O'Donnell: AM 1000 shocks the market with hiring of Boston's 'Hub happening' Thomas

  • ESPN AM-1000 is expected to be a whole lot different once Mike Thomas arrives from Boston.

    ESPN AM-1000 is expected to be a whole lot different once Mike Thomas arrives from Boston.

Updated 10/9/2019 2:05 PM

FROM MUNDANE to pandering to unlistenable trash, few can argue sports talk radio in Chicago doesn't have it all.

As a point of civic pride, the numbing genre checks in somewhere around privatized parking meters and ceaseless seasonal road repair.


That's why news that Craig Karmazin and his Good Karma Brands are bringing Mike Thomas in from Boston as the new overseer of flatlining ESPN AM-1000 shocked and awed.

This is a station after all, that has been in free fall for over a decade as concept-free Jim Pastor gave fellow career media mediocrities everywhere a bad name.

Now Karmazin -- who officially took over through a local marketing agreement with ESPN only last week -- actually has the audaciousness to rattle the dead mule train by hiring Thomas, a successful sports programming exec in one of the most rabid sports talk towns in the nation.

Since 2009, he has been one of the driving forces behind WBZ-FM, once a CBS afterthought that became "The Sports Hub" that year.

With legacied market sports leader WEEI-AM to chase, Thomas and associates have proved to be a terrestrial radio version of the New England Patriots.

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On Thomas's watch, WBZ-FM leapfrogged the smug WEEI, sometimes even snatching monthly audience numbers averaging above 10.

Chicago's tweedle-dee WSCR-AM (670) normally leads locally with a Cubs-dependent 3.4 or so.

Thomas and tablemates also completed a weighty rights superfecta that includes the Pats, the Celtics, the Bruins and soccer's Revolution.

Morning cornerstones at WBZ-FM throughout the golden years have been a pair of recycled rock jocks tagged "Toucher & Rich" (Fred Toucher and Rich Shertenlieb).

Despite their admitted lack of sports authority and 50-50 shots at being consistent funnymen, the duo has been good enough.

And local.

Thomas doesn't assume his AM-1000 chair until January.

But his priorities are clear, including ditching the day-deflating ESPN national morning show, hiring a bevy of fresh and engaging talent and crafting an overall product as quickly as possible to promote, sell and compete.


A critical challenge will be acquiring major play-by-play properties while fostering a high degree of credible independent analysis from on-air staff.

At point of entry, it's a teardown situation.

And some industry astute say that if Thomas's efforts fulfill Karmazin's master blueprint, an outright settlement will end the leasing and follow with a move to an FM frequency.

But in the meantime, in a compartment of too much crud, there is at long last a hint of hope in the air for the underserved Chicago sports talk devotee.

STREET-BEATIN': Quick fix for Adam Silver over the Daryl Morey NBA-Hong Kong contretemps: Send Dennis Rodman to Beijing to try and pacify Chinese president and "paramount leader" Xi Jinping. … Amazing upset in the making if Tampa Bay can take down host Houston in Game 5 of their ALDS Thursday (FS1, 7 p.m.). Astros are essentially a 1-3 favorite with good reason: With Gerrit Cole or Justin Verlander pitching at home, HOU has outscored the Rays 8-0; any other circumstance, it's TB 17-5. (Cole starts G5.) … Rob Gronkowski joins the Fox roundtable with Terry Bradshaw, Michael Strahan and Tony Gonzalez before the Giants-Patriots game Thursday night (Pregame, 6:30 p.m.). NE's defense has been remarkable. … All apologists noted, but the Ryan Pace-Matt Nagy decision to have the Bears arrive in the U.K. Friday morning was a mistake. File it under "Weak End in London."… Brent Musburger -- age 80 -- made the Las Vegas to Tottenham trolley to call play-by-play for the Raiders flagship KCBS-AM and was back at Vegas Stats and Info (vsin.com) on Monday. (He has one year remaining on his LAR radio deal and that will be the team's inaugural season in L.V.) … On the subject of sports travel, longest regular annual flights are for the home-and-home between the Tokyo Sunwolves and the Buenos Aires Jaguares of the Super Rugby union. Distance each way is 11,000 miles (long enough to watch the entire "Harry Potter" film series plus Bears highlights from London). … Hard not to notice that Wisconsin (5-0) has more wins than all three Illinois FBS schools combined: Illinois (2-3), Northwestern (1-4) and Northern Illinois (1-4). Paul Chryst and the Badgers need a lot of things to go their way to get to the Big Ten title game positioned to make the CFP, including a regular-season finale against P.J. Fleck and surprising Minnesota (5-0). … Why are there so many rumors flying around the White Sox broadcast scheme for 2020? It goes beyond Ed Farmer's health. (Tweet-intense Steve Stone would be an intriguing "get" for the Cubs Marquee Sports Network.) … Carlos Boozer -- the futile former Bull whose lone major championship came with Duke in 2001 -- has joined ESPN's fledgling ACC network as a contributing analyst. … And free agency-bound Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon -- perhaps the most overlooked superstar in baseball -- on why he skips watching MLB games on TV in favor of fare like The History Channel, told media: "Most games are too long and boring."

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

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