The final three months of 2006 were rich with major and controversial sports stories, the kind that can have a big impact on sports-talk radio. Whether it was the decline of the Steelers, the possible resignation of Bill Cowher or the Penguins' survival in Pittsburgh, it had listeners tuning it in large numbers.
ESPN Radio 1250, the most listened-to sports talker in town, received the biggest lift, but so did Ellis Cannon on WPGB (NewsTalk 104.7) and Fox Sports Radio 970. All numbers apply to the main demographic such shows are seeking, men 25 to 54, and for the period of Oct. 1 through Dec. 31.
Cannon (6 to 8 p.m.) has the largest audience share of any sports-talk show. He is No. 2 in his time slot with 9.9 share.
At ESPN, the Junker and Crow show (10 a.m. to 1 p.m.), with Guy Junker and Eddy Crow, had the highest share. The show, which has steadily been gaining listeners since its inception in 2004, placed second in its time slot with an 8.2 share. No other ESPN show had as large a share of the market. Mike & Mike In the Morning (6 to 10 a.m.) was third with a 7.1 share. Mark Madden (3 to 7 p.m.) was fourth with a 6.6 share.
Junker, best known in the market for hosting Sports Beat on FSN with Stan Savran, said, "For the first three or four months we were on the air, I'd see people and they'd ask me what I was doing. Now people know what I'm doing and ask about the show all the time. There's a buzz to this show like we use to have with Stan and Guy."
Bendel and Benz (3 to 7 p.m.), with Joe Bendel and Tim Benz, has picked up some listeners since its debut last summer. The show starts slowly with a 1.6 share from 3 to 4 p.m. Some of that is due to the dreadful national programming that precedes it. The station gives no one a reason to listen to it until 3 p.m. From 4 to 5, the ratings jump to 3.2, and they were 3.4 from 5-6. Both numbers are good for 10th place in the 25 to 54 male demographic.
Although Madden has long been regarded as the ratings leader in Pittsburgh, he continues to trail Cannon when the two go head-to-head from 6 to 7 p.m. In that hour, Cannon is second with a 9.9 rating; Madden is tied for fifth with a 5.1. Cannon, on the FM dial, has the benefit of a more powerful signal than Madden.
FSN changes owners, little else
No changes are expected at FSN Pittsburgh, which is in the process of going through an ownership change. The station's ownership shifted from one business giant, News Corp., to another, Liberty Media.
News Corp., owned by Rupert Murdoch, sent three FSN affiliates and 38.5 percent of its share in DirectTV to Liberty. In exchange, it received a reported $550 million and the 16.3 percent share Liberty had in News Corp.
FSN Pittsburgh boss Steve Tello said the change will have little effect on programming and will not require a name change.
FSN is stepping up its high definition programming. It did the four WPIAL football title games in HD, believed to be a national first. It is in the process of doing 25 Penguins games in HD and will carry 40 Pirates games in HD.
Overkill dogged coach search
WTAE's Jon Burton got it wrong on Action Sports Sunday when he criticized the way the Steelers went about their coaching search.
"I don't like the way they handled it," he said. "It didn't have to be that way."
Actually, the Steelers' search was textbook correct. They interviewed a group of five, narrowed the field to three and selected a coach. What's wrong with that?
The problem, if there was one, was that media overkill kept sending out confusing signals that were not coming from the Steelers.
Ratings bonanza for NFL
Both NFL conference title games were rating smashes Sunday. The AFC game between Indianapolis and New England was watched by 46.7 million, up from 39 million last year. The NFC title game between Chicago and New Orleans was watched by 43.2 million, up from 35.2 million last year.
The AFC game was the most-watched non-Super Bowl program since the finale of "Friends" was watched by 52.5 million in May 2004.
The games were the two most-watched programs of the 2006-07 season.
The 1975 and 1978 Steelers were among the 10 best Super Bowl champions as selected by a 53-person panel of experts assembled by the NFL Network. San Francisco (1984 and 1989) was the only other franchise to place two teams on the list. The other six: New England, 2004; Dallas, 1992; Chicago, 1985; Oakland, 1976; Miami, 1972; Green Bay, 1966. A countdown from 10 to one will begin Saturday on the NFL Network. The No. 1 team will be profiled Feb. 3.
This month's edition of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on HBO takes a hard look at the way the NFL treats its retired players, and it's not pretty. Blame is placed on the league and the players union. Mike Ditka, who boycotts the Hall of Fame induction ceremony because of the way the league treats veterans, said, "The [NFL] players today are the worst-represented union in all of sports." ... FSN is running a 30-minute sitdown with Jamie Dixon that does a good job of bringing the Pitt coach out of the shadows the low-key coach seems to prefer. The shows runs again today and Monday at 12:30 p.m. and Feb. 5 at 2 p.m.
Bob Smizik can be reached at email@example.com .