The fight for local relevance

By Cameron Boon

Not everything is what it looks like on the outside. When looking into the sports broadcasting/journalism life, people see names like Bob Costas, Al Michaels and Jim Nantz, the voices for the world’s biggest sporting events, who tell the stories of some of the greatest athletes ever seen.

But at smaller stations, like the one where I worked in the summer of 2016, it is a fight for relevance, recognition and broadcasting rights, meaning the games and/or teams that you are allowed to broadcast on your airwaves. For example, WFAN in New York has the rights to the New York Yankees radio broadcasts.

At 105.5 The Team, the CBS Sports Radio affiliate in Rochester, New York, this is the case. Relevance, recognition and broadcasting rights are a daily fight since CBS is the last to the party, with ESPN Radio and Fox Sports Radio already having established local voices in the Rochester area.

This is something I learned very quickly when I joined my sports director, Spencer German, in late May. The Team is equivalent to MSG Varsity on Long Island. While it does touch on covering the Buffalo Bills, its primary focus is Section V high school athletics, from football and soccer in the fall to lacrosse and baseball in the spring.

While high school sports is a niche, it definitely has its fans, with out-of-town as well as local families and friends tuning in.

The Team is a major player in the niche and has a fanbase for local high school sports fans, but the problems are not with the broadcasts themselves. Filling the broadcasts with advertisements and sponsors is a problem, which is something you wouldn’t know unless you were on the inside, as I was this summer.

The internship got off to a rough start. On my way to my first broadcast, a high school baseball game, a car came up from behind me and took off my side mirror right next to the parking lot of the stadium. The kicker: The game was rained out, so I did not have to be there in the first place.

The only way this summer could go was up, and it did. This CBS Sports Radio internship was everything I could have asked for. The high point for me was broadcasting the local lacrosse semifinals and finals, something I had done at Stony Brook a couple of weeks before.

I also created Sports Minutes, which analyze things that happened the day before. I was able to give my own opinion along with any new information that had been released. Toward the end of the summer, I was at Buffalo Bills Training Camp and created Bills Reports, which told the stories of the day and mixed in press conference soundbites from head coach Rex Ryan and others.

Not only was I able to expand on what I love doing already, I earned a greater appreciation for what happens in the day-to-day operations of a sports radio station. It is not just creating notes, calling games and talking about sports during a set time block each day. The work of creating promos, working in the system and doing external work, including meeting with companies, made this internship seem more like a job.

At a small radio station, the fun side comes with calling games and talking about the things that you love while reporting on the teams and stories people care about. But underneath that is a fight for the station’s survival and success. This fight does not turn people like my boss away. It intrigues them because it gives them a greater goal to work for rather than just calling games.

This fight for relevance, recognition and rights is what drives the local sports radio market, and it is something I learned to appreciate during my summer at 105.5 The Team. I cannot wait to join this fight in full when I graduate from Stony Brook.