O'Donnell: Pedigreed Karmazin preparing to take his shot with moribund AM-1000

  • Craig Karmazin is taking over management of and will attempt to breathe new life into ESPN AM-1000.

    Craig Karmazin is taking over management of and will attempt to breathe new life into ESPN AM-1000. Courtesy of Good Karma Brands

 
Updated 9/11/2019 3:01 PM

CRAIG KARMAZIN is 44 years old, indisputably pedigreed to the highest level of radio achievement in North America and a fellow of no small ambition.

That's why recent news that he and his Wisconsin-based Good Karma Brands will be taking over management of dormant ESPN AM-1000 under a lease agreement at the end of the month caught the attention of so many in the business of sports broadcasting.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The station is as irrelevant as break dancing.

It has few listeners, little impacting talent and a tapped-out management as deep in vision and execution as Lori Loughlin college shopping for her daughters.

Under gummy station boss Jim Pastor, AM-1000 finished 25th in a 30-station market during the August Nielsen Audios, clocking in with an all-ages share of 1.5.

And that was a reasonably good book by Pastor standards.

He'll be "retiring" at the end of the year and Karmazin will be formally entering Sept. 29.

But, experts are asking, to accomplish exactly what?

The idea that AM-1000 will actually become a viable competitor solely as a Chicago-based radio entity seems almost ready for the Chipped Rex storage bin at The Field Museum of Natural History.

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Consider:

• AM radio is dying;

• AM radio as a method of reaching Gen Z -- people born after 1995 -- is laughably ineffective;

• Sports talk radio in Chicago has plateaued, with AM-1000 and WSCR-AM (670) essentially jousting month after month for 5 percent of an aging metro audience and "The Score" consistently winning.

So why would Karmazin cast his lot in the nation's third-largest market with his GKB, a comparatively small-time player that upped its game last year with the purchase of Milwaukee cornerstone WTMJ-AM -- radio home to the Brewers, the Bucks and the Green Bay Packers?

In a terabyte, the answer is:

Digital.

That is, the concept that an operator such as GKB will take a legacied frequency and spin down from the brand to explore new ways of delivering micro-targetted audiences to advertisers via app-driven distribution.

Karmazin needs to restore AM-1000's primary over-the-air product to respectability.

But with that cachet in Chicago, he will concurrently be utilizing an uber-aggressive sales staff and increasingly enhanced technologies to try and gain generations that terrestrial radio -- and especially any form of talk radio -- is missing.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

For current on-air staff at AM-1000 -- even lone star Tom Waddle and such timeworn teammates as Marc Silverman and David Kaplan -- all it means is that the future is uncertain and the end is always near.

For AM-1000 brand followers, it should mean more micro-delivery of product, potentially from deepest backstage Bears on down to the wicked wickets of cricket.

If Karmazin can make it happen -- just as his legendary father Mel Karmazin did in making Howard Stern the megastar he is and in refining much of what is now SiriusXM -- he wins big.

And if he doesn't?

Oh well. … It was a lost and fading signal to begin with.

And he can simply hand the transmitter key back to station owner ESPN.

STREET-BEATIN': Strong feeling that the betting public is believing the least obstructive offense will win the Bears-Denver game on Sunday (Fox-32, 3:20 p.m.). Line float was a pick 'em, opened at Broncos -1 and has now moved to Matt Nagy and his unpredictables -- 2½. (Nice if David Montgomery is treated as something more than a minor carnival trinket; Denver should be higher than the day Pike peaked.) … Hours after his late-game theatrics on "Monday Night Football," Drew Brees -- age 40 -- was munching on fruits and grains tables away from Zion Williamson -- age 19 -- in the cafeteria at New Orleans's Ochsner Center. (The Saints and Pelicans share the mod-tech training facility in suburban Metairie; Widowed heiress Gayle Benson is the principal owner of both teams.) … From the book-it-and-bank-it drum, Joe Maddon and the no-luck Cubs are now the No. 7 choice in L.V. at 24-1 to win the World Series. (Only Don Quixote and Andrew Yang believers could go for that type of sky pilot.) Top three: the Astros (2-1), the Dodgers (5-2) and the Yankees (7-1). … Attendees reported that Illinois Wesleyan's very own Jack Sikma brought along the "most organic" following to last weekend's Naismith Basketball Hall induction ceremonies. Sikma had close to 100 friends and family members at a primary event that did not sell out. (Most moving speech, according to observers, was delivered by WNBA icon Teresa Weatherspoon.) … This week marks the 81st anniversary of the birth of Keith Reinhard, The Daily Herald sports writer who walked off the face of the earth near Silver Plume, Colo., in August 1988. It remains impossible to fully explain what relentless positivism and intellectual vigor Reinhard and sports editor Bob Frisk brought to Paddock Publications during critical decades of ascent. … That "Today Show" segment on Melissa Isaacson and her new book "State" (Agate Publishing, $27) is now scheduled to air between 9 and 10 a.m. Friday. … Lovie Smith and his Champaign grinders -- without star RB Reggie Corbin -- struggled with the musketry at UConn but can move to 3-0 for the first time since 2011 vs. visiting Eastern Michigan (1-1) on Saturday (BTN, AM-890, 11 a.m.). Funny if the Illini's Nov. 30 date against visiting Northwestern matches two 5-win teams in search of participation-bowl eligibility. … Report that if the Bears open 0-3, Ed O'Bradovich is threatening to open another restaurant. … And The New York Daily News -- obviously a forgiving sort after both the Jets and Giants went down hard in Week One of NFL '19 -- headlined: "Only 154 days until pitchers and catchers report."

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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