The Fan became Cleveland’s second all-sports radio station in 2011.
WKRK-FM, 92.3, has since established itself as one of Northeast Ohio’s top-rated stations, and it’s zoomed past ESPN Cleveland as the city’s top sports station. (Cleveland recently gained a third all-sports station, Fox Sports 1350 AM (aka “The Gambler”).
The Fan’s elevated standing has been reflected in the Barrett Sports Media Awards. Led by former sports radio programmer Jason Barrett, the website annually polls radio pros in an effort to compile a series of top-20 rankings.
Earlier this month, Barrett’s survey of 47 professionals from 30 cities and 18 companies ranked The Fan as the nation’s No. 2 midmarket sports radio station. Another “Fan,” 93.7 in Pittsburgh, topped the rankings.
The Fan’s 2019 ranking was one ahead of its 2018 standing and 10 spots higher than Columbus’ version of “The Fan” (97.1 FM). ESPN Cleveland, which wasn’t ranked in 2018, finished 14th among the 48 eligible stations.
The project, which Barrett calls “an imperfect science,” asks respondents to rank stations and shows based on strong ratings, “great reputation and influence,” community impact and regularly delivering quality content.
Andy Roth, The Fan’s program director since its launch, was named the second-best midmarket program director. Roth, who received three first-place votes, won the award in 2016 and ’17.
The Fan’s morning show, featuring Ken Carman and Anthony Lima, also came in at No. 2 in its category. Bernie Miklasz of 101 ESPN in St. Louis topped the midmarket morning show rankings for the fourth year in a row.
Carman and Lima were 27 points back in the voting, which was an improvement from 2018. (Maybe next year, guys.)
Among midday shows, the ESPN Cleveland tandem of Tony Rizzo and Aaron Goldhammer finished fifth. The Really Big Show was four points better than The Fan’s combination of Andy Baskin and Jeff Phelps. Baskin and Phelps’ sixth-place standing marked a three-spot improvement from 2018.
In the afternoon category, Bull and Fox finished seventh among 53 eligible shows in the voting. The duo was fourth in 2018.
• The Fan and ESPN Cleveland compete for listeners and ad sales, but the all-sports stations are partners on a unique radio deal that was struck with the Browns in 2013.
That agreement is up for renewal, and from everything we’ve heard, The Fan and ESPN Cleveland are considered the favorites to retain the Browns rights. As we wrote Feb. 7, when it was announced that WEWS would remain the preseason TV home of the Browns, iHeart is also in the running.
The media conglomerate already has rights deals with the Cavs and Indians, which makes fitting in 1,000 hours of annual Browns programming a bit difficult, even with The Gambler (also part of the iHeart umbrella) in the mix.
The Browns, we’ve been told, like the current setup, which features Cleveland Browns Daily airing for two hours every afternoon on ESPN Cleveland.
• Something that is more definite when it comes to the Browns’ media deals: WEWS will have a new play-by-play announcer for the team’s preseason games. Jay Crawford was very good in the role last year, but the former ESPN personality joined WKYC last fall. Crawford’s new gig takes him out of the running for the preseason role on WEWS, and a source told us WEWS hasn’t made a decision on whether the new play-by-play announcer will be teamed with analyst Tim Couch or if WEWS will instead go with an entirely new combo for its Browns broadcasts.
• A leftover tidbit from our reporting on WEWS and the Browns agreeing to another long-term deal: All but one of the station’s preseason broadcasts since 2015 have drawn a rating of 16 or higher. The lone exception was a 12.3 rating for the 2017 preseason finale against the Chicago Bears. (The Browns’ QBs that day were Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler. The top rusher was Terrence Magee.)
Five of the 16 preseason games WEWS has aired since landing the rights in 2015 have generated a rating above 21. Three of the five contests occurred in 2019: a 21.4 rating for the Aug. 8 opener, a 22.0 for a loss to the Bucs on Aug. 23 and a ridiculous 22.8 for a 20-16 win over the Lions on Aug. 29.
Yes, a 22.8 rating for a meaningless game in which Garrett Gilbert and David Blough were Cleveland’s QBs.
(That’s a pretty good example of why Cleveland has so many all-sports radio stations.)