Five years ago, I wrote a story for Agenda, a now-defunct local business magazine, about the state of sports-talk radio in Memphis. At the time, it wasn't hard to figure out who to interview, because there weren't that many options.
Since then, the sports-talk landscape of Memphis has changed dramatically. The arrival of the big leagues in the form of the Memphis Grizzlies has helped spur an increase in the options and quality of local sports chatter, bringing more stations, more shows, and a better variety of talkers.
Now, with the recent arrival of KQPN 730 ESPN Radio, there are three stations broadcasting daily sports-talk programming. Need to know what to listen to and when? Here's a cheat sheet:
The Morning Rush (6-8 a.m., Sports 56 WHBQ) -- The Commercial Appeal's Grizzlies beat writer Ron Tillery co-hosts with Sports 56's Peter Edmiston, so if you're a Grizzlies fan who gets up early, this is the show for you. Edmiston is a smart, engaging guy, but his on-air chemistry with Tillery was awkward early on. Lately, the pair have found an easier rapport, and Tillery has proven himself a credible voice on non-NBA topics.
Sportstime with George Lapides and Geoff Calkins (8-10 a.m., Sports 56 WHBQ) -- I have to admit a bias here, as I've been an occasional guest on this show over the past year, but Sportstime is the most accomplished local sports-talk show on the air. No local show can match the gravitas of George Lapides -- whose decades of experience in radio, television, and print lend his commentary depth and authority -- and Geoff Calkins, the fine Commercial Appeal columnist whose addition to the show a couple of years ago gave the sometimes cantankerous Lapides a foil who can stand up to him and whom Lapides clearly respects.
The Page with Dennis Fuller (6-10 a.m., WMC 790) -- WMC program director Dennis Fuller teams with college play-by-play guy Jeff Brightwell in a four-hour show. This show seems to have gone away from its "guy talk" bent of a few months ago to a more traditional style. Solid, but it can't compete with the more authoritative voices over on Sports 56.
The Sports Brothers (6-9 a.m., 730 ESPN) -- The new kid on the block will try to compete during the morning drive with newcomers Kendall Lewis and station program director John Madini, who bring more national perspective to local sports-talk. Lewis has spent a few months working the station's afternoon slot, where he's been a pretty knowledgeable all-around host, especially when it comes to football, but he has also struggled adapting to a new market (lots of references to Cleveland, his previous stop). Madini hadn't made his local debut as of press time but brings with him experience from the ESPN home office in Bristol, Connecticut.
Sports 56 is the only station that provides local sports-talk programming during middays, with WMC airing syndicated shows from Fox Sports and 730 turning it over to ESPN Radio's national feed. As for WHBQ:
Middays with Greg and Eli (11 a.m.-1 p.m.) -- Television sports anchor Greg Gaston teams with Sports 56 program director Eli Savoie. Gaston is the TV play-by-play voice of University of Memphis football and basketball, so this is a good show for Tiger fans.
The Southern Sports Report (1-3 p.m.) -- The domain of sports handicapper John Rainey, this is a sports-gambling infomercial disguised as the kind of "good ole boy" sports radio more prevalent before the Grizzlies came to town. Co-host Tony Brooks, who has hosted popular non-sports shows in the past, is a likable presence, but unless you only care about local or regional sports, this is probably a good time to turn the dial.
The Sports Bar (3-6 p.m., Sports 56 WHBQ) -- This free-for-all is probably the most love-it-or-hate-it local show on the air thanks to co-host Jeff Weinberger, who is something like the villainous pro-wrestling manager of the local sports-talk landscape, a guy the show's callers love to hate. Co-host Rob Fischer plays the perpetually exasperated straight man, while beloved local broadcasting veteran "Big" Jack Eaton makes regular cameos as Weinberger's foil.
Sportscall (3-6:30 p.m., WMC 790) -- Dave Woloshin, radio voice of Tiger football and basketball, hosts with Forrest Goodman. If The Sports Bar can be too chaotic, Sportscall can be a little too staid. Unsurprisingly, Sportscall is better on the Tigers than on the Grizzlies. Woloshin's status as "voice of the team" can make him a bit of a homer, but this show is still the best bet for Tiger hoops fans.
The Chris Vernon Show (3-6 p.m., 730 ESPN) -- Moving to the afternoon time slot means losing Commercial Appeal Tiger basketball beat writer Gary Parrish as a regular co-host, which is too bad, because Chris Vernon and Parrish had the easiest rapport on local radio. Parrish has stayed on as a regular guest, joining Grizzlies radio play-by-play man Eric Hasseltine and -- MAJOR BIAS ALERT -- yours truly, as regular local guests. Nobody works harder than Vernon to line up good guests, local and national, or does a better job of going into non-sports territory with humor and interest likely to engage under-40 listeners. n