Zebra Broadcasting, a radio operation controlled by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. On Tuesday, the Verizon Center scoreboard featured the new station logo with the words, “Unbiased. Uncensored.”
“[WJFK] is unscripted. … It will feature people who can actually say what they think without being edited or fired,” said Jeff Hedges, the vice president and director of sales for CBS Radio in the area. “And they can speak the truth, as it has been long overdue.”
Said Arrington, who frequently clashed with Redskins management as a player: “There have been some times I’ve wanted to say some things but never had the proper platform to do it. Now I have the chance.”
WJFK officials said they are open to air games from all teams in the region but probably will never reach an agreement to broadcast Redskins games because of Snyder’s ownership of ESPN 980. WJFK had aired Redskins games from 1995 to 2006, after which Snyder moved the games to Red Zebra-owned stations in the region.
The transformation of WJFK into an all-sports station is part of a broad strategy by CBS to have similar operations on FM radio across the country. Company executives said they support a model featuring solely local content, unlike ESPN 980, which features shows from nationally syndicated hosts throughout the morning.
“We want to be local as much as possible,” WJFK program director Chris Kinard said. “We want this to be the station where D.C. sports fans can call in and talk about D.C. sports. That’s been missing. Our phone lines will always be open.”
For now, WJFK’s new programming lineup appears to be a mixture of radio newbies and experienced veterans. Dukes and the four-man team comprising the Sports Junkies - John Auville, Eric Bickle, Jason Bishop and J.P. Flaim - have been on WJFK and WHFS in the area for more than a decade. Wise and Arrington, however, have made frequent radio appearances but have never had their own shows.
“I’m a newspaper guy. … I’m out of my element,” Wise said. “I wish I could tell you what the show’s going to be. We’re still trying to figure out what we’re going to do. … I just hope not to get fired in three weeks and have the station flip to country.”
The new station will have the ability to cover breaking news, with reporting from Chris Russell, formerly of Sporting News Radio. It also hired Liz Drabek, a former reporter with ESPN 980, as an update anchor.