Show host Satiar Shah insists he’s comfortable with a variety of topics when Sportsnet 650 hits the airwaves Monday morning. Pro wrestling, if need be, could be in his wheelhouse.
“Yes, it does feel a little bit like the Monday Night Wars,” Shah said, prompted by a comparison from an interviewer between this Vancouver sports talk radio duel between newcomer Sportsnet 650 and incumbent TSN 1040 and that 1990s battle for TV ratings between WCW and WWE.
“Would that make me Scott Hall? OK. I’ll gladly take Scott Hall. Why not?”
Hall, of course, helped ignite that joust for supremacy between the wrestling companies when he jumped from WWE to WCW in 1996. Shah had been producer of TSN 1040’s morning drive program — the Bro Jake Show — but
Sportsnet 650 parent company Rogers Media signed a five-year deal with the Vancouver Canucks for their radio rights last March, ending an 11-season run between the National Hockey League club and TSN 1040, who are owned by Bell Media, a rival of Rogers in both the broadcasting and mobile phone markets.
A month after the Canuck deal, Rogers announced it would go head-to-head, hour-by-hour with TSN 1040 by having Sportsnet 650 up and running in time for the 2017-18 NHL campaign. The new show played some highlight clips from this week’s rehearsals and it all starts for real Monday.
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) August 29, 2017
This is juicy. This could be the most compelling sports story going in these parts, surpassing Bo Horvat’s contract situation, the quarterback conundrum surfacing with the B.C. Lions and various other issues.
Can former TSN host
and Toronto Fan 590 import Andrew Walker get listeners to change habits and jump to Sportsnet 650 during the much-coveted afternoon drive slot from Matt Sekeres and Blake Price, the TSN 1040 show that gets the most positive buzz on social media?
Did TSN 1040 make a good decision switching its lineup, putting Sekeres and Price in the cleanup slot, with them now following Don Taylor and Bob Marjanovich instead of hitting in front of them?
Will relative newcomers like Shah and mid-morning show partner Jawn Jang, formerly of 102.9 The Drive and 102.7 The Peak, attract younger listeners and hype on Twitter for Sportsnet 650?
Will TSN 1040 keep its post-game show audience on Canucks nights? Who will blink first and make changes to its roster when things aren’t going the way they want? Who will they bring in to host?
There are questions aplenty. How long before Vancouver sports fan blow up Twitter, going off on what station they like best and why?
“This is a business about having a good time and getting people engaged and making them feel like they’re part of the conversation,” said Shah. “It’s not about trying to win a debate or better the next person or stir it up for no reason.
“Sure, you’re going to have some takes that are going to ruffle some feathers and there are going to be things you say that people get pissed off about. If you’re having fun and being firm but fair and not trying to pull a fast one over your audience, I think you can be successful.”
TSN Radio national program director Rob Gray explained: “For us, it’s about continuing to serve the radio listeners of Vancouver like we’ve been doing for the past 16 years. It’s about providing opinion and analysis on what’s going on. It’s about not resting on your laurels and continuing to work hard.”
Whether both entities will survive long term is obviously the most interesting debate. Vancouver hasn’t had two competing all-sports stations since May 2006, when MOJO 730 switched to all-traffic after 27 months of talking hockey, football and the like. That move, oddly enough, came just a couple of months after it was announced that the Team 1040 had signed a six-year deal for the Canucks’ broadcasting rights, ending a run of more than 30 years with CKNW.
Gray, then TSN 1040’s programming director, said at the time that adding Canucks play-by-play was key to the station’s long-term viability. Now, with the Canucks opting to go elsewhere for their broadcast deal, Gray is saying this: “We made a proposal. The Canucks made a business decision. We’ll be just fine.”
There have been reports the Canucks’ deal with the TSN 1040 was for $3.5 million per season, while this contract with Sportsnet 650 is in the $2 million per season range.
There are various all-sports stations that succeed without major play-by-play rights. Seattle’s 950 KJR comes to mind.
Oddly enough, the Canucks may still be key to both stations succeeding. Vancouver is a fickle sports town. Fans jump on and off the bandwagon. The diehard Canucks fans remain passionate, but the casual onlooker has wandered away as the team has spiralled down the standings.
If the Canucks start to get traction in the playoffs again there could easily be enough interest to keep both TSN 1040 and Sportsnet 650 going for an extended period.
That is what the broadcasters want, of course. Both sides talk about that. Taylor explained it best when he expressed this: “I don’t know what the managers or the sales people might say, but I think these are rare golden times in my opinion.
“Every week in our industry for the last while it’s seemed that people have been losing their jobs. All of a sudden, this new sports station comes along and there are 30 new jobs.”
It’s all compelling stuff. How will the Canucks handle TSN 1040? Will Trevor Linden and Jim Benning and the players be guests on shows as frequently, or will they focus their appearances on Sportsnet 650?
Gray was quick to point out that “we’re members of the media, and we’ll have the same access that everybody else has.” As well, TSN 1040 has hired Jeff Paterson — a frequent Province contributor — as their full-time Canucks reporter, meaning he’ll cover the team at home and on the road.
Could the tone of their coverage change, though? Will TSN 1040 become more critical in their analysis now that they don’t have the play-by-play call?
The host broadcaster in various markets is regularly pegged as “house radio.” And, if you believe the rumour mill, the Canucks have had plenty of input with Sportsnet 650 throughout this building process.
Dave Cadeau, Rogers national sports director who’s worked closely with Sportsnet 650 program director Craig MacEwen putting the station together, tagged getting the broadcast rights to the Canucks “as an essential driver for establishing the radio station,” and a “key piece for us to break into the market,” but scoffed at the idea Rintoul, Walker and the like would go soft on the team when it struggled.
“We’re not here to be a PR firm for the Canucks. Your audience will see through that and tune you out,” he explained.
MacEwen is a familiar name to the fans, but from his time on the television side, first with CKVU Sports Page and then with Sportsnet. Sports Page alums on his side now include Rintoul while Taylor and Price are among those on the other. Rintoul, Taylor and MacEwen also worked together at Sportsnet.
“Is it strange for me? Yeah. It is. I’ve worked with a lot of those people and I’ve come through the ranks with them,” MacEwen said. “I have the utmost respect for everyone in that building but it’s a little different now, because they’re competition.
“Competing with people who I know and I respect is a challenge on one level and it also makes it fun on another.”
Through all this, there’s bound to be a breakout star or two.
Walker could be that guy this time. The Sportsnet 650 side has been raving about him. New Canucks play-by-play voice Brendan Batchelor, for one, says, “he’s very, very good. And he’s been a real leader for us. He’s always around, always willing to work with guys.”
It could also easily be
. The former
were doing a Saturday afternoon show at the station, but will now be on during the week.
Earlier this month, they announced they were leaving nbcsports.com’s Pro Hockey Talk, a gig they had held since 2011. They are bound to have made some intriguing contacts in the NHL through their time there.
“We’re going into this with a good balance of confidence and humility,” said Brough. “We’ve heard from people who are excited to hear from us every day, but we both realize we still have so much to prove, and that’s where some nervousness comes in.
“We got our start writing a silly blog. We never expected to get anywhere. We had a lot of things go our way to get to this point, so we’re going to be grateful.
“It’s not easy being a sports fan in this city, and hopefully we can provide some laughs along the way to the inevitable heartbreak that always happens.”
TSN 1040’S LINEUP
5:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.: Bro Jake and David Pratt
9 a.m. to noon: Mike Halford and Jason Brough
Noon to 3 p.m.: Don Taylor and Bob Marjanovich
3 p.m. to 7 p.m.: Matt Sekeres and Blake Price
SPORTSNET 650’s LINEUP
5:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.: James Cybulski, Steve Darling and Mira Laurence
9 a.m. to noon: Satiar Shah and Jawn Jang
Noon to 1 p.m.: Shah
1 p.m. to 4 p.m.: Perry Solkowski and Randip Janda
4 p.m. to 7 p.m.: Andrew Walker and Scott Rintoul
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