REVIEW: Birmingham sports talk radio…A barren wasteland with an oasis or two

Birmingham, Alabama is the most crazed college sports city in the nation. Clay Travis is an attention seeker of Jimmy “the Mouth of the South” Hart proportions, but sometimes even a blind narcissistic squirrel finds a nut.

Recently his website conducted a compelling study on the most passionate college sports towns in the country. The study combined the television ratings of football and basketball to determine the top 25 most college sports crazed markets in the land. Who was number one?

It wasn’t even close.

Birmingham, Alabama dwarfed the other 24 cities on the Top 25 list, with a football rating more than 4 times higher than the next competitor.

Birmingham, or I should say, central Alabama residents are crazy about college sports. Mainly college football, but people in that area think, breathe and sleep college athletics like no other place on the planet.

The passion and fanatacism is off the charts, which is why media mogels like Paul Finebaum are voted by Sports Illustrated this month as one of the top influencers in sports media…even though he’s been off the air and out of sight since January.

So with this thought in mind, how in the world is sports radio in this down currently so freaking bad??

Make no mistake, right now it is abysmal. There are a couple of bright spots, but for the most part, Birmingham Sports Talk Radio at the moment is a garbage heap.

Here is the worst of the worst:

1. The Sports Czars – 12pm-3pm, CDT on 97.3 The Zone
A spin-off of the Rick and Bubba Show, if you are having suicidal thoughts, do not listen. It’ll push you to do it.

The show consists of Speedy, Helmsey and Greg Burgess, three characters from the successful morning show, sitting around and yucking it up for three hours. It’s hard to put into words how difficult it is to listen to this show, but basically if you want to listen in on three guys trying to manufacture good ‘ole boy banter between themselves, you’ve found your show.

Tune in and you might hear:
“Hey, did ya’ll hear about the Big 10 commissioner calling out the SEC, saying it wasn’t all that? Can you believe that? What do ya’ll think about that? Let’s take some calls…”

Making anything on National Public Radio more entertaining, The Sports Czars. Proof that riding the coat tails of a successful, entertaining morning program doesn’t mean success when flying solo.

2. The Matt and Scot Spectacular – 10am-2pm on WJOX 94.5
This show is fairly new, and so criticiscm may not be entirely fair, but so far it’s pretty hard to listen to. To their credit, Matt and Scot are at least seasoned radio professionals, and unlike the Sports Czars, sound like they belong on the radio. But it’s obvious they’ve been transported here by JOX to fill the slot vacated by The Roundtable when it moved into Paul Finebaum’s 2pm-6pm position.

One impartial observation, their voices are so similar it’s often hard to determine which is talking. A differentation in voices makes listening easier; the more similar they are, the more of a droning effect it can have on a show.

Look, the guys are trying, and it may get better. But right now they just sound like the new kid who moves to your school from Canada with the weird accent and hockey shirts trying to fit in at the lunch table. Still, the fact that they’re on opposite the Sports Czars gives these guys hope, but I really wish Scot would incorporate the extra and needed “t” in his name.

3. The Opening Drive – 6am-9am CDT on WJOX 94.5
The original bad sports talk radio show in Birmingham, the show features the ringmaster, the unobjective homer and the disinterested semi-celebrity.

Tony Kurre flanks Al Del Taco and Jay Barker for three hours every morning. To their credit they are joined by some good guests, but it’s hard to get past these three into the meat of sports talk.

Kurre is a likeable clown, but still a clown. Del Greco would defend Auburn if they were testing nuclear capabilities on orphans, and Jay barely knows what’s happening at Alabama, and takes vacation at the strangest times…like national signing day (does anyone else on the radio in the South do this?). The three are supposed to present a balanced forum between Alabama, Auburn and UAB, but it’s about as balanced as Louie Anderson and Anderson Cooper on a see saw. Al runs over Jay, Jay backs down, and Tony makes dirty innuendos. There’s your show.

4. Straight Talk – 10am-Noon on 97.3 The Zone
This show features legendary Alabama basketball coach Wimp Sanderson and longtime Birmingham media figure Matt Coulter. Matt and Wimp interview guests on the show, and usually have a fairly decent line-up.

It’s just clear that Matt’s job is to throw questions to Wimp, and Wimp’s job is to ask questions to the guests, usually via a cell phone from a golf course somewhere. It’s the best of the worst, but still not a good show.

These are the worst shows in Birmingham, the most crazed college sports town in America. But believe it or not, there are still a couple of bright spots.

1. The Roundtable – 2pm-6pm on WJOX 94.5
Filling the spot vacated by Paul Finebaum’s hiatus, Jim Dunaway, Ryan Brown and Lance Taylor have created a pretty good show together. The three used to appear 10am-2pm, filling the gap between The Opening Drive and Finebaum. But until Paul comes back on the air in May (that’s the rumor), these guys are king of the Birmingham airwaves.

Jim Dunaway is the consummate broadcasting professional, having been on Birmingham TV and radio for as long as I can remember. He toes the line of impartiality about as well as you can, though the Montevallo grad doesn’t shy away from his Alabama upbringing.

Ryan Brown is the weak link of the three, but is still good in the role he plays on the show. His color commentary is occasionally spot on, though it’s funny when Lance calls him out on something, usually without hesitation. It’s obvious Brown doesn’t like it when it happens, and he admits he doesn’t handle criticism well. This makes for entertaining radio.

Lance Taylor is an acquired taste, but is like that guy we all know with an other-worldly grasp on sports information, as well as other, random trivia. His old noon show with Ian Fitzsimmons was unbearable, but more because of Fitzsimmons brash and arrogant delivery than Taylor. But Taylor is solid with Dunaway and Brown, providing on-the-money insight on a regular basis.

The three have meshed together to make a pretty good blend of sports and entertainment. And, like I said, until Finebaum emerges again, they’re king.

2. Smashmouth Radio – 6am-10am on 97.3 The Zone
This one is surprising because it features Kevin Scarbinsky and Scott Griffin. Scott is a long-time Birmingham radio and TV guy as well, and Kevin has been in Birmingham sports media for ages.

But Scarbinsky has long seemed like the Finebaum wannabe, stoking the coals of controversy to see if anything crawls out. He was among the first in line during the impotent “T-Town Menswear story,” and seems to smell of smoke whenever fires like these are started.

Still, this show is pretty good. They feature a host of interesting guests, and seem to have them on when their flames are hottest. It definitely is to their advantage that they’re on oppostite the three stooges on JOX, but the two put together a show worth the listen.

Birmingham sports talk radio will get better, again possibly in May. But until then, this is all we’ve got.


(Follow ITK on Twitter for Bama news, commentary and smack.)

18 Comments

Add Yours
  1. 1
    Jody

    You forgot the 4th Quarter: (probably because you’re listening to the RT) You know, its the one where the over compensating flamboyant Rachel Bimbo finally left only to be replaced by a card board cut out of boring…. Tim. I’d rather listen to Coach Max Howell debate with himself than listen to either of those 2 Co-hosts.

  2. 2
    Andy

    Interestingly enough, Birmingham received the Arbitron ratings for the month of February yesterday. These are the first ratings “post Finebaum”. The Roundtable actually had near identical ratings as Paul did February 2012. The Roundtable (#1 in men, #2 in adults) was slightly higher in men 2012 v 2013, Finebaum slightly higher in women 2012 v 2013. The new JOX show was less than what the Roundtable had this time a year ago. They were still ok, #1 in men but down in adults (fewer female listeners). The OD was unchanged (top 3 in both).

    The Zone still has no ratings traction. They were unable to gain any ratings even with all the JOX changes. The Max Howell show actually lost some market share. The Matt Coulter/Wimp show continues dismal ratings. They are literally one of the lowest rated shows Birmingham has ever seen. If that station does not land Finebaum (strong rumors they will not), their days are numbered.

  3. 7
    JimmyO

    I for one am digging no Finebaum! Now I get to listen to DP 8-11, Rome 11-2 and The RT 2-6. Jay Barker is freaking horrible!

  4. 8
    Denny Chimes

    I for one like the Roundtable, but it works better as a midday show. Let’s face it, it is a subpar replacement for Finebaum.

    Actually, Max Howell was pretty good when he was paired with Rachel but now that show puts me to sleep.

  5. 10
    tblakney

    Scarbinsky is an au apologist and al del taco is pathetic and kurre is out of place on jox, he needs to crawl away because of his stupid comments to Ms. Terry. He was so disrespectful to her a couple of years ago that I cannot listen to that show. There is no good radio coming from Bham these days except Doug and John Ed on Saturdays.

  6. 11
    fineballs

    Funny that you left the 4th quarter off. Shows how terrible the author of this article is at even paying attention. At least put it in the bad category if you don’t like it instead of leaving it off.

    It’s a decent show, much better since that woman left. If they don’t get fineballs, they should keep it in place, and if they do hopefully Max’s show replaces that awful morning show. Hasn’t scott gotten fired like 10 times already? What’s one more?

    I’ll give the zone credit, at least they put local programming on late nights with that meltdown show and Tider Insider/Eyes on Auburn. But i think they ditched those.

    • 12
      ITK

      Nobody listens to the 4th Quarter but you. Shows what terrible taste you have in radio programming. Give your bosses on the show my apologies.

        • 14
          ITK

          Okay, help me follow you. You obviously have some sort of stake in the show as an employee, advertiser, or some other affiliation because no one on earth knows what the 4th Quarter’s ratings are, nor do they care how they compare to Smashmouth, a show on the same station at a polar opposite time of the day.

          So to gain my interest and get me to listen, you call me an “f***ing moron,” which I had to edit because you felt obligated to post profanity.

          The show is obviously so forgettable that a well visited blog like ours didn’t even consider it as fodder for our list.

          So, it would seem the onus is on you and that show to try and gain our favor, not insult us.

          Plus your argument is weakened by the fact that you’re comparing it to a show in a polar opposite time slot rather than against its real competition, “The Roundtable,” a show that is currently kicking its arse like an Eddie Lacy draw play against Manti Te’o.

          Written communication is only effective if you at least try to make sense. Give it another shot and see what you come up with. I believe, with help, you can do it.

  7. 16
    Adam

    ITK, let’s look at the hard facts. The Sports Czars reach more people in the state of Alabama that your above article. I only found out about this article bc the Sports Czars mentioned it on their show. So it took them saying something to actually promote your article. That’s saying something about your lack of readers. Second, it is clear based on this article that you don’t have a sense of humor. All they are doing is talking about the day’s sports topics while adding great humor to it. But only people who have the ability to smile and laugh will get it so that takes you out of the running. But give it a try some time. Lighten up and have a good time now and then.

    • 17
      ITK

      Look, if I rode the coat tails of Rick and Bubba, I’d have a head start at being successful too. But a head start doesn’t mean success.

      By reaching you mean they have the privilege of being associated with that show, so they’ve been given the benefit of the doubt by a station willing to put them on the air, for a time. But the show is painful to listen to. Look, I listen to R&B in the mornings; enjoy it. I have no vendetta against “the Rick and Bubba army.” I’m just going on merit, and the quality of programming that should be able to stand on its own, as Rick always preaches. This is something the Sports Czars’ can’t do. It’s a bad attempt at extending the Rick and Bubba show three more hours into the day. Maybe if they’ll put Speedy in an airplane or Indy car on a cell phone and put Rick and Bubba in the studio it’d improve. But the guy they call Helmsey is the most knowledgeable on the program. Greg’s schtick of being annoyed by everything is funny in low doses, but can’t get it done on his own.

      I’m sorry, but I’ve yet to meet meet someone that listens to the show because it’s good.

  8. 18
    Samuel

    Travel to Atlanta, Nashville, & Memphis and you will here some “garbage” radio. JoxFM is by far the best radio station in Southeast.

    Roundtable is excellent as always and those guys really know their stuff. I’m glad they didn’t change anything when they moved to the new slot.

    Matt & Scott are perfect for the 10-2 slot. They are pretty hilarious and that’s what you need from 10am – 2pm… It’s typically in the middle of your workday when you need something to pick you up, and they do just that. They may not be as entrenched in Alabama sports as most of us would like them to be but I am looking forward to see what they have to offer this College FB season.

    The only other show in the Southeast that I think is worth a damn is Overtime with Jim Murray (Atlanta late night show).

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