- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2006

March Madness has given way to Major League Baseball, but Washington remains a football town, so why is so little being said about the future of Redskins Radio?

The team already has made a big splash in the free-agent market, and there’s plenty of news coming with the National Football League draft this month and training camp in July.

But Bennett Zier, chief of team owner Daniel Snyder’s Red Zebra Broadcasting media firm, has been tight-lipped since taking the helm in January.

Radio consultants said market and engineering research, followed by format and on-air talent decisions, usually take three to six months. So when exactly will Redskins Radio be on the air, in what format and with whose voices?

All those decisions will be made before training camp and an exact start date will be announced within 30 days, Mr. Zier said yesterday.

Mr. Snyder hired Mr. Zier, who previously served as vice president for Clear Channel Radio’s Washington-Baltimore region, and subsequently announced the purchase of three local Spanish-language stations — WBPS-FM (94.3), WBZS-FM (92.7) and WKDL-AM (730) — to air team games, which had been carried on CBS Radio’s WJFK-FM (106.7) since 1995.

The new stations’ combined signal strength is spotty, but analysts noted that the reported purchase price of $33 million was an economical way to enter the market.

“They have a premier product with the Redskins, which creates an instant audience if the stations can be heard in the population centers,” said J.R. Russ, a radio consultant in Boothwyn, Pa., who produces live sporting events for XM Satellite Radio.

Local radio insiders say Red Zebra may be trying to lure ESPN programming away from Clear Channel’s WTEM-AM (SportsTalk 980), but neither side would comment about the prospect of negotiations.

“All I can tell you is that a majority of our agreements are renewable with mutual out-clauses by either party,” T.J. Lambert, vice president of sports for ESPN/ABC Radio Networks, wrote in an e-mail.

Mr. Zier said he was in discussions with “several networks.”

The Redskins Radio format will be designed to maximize two R’s — ratings and revenue — and on sports talk that means “really provocative, outlandish talents,” said John Lund, a radio consultant in Burlingame, Calif.

Rumored to be among Red Zebra’s targets are: Michael Wilbon of The Washington Post and ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption;” Bethesda resident James Brown, the new host of CBS’ NFL pre-game show; and Brett Haber, sports director at WUSA-TV (Channel 9).

Mr. Zier said he has chatted with one of the three men, but would not say whom.

Mr. Brown said he has not received calls from anyone at Red Zebra. Mr. Wilbon and Mr. Haber did not return calls for comment.

“Sports radio is phenomenally profitable when you’re associated with a winning team,” Mr. Lund said, adding that it’s ideal to have more than one team on the station.

The Washington Nationals have signed a three-year deal with Bonneville International Corp. to air team games on Washington Post Radio, but the Wizards’ deal with WTEM expires at the end of this season, a team spokesman said.

If Red Zebra does try to enhance its sports coverage, “we’d be interested in all teams,” Mr. Zier said.

Still plenty of questions, but answers should be coming soon.

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