WXSM’s purchase by Cumulus had a silver lining for its Holston Valley Broadcasting competitor.
WXSM (The Sports Monster) went from ESPN Radio to CBS Sports Radio programming at the beginning of the year due to Cumulus Media’s contract, opening ESPN’s door for Holston Valley Broadcasting. And Monday, HVB went from an oldies music format to a nearly all-sports format featuring ESPN programming.
“AM Tri-Cities with Dave Light,” which airs from 10-11 a.m. weekdays, will be the lone non-sports weekday program, according to HVB’s Scott Gray.
“It’s kind of a fixture with us and we didn’t want to lose that,” Gray said. “It’s a wonderful show, and it’s got a lot of great history behind it.”
WKPT and sister stations WKTP and WOPI are now ESPNTri-Cities (AM 1590 and FM 97.7 in Johnson City), and Gray said the initial response on social media and elsewhere has been extremely encouraging. The opportunity to bring listeners programs such as “Mike and Mike” was too good to pass up.
“There are other all-sports stations in the market (CBS, FOX),” Gray said, “but we felt that with the ESPN brand that there’s absolutely nothing better. They are the gold standard in national sports radio. So we wouldn’t be going all-sports unless we had ESPN, obviously.”
Still, the decision to make the move took some two months of research. Gray said general manager David Widener spearheaded the decision to make the transition.
“He was a driving force in getting us to this all-sports format that we now have,” Gray said. “But everybody here was on board … and that was what was really great about it. This is the biggest switch that WKPT Radio has ever made — going from music to an all-talk format like this. So it wasn’t done lightly, I can tell you that.
“The all-sports format, nationally, it’s the fastest-growing format out there in radio right now. … I mean, to the tune of about $800 million in sales, nationally.”
Gray is entering his 25th year calling Science Hill football and basketball games. He said ESPN has allowed HVB’s stations to continue carrying nearly all local programming, including Science Hill, Dobyns-Bennett and Tennessee High’s “big three” sports, as well as Tennessee and East Tennessee State.
Gray’s weekly sports-talk show will continue to air Mondays (6-8 p.m.), he said, and an afternoon show to be hosted by Dobyns-Bennett broadcaster Steve Wilmoth will begin airing weekdays (4-6 p.m.) probably within 30 days.
“It’ll be a show mainly focused on local high school and college sports,” Gray said. “It’ll be a call-in show. … I hired Steve to help with high school broadcasts, and that’s worked its way into him being our voice for the Indians on our high school broadcast for Dobyns-Bennett. He’s filled in a couple of times on my show.
“So he’s ready to do something like this. With his local contacts, we envision him doing interviews with local high school coaches and maybe some players.”
Eventually, additional local shows could follow.
“There’s a possibility that there will be more local programming as we move along,” Gray said. “We just kind of wanted to get our legs underneath us and get ESPN on the air and get settled in and have it out there for public consumption. … The response has been overwhelmingly positive.”