How Vancouver's all-sports radio stations are filling the air

Apr 14 2020, 5:37 pm

For more than two and a half years, TSN 1040 and Sportsnet 650 have been at war, trying to win the ears of Vancouver sports fans.

While they’re both very much still in competition with each other, these days they also share a common enemy.

Both all-sports radio stations have a unique challenge on their hands, having to fill the air at a time where professional sports have come to a halt.

While the Canucks are usually done playing at this time of year anyway, the team is a 12-month-a-year topic on both 1040 and 650’s airwaves. But the way in which they’re being covered is completely different right now.

Nobody is quite sure if the NHL season will resume, which makes talking about the future difficult. Usually you can look forward to the NHL Draft, but due to the JT Miller trade, it’s uncertain if the Canucks will even be picking in the first round.

There’s always free agency, right? Well, with an uncertain salary cap, that becomes difficult to project also.

We can’t even play the draft lottery simulator, as there’s still some debate as to whether the Canucks would or wouldn’t take part in it.

But the show must go on, so TSN and Sportsnet have had to get creative.

“We’re taking it week by week, day by day to a certain extent,” said TSN 1040 program director Trevor Martins in an interview with Daily Hive. “I’m really impressed with what the guys are able to do given that we’re an all-sports station with no sports.”

Martins said he has left it up to show hosts to come up with ideas during this unusual time. For the morning show’s Mike Halford and Jason Brough, that means interviewing random Canucks folk heroes from the past, like Rory Fitzpatrick, Aaron Rome, and most recently, Dana Murzyn.

PM drive hosts Matt Sekeres and Blake Price have taken more of a news slant to their coverage, broadcasting Dr. Bonnie Henry’s daily media conferences live during the show. The station also runs a simulcast of the CTV News at 6 television program.

And then there’s content that’s neither sports nor news.

“The amount of feedback we got on a segment on mustard was ridiculous. Just an insane amount of texts and emails,” Martins said of a recent midday show with Don Taylor and Bob Marjanovich.

“We’re here for the long haul,” adds Martins. “We’re just trying to provide people with a sense of normalcy. A break away from what’s going on in the world right now.”

This is difficult timing for both stations, who were hoping for a Canucks playoff appearance, which would have surely boosted listenership across the board.

Martins said he was looking at running an all-night post-game show, like Jeff Paterson did in 2011, had the Canucks made the postseason. Instead, the station is getting Paterson to host a special countdown of the greatest moments from the station’s 19-year history.

Playoff games would have certainly helped rights-holder Sportsnet 650, who are still the relatively new kids on the block after debuting in 2017, and trailed 1040 in the most recent ratings release. Instead, they’re airing old Canucks and Toronto Blue Jays games in the evenings, but like 1040, they’ve kept things relatively the same for their daytime programming.

The key difference between both stations is that Sportsnet’s hosts and producers are working from home, broadcasting with the help of Google Hangouts. Meanwhile, five of 1040’s main six hosts are still working in-studio — though social distancing protocols are in place. Both studios are essentially ghost towns though, with all off-air staff like sales and marketing working from home.

“We get knocked sometimes for being ‘house radio.’ Well, we truly are house radio now because everyone’s doing it out of their houses,” joked Sportsnet 650 program director Craig MacEwen. “But that has brought a commonality and a togetherness within the shows and within the entire station.”

Sportsnet has featured a segment on sports memorabilia, and looked back at great broadcasting calls of the past in their Mouth Madness bracket.

Midday hosts Dan Riccio and Randip Janda have begun reviewing movies, but are also interviewing former Stanley Cup champions as part of a new segment. Eddie Lack can also be heard on their show every week.

Regular guests like Todd Bertuzzi on the morning show have become extra valuable at times like these, with hosts James Cybulski and Perry Solkowski allowing fans to ask questions to the Canucks legend.

But really what both stations share are striving for is normalcy for fans during unusual times.

“The power of sports radio is we’re going to bring normalcy and some escapism to people’s lives,” said MacEwen. “We’ve really tried to inform when the need arises, but we’re not just going to sit and talk about COVID all the time because there’s news channels for that and I think people need to get away from it a little bit.”