Slow time for sports talk radio

This week kicks off college football season in Big Ten country as administrators, coaches and players from across the conference converge on Chicago for the conference’s media days and related activities.

That means, finally, some timely programming on the Big Ten Network.

Unfortunately, it also sets the stage for some really bad sports-talk radio in our region. That’s because shows sometimes get lazy and use live excerpts (or complete replays) from news conferences at media day or related breakout sessions.

Maybe “Sports Talk with Steve Jones” will not take that approach (although it often does), and “Sports Central with Cory Giger” does not offend as regularly in that manner as often.

Sports-talk radio works best as a conversation, not a live or – even worse – a tape-delayed audio stenographer. While typically mundane news conferences can play OK on TV, they’re much less valuable as programming on radio.

This week (and every day of every week for that matter) listeners should expect sports-talk hosts to provide context and nuance. Sure, what coaches and players from Penn State and across the conference have to say matters, but hearing it verbatim with sometimes hard-to-hear questions from media members in a big room is not sports-talk radio at its best.

It’s certainly not radio at its best.

Listeners do want to hear from sources that pique their interest, and hearing directly from them is a good trend – especially as schools themselves take on roles controlling information and acting as media members themselves.

Still, radio can do an even better job if hosts and expert guest put what happens into context and offer some opinion and perspective along with that access. When that happens, that’s good radio. When it’s just a matter of pushing “play” and “record” and letting listeners hear things as they happen, it’s timely but not nearly as good.

Fox Sports faces

Former Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt has joined Fox Sports 1 as a college football analyst.

He was among a revamped lineup of on-air talent Fox Sports and FS1 revealed recently. It’s a much-improved group in terms of play-by-play and reporting, which should give games and shows from the Fox family a little more credibility this year.

Wannstedt will work on an hour-long show Saturday nights hosted by Rob Stone with fellow analyst Joel Klatt.

Fox’s top broadcast team will be Gus Johnson, Charles Davis and Molly McGrath.

Still, the real improvement comes on Thursday night games with proven pro Tim Brando on play-by-play, working with Klatt. Likewise the football studio insiders/reporters are strong additions: Bruce Feldman, formerly of ESPN and CBS, and Stewart Mandel, formerly of Sports Illustrated.

Andrews shuffle

Noticeably missing from the Fox Sports/FS1 college football personnel lineup was Erin Andrews.

She’s been moved from college football as a studio host – a role she was hired away from ESPN to fill that simply did not work – to the NFL as a sideline reporter. She replaces Pam Oliver on Fox’s top NFL broadcast team.

Oliver will work this season as her final season on the NFL sideline before moving into a different role for the network. That move struck some as ageism and disrespect for Oliver.

Still, she’ll be able to get to 20 years on the job and still have a job afterward. Not a bad deal.

Tuner tidbits

n Longtime Pittsburgh sports writer Dejan Kovacevic has launched a subscription-based Pittsburgh sports site, bringing a national model of a single-person driven site (think Bill Simmons at Grantland, Peter King at MMQB and others) to our region. There are similar pay-for-access efforts in Philadelphia (around the Eagles) and, of course, following Penn State sports in general and here with the Mirror. Still, it’s not an easy path. Kovacevic has some initial sponsors, but even King and Sports Illustrated’s MMQB, a truly quality endeavor with national reach, continues to seek steady advertising revenue.

n Penn State fans hoping to watch the Nittany Lions’ four-overtime victory from last season again on TV have another chance Monday. The game that was voted as one of the best of 2014 will air at 10 p.m. Monday on ESPNU.

n The latest number for households served by ESPN came in at 97 million. That’s down a bit from 101 million a couple years ago. Perhaps it’s a testament to folks cutting ties with cable TV.

Steve Sampsell covers the broadcast side of sports. He’s on Twitter @stevesampsell, writes at, and may be contacted at with comments and story ideas.