Not every city boasts
fans as rabid as those who passionately follow the Phillies in
Philadelphia, the Penguins and Steelers in Pittsburgh or the Cowboys
in Dallas. So it makes sense that for fans in those markets who own
HD Radio receivers, there’s a new way to keep tabs on their teams:
Full-time subchannels devoted exclusively to team coverage.
Tim McAleer, market
president at Clear Channel Radio in Pittsburgh, says the idea was
born in Steel City. It “started back in 2009, when the Penguins
approached us,” McAleer says.
The NHL team’s
play-by-play runs on the main channel of Clear Channel’s WXDX(FM)
105.9, which otherwise runs modern rock. But “Penguins Radio 24/7”
launched during the 2009–2010 hockey season on 105.9-HD2.
programming runs in a six-hour loop, with three hours produced by the
team and three hours produced by Clear Channel.
“The programming can
be anything,” McAleer says. In addition to his regular afternoon
shift on “105.9 the X,” veteran Pittsburgh sports host Mark
Madden hosts a daily, hour-long Penguins show on Penguins Radio 24/7.
“Then, the other two
hours we either take from our ancillary shows on our ESPN station,
WBGG(AM) 970, or we’ll be as creative as taking Sidney Crosby’s
iPod and we’ll play what’s on it.”
The Pens’ three hours
can be even more creative. “They’ll broadcast live from practice
during the season,” McAleer says. “They used to pull some
material from the NHL Network, and they have some of the radio people
that they pay doing call-in shows.” Even the fans get a chance to
participate, with selected fan audio blogs appearing on Penguins
Down the hall at Clear
Channel Pittsburgh, the Steelers are a staple at top-rated rocker
WDVE(FM) 102.5. Since the fall of 2011, “Steelers Nation Radio”
has been heard on
102.5-HD2, carrying a
similar split of team- and station-produced coverage, including a
heavy diet of classic Steelers games.
It’s the second
NFL-specific subchannel, following the all-Cowboys channel that CBS
Radio launched in Dallas in 2009 over KRLD(FM) 105.3’s HD3.
MAJOR LEAGUE, TOO
The 2011 season also
brought the first baseball-specific HD subchannel to the airwaves.
“Phillies 24/7” is part of the rights agreement that puts the
Phillies on CBS Radio’s WPHT(AM) 1210 and WIP(FM) 94.1, and it
makes its home on another CBS signal, the HD4 channel of WOGL(FM)
“Is it a niche
program? Absolutely, but there’s no better niche content than the
Phillies,” says WIP program director Jeff Sottolano.
“A couple of years
ago, there was a lot of conversation about these things,” recalls
Robert Brooks, manager of broadcasting for the Phillies. “CBS came
to us when we were renegotiating and said, ‘This is something we
could do for you, since we have the bandwidth.’”
With 162 games a season
to draw from, Sottolano says there was no problem filling a 24-hour
schedule in-house at CBS, though it took some negotiating with Major
“MLB is somewhat
unique in that MLB Advanced Media has a lot of oversight over what
the local market teams can and can’t do digitally,” Sottolano
says. CBS worked out a deal that allows Phillies 24/7 to rebroadcast
the team’s games several times, including full-game replays at 6
a.m. and 9 a.m. on the day after the game, as well as “Phillies in
60,” a condensed, one-hour highlight reel that runs at 1 p.m. and 4
Other features include
a daily half-hour “Phillies Today” program and several weekly
shows, including “What’s the Word,” which looks at how the
Phillies are being covered in print and in social media, and “The K
File,” a weekly replay of every Phillies strikeout from the
While CBS produces all
of the content on the channel, its arrangement gives the team veto
power over content.
“We’ve asked that
this be more informational than confrontational,” Brooks says,
noting that there’s plenty of the latter style of programming on
the city’s traditional sports-talk outlets.
This year, Phillies
24/7 added another new feature: instead of simulcasting live Phillies
games with CBS Radio’s other outlets, the subchannel now carries
the Spanish-language broadcast produced by Spanish Beisbol
Productions, extending the reach of that coverage beyond the limited
signal of Spanish-language flagship WTTM(AM) 1680.
“We reached out to
Bill Kulik at SBP and Bill had an interest in expanding his reach in
the marketplace,” Sottolano says. “And we had an interest in
providing unique content that fit within Phillies 24/7.”
Unlike the Pittsburgh
channels, which depend heavily on Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio
platform to reach as broad an audience as possible, the Phillies
channel is available only over the air via HD Radio.
Sottolano says that’s
partially a result of MLB’s tight restrictions on streaming game
content, and partially a deliberate move to promote CBS Radio’s
variety of HD multicast offerings in the market, which also include a
’70s-oldies format and a classic rock channel, plus simulcasts of
all-news KYW(AM) and talk WPHT(AM).
“We’ve talked about
podcasting the talk shows, which we don’t currently do,” he says.
“And we don’t currently do it because we wanted to create unique
content for HD Radio.”
At the team’s end,
Brooks says he’d still like to see better market penetration for HD
Radio, but he says the Phillies hear from fans who are listening on
“We’ve gotten a
couple of calls during the off-season,” he says. “When there was
a mistake and a game played two days in a row, we got calls. There
were people listening.”
Sottolano says CBS has
devoted considerable promotion to educating fans about where to find
“We have on-air
promos, a landing page (on the CBSPhilly.com portal), a
website we can direct people to with information on what these shows
are and where you can listen to them,” he says. “I get a decent
amount of listener feedback and email from folks that want to know
what the programming schedule is and where to find an HD radio.”
In Pittsburgh, McAleer
says the Penguins aggressively track their audience through their
“PensPoints” program, which offers rewards for everything from
beer purchases to watching games on TV.
“Some of the numbers
where redemption is highest is through terrestrial radio,” he says.
Then there is also iHeartRadio, where the Penguins channel is
Whether heard primarily
over HD Radio or streaming, these sports-specific subchannels provide
additional promotional and marketing opportunities.
“We’ve been able to
build some revenue that didn’t exist before,” Sottolano says.
“There’s a revenue
split,” Brooks says of the Phillies’ deal with CBS. “There’s
some money to split at the end of the year.”
In Pittsburgh, Clear
Channel has the Penguins locked up through 2018 and the Steelers
through the 2016 deal. Across the state, CBS Radio and the Phillies
are in the second year of a three-year deal, and Brooks says the
all-Phillies channel will be on the table when renewal time comes
“I’m sure when we
sit down to have those negotiations, we’ll sit down to keep that
going,” he says,
Scott Fybush, a
longtime RW contributor and the editor of NorthEast Radio Watch
(www.fybush.com), is still waiting patiently for an all-Red Sox