Paul Finebaum is coming back to radio later this summer.
Paul Finebaum, the voice of the SEC, is returning to radio August 1. Finebaum has been off the air for the past four months after his previous contract expired. Now, Finebaum will begin emerging as a national radio voice for ESPN with a carefully structured roll out covering the next year of Finebaum's show.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Finebaum will have a significant presence in the ESPN family. His nationally-syndicated radio show will begin airing in the southeast first, his natural home field in radio. Over time the show will be spread t other markets and eventually will be simulcast on ESPN's SEC Network starting in August 2014. On top of that, Finebaum will have a reported 100 television appearances on ESPN programming. Finebaum has been a recurring panelist on ESPN's Outside the Lines program, so he could be expected to continue popping up there from time to time. We should also count on seeing Finebaum have an appearance on some of ESPN's college football programming when possible, including the weekday College Football Live program. I think it is safe to say once the SEC Network goes live, Finebaum will have a voice in addition to his radio simulcast.
If you are like me, you might be wondering just how much of Finebaum's show will remain untouched and how much will be changed.
Part of the reason I became a somewhat regular Finebaum listener was because he had a great stable of guests to call on for some great college football insight. Regular guests included Tony Barnhart, Tim Brando, Dennis Dodd, Bruce Feldman and Dan Wetzel, just to name a few. We have probably heard the last of those names on Finebaum's show as each of those prominent college football media types have contracts with ESPN's competition. Barnhart, Brando, Dodd and Feldman all work for CBS Sports. Wetzel works for Yahoo! It would be uncharacteristic for an ESPN-owned program to welcome guests from CBS Sports on a routine basis, and unlikely to see a top writer from Yahoo! receive a significant portion of air-time on ESPN airwaves. ESPN prefers to keep their voices and guests in-house as much as possible, which means we will probably get more commentary and opinions from more of ESPN's college football personalities.
Fortunately, ESPN has some steady college football analysts they can call on for Finebaum guest spots. Brett McMuprhy and Ivan Maisel, who have also been Finebaum gusts before, will probably be two of the more regular guests, and we should see more Kirk Herbstreit or Joe Schad and perhaps some more from the ESPN college football blog staff covering different conferences. Edward Aschoff and Chris Low, ESPN's SEC bloggers, probably make out better than most in this realm. ESPN does have a quality college football staff working for them, but losing Barnhart and Feldman and Wetzel leaves a lot of ground to make up for the new Finebaum show.
I am also curious how the callers will be handled on the new show. ESPN's radio programs are not generally heavy on callers, base don the times I have listened to national ESPN shows. ESPN will take callers but those calls are generally brief and to the point so that the hosts can expand on their opinions. With Finebaum, callers sometimes make the show, as we know. Harvey Updyke aside, Finebaum had regular callers who would go on tirades blasting Auburn or Alabama, and Finebaum would let them roll with it because he knows people like me sometimes got a kick out of listening to a runaway train. Now that Finebaum is an employee of Disney, will those calls be scaled back in any way? Will the hatred spewing over the phones be as tolerated as Finebaum moves to a more national approach? That is something that can only be answered once the show hits the airwaves in August.
News of Finebaum's return comes at an ironic time of course. Yesterday it was reported that ESPN was laying off between 300 and 400 employees after receiving orders from parent company Disney to begin finding ways to cut back on the budget. Many of those layoffs are related to tech staffing it seems but the cuts do have some on-air casualties as well. The late-night program UNITE, which has welcomed a few members of the Crystal Ball Run staff on to its program in the past, has been canceled. The need for cut backs comes at a time when ESPN is working to gobble up as many media rights deals as they can, with competition increasing from rivals at CBS, NBC and FOX. ESPN has shelled out a lot of money to broadcast college football with deals in place with the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, Pac 12 and more. If the network is going to place such a significant emphasis on college football, they need to have personalities who can sell it. This is Finebaum's expertise. While the details are still unknown (to my knowledge), it is expected that ESPN is placing a pretty decent investment in Finebaum's presence.
A network that has shown a direction to sell personality over substance has been widely criticized for doing so. When we witness the first hand the possibly declining profile of Rick Reilly and have Skip Bayless shoved in our faces, what else could we expect. ESPN likes big names. Paul Finebaum is about as big as they come when it comes to college football media.
I know this. I'll be listening. Will you?