Fan pulls plug on "sports Night"

March 17, 2006

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Fan pulls plug on 'SportsNight'
By Chris Lewis,
March 17, 2006
Two veteran Nashville sportscasters who teamed up for seven years on the Nashville radio airwaves have been let go by 106.7-FM The Fan.

Blake Fulton and Joe Biddle signed off of their 3-7 p.m. show, “SportsNight,” for the last time Wednesday night, replaced, at least for now, by an ESPN network show.

The station ownership group, Cumulus Media Inc., decided not to renew Fulton’s and Biddle’s contracts, said Michael Dickey, vice president and market manager of the company’s five stations in Nashville.

Dickey also confirmed he will be leaving his post soon to move to the corporate offices in Atlanta to join his three brothers, Lew, David and John, all owners of the nation’s second-largest radio broadcast company.

In other developments Thursday, Dickey confirmed he and his brothers have put in a bid to buy the Atlanta Braves baseball team from Time Warner, which put the team up for sale in December. He said the sale should have no bearing on Cumulus’ radio station ownership.

The decision to cancel "SportsNight" marks the second change in The Fan’s local lineup in less than a week. Last Friday, the two hosts of The Fan’s SportsBrunch show, John Dwyer and Bryan Mullen, left their 10 a.m.-noon slot, citing busy schedules.

Without a team of local personalities, The Fan (WNFN-FM) – one of three sports stations in Nashville — is airing network shows from ESPN.

“We are looking to put together a live afternoon drive show by football season,” Dickey said.

Fulton said he understands the changing nature of the radio business and the owners’ need to make business decisions as they see fit.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Fulton said Thursday. “I’ve talked to hundreds of people today - friends and listeners – and the good stuff out of this would be some of the great people I’ve been able to work with,” he said.

Fulton said his contract is up at the end of the month. He said Biddle’s stretches longer and that Cumulus bought out his contract. Biddle, also a Tennessean columnist, declined to comment for this story, other than to say he learned about the show’s cancellation while in Dallas.

Fulton, 30, said he joined Biddle on "SportsNight" seven years ago on WTN 99.7-FM, when it was then owned by Gaylord Entertainment Co.

At the time, Fulton and Biddle teamed up with Nashville sports radio stalwart George Plaster. But when Gaylord sold the station to Cumulus in 2003 Plaster moved over to a competitor, 104.5 The Zone. Plaster’s The Sports Zone became fierce competitors with "SportsNight" for ratings.

Fulton said the on-air team did well in the ratings on WTN. But in December 2004 Cumulus decided to change 106.7-FM from a rap music station to “The Fan,” creating an all-sports format and moved "SportsNight" to that station.

Unfortunately, 106.7 has a much smaller coverage area than its radio competitors and has languished in the ratings, picking up only a 1 percent share of the market’s listeners, said Robert Unmacht, a Nashville-based radio consultant.

Fulton said he doesn’t yet know what his fate holds, but he hopes to join another station with Biddle, his best friend.

“We just look forward to possibly having an opportunity in this town to [join] a group that’s 100 percent committed to sports and doing things the right way,” he said

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