- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Washington’s sports radio landscape is about to get more crowded, and perhaps more cantankerous, with the advent of Redskins Radio, the Nationals opting out of their deal with Washington Post Radio and the incumbent station declaring it remains the only game in town.

Clear Channel Radio’s WTEM-AM (SportsTalk 980) announced on Saturday that it had signed a “multiyear broadcast agreement” to continue airing Washington Wizards games. Neither side would discuss exact terms of the deal, but it should take a bit of the sting out of WTEM losing ESPN programming to Redskins owner Daniel Snyder’s Red Zebra broadcasting company.

WTEM this week introduced its new local lineup featuring “The First Team on Fox” syndicated morning show from 6 to 9 a.m. Steve Czaban hosts that program as well as “The Sports Reporters” with Andy Pollin until noon.

“We’re the sports station here in D.C.,” said Dave Pugh, who took over as vice president for Clear Channel’s Washington-Baltimore region earlier this year after Bennett Zier left to run Red Zebra.

Mr. Pugh said the appearance of more competition from Red Zebra is a bit overblown since no one knows what the “signal challenged” Redskins Radio stations — WBPS-FM (94.3), WBZS-FM (92.7) and WKDL-AM (730) — will sound like.

We hear that Redskins Radio will debut Tuesday and that Red Zebra is making a run at the Nationals, which recently opted out of its three-year deal with Bonneville International Corp. to air team games on Washington Post Radio (1500 AM and 107.7 FM).

“Red Zebra loves baseball and if there’s an opportunity to work with the Nationals, we would look forward to that opportunity,” Mr. Zier said yesterday. He challenged Mr. Pugh’s assertion by noting that Redskins Radio will be heard on the more popular FM dial, but analysts have said Red Zebra’s signal strength is spotty at best.

Michael Spacciapolli, play-by-play sports director for Bonneville’s local stations, said he was confident that the Nationals would return to Washington Post Radio once the team’s new owners and President Stan Kasten research the market and recognize the benefits of 1500 AM’s powerful nighttime signal and the cross-promotional opportunities with all-news WTOP.

Myriad other stations also have expressed an interest in the baseball team.

“The Nationals are quickly becoming a part of the fabric of the city, and a strong radio outlet will be a part of their growth over the next several years,” said Chris Berry, president of ABC Radio’s WMAL-AM (630). “Clearly we are flattered to be considered in this process.”

“I am looking forward to meeting with the new Nationals ownership on a host of ideas that involve many of our stations,” said Michael Hughes, general manager of CBS Radio in Washington, which had carried Redskins games on WJFK-FM (106.7) since 1995.

“They’re talking with everyone,” including Clear Channel, Mr. Pugh said.

Any radio partner would want an agreement in place before the end of this season for advanced sales and marketing reasons, and we wanted to ask Mr. Kasten whether a deadline had been set to make a new deal, but he did not return our calls.

As for Washington’s other professional sports franchise, we hear that the Capitals hockey team is close to signing a deal with Washington Post Radio for next season. Mr. Pugh declined to comment on the Capitals deal.

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