With little fanfare, the Washington Redskins’ owner flips the switch today on his latest venture: a collection of three small radio stations that will broadcast Redskins games, ESPN chat programs and an afternoon talk show hosted by former Redskins running back John Riggins. The three stations will go by the somewhat awkward umbrella name “Triple X ESPN Radio.”
The stations, which Snyder (above) bought this year, represent Snyder’s latest effort to capitalize on his crown jewel, the Redskins, a franchise with an estimated value in excess of $1 billion. By doing so, he will take on WTEM (980 AM), until now the only sports-talk station in the area.
The Snyder-controlled company that Zier runs, Red Zebra Broadcasting, is counting on a novel strategy: It will broadcast the same programs simultaneously on all three stations, counting on listeners to find the strongest signal by jumping from one station to the next via preset buttons. A new TV commercial for the stations, starring Riggins, attempts to make a virtue out of this deficiency. Over the sounds of the ESPN “SportsCenter” jingle and “Hail to the Redskins,” an announcer says, “94.3 to the West. 92.7 to the East. And 730 AM all over D.C.”
“It would be better if there were one signal,” said Mark Fratrik, a radio industry expert and vice president of BIA Financial Network, based in Chantilly. “It doesn’t knock me down. . . . If you want to position yourself as the Washington area sports network, not having complete coverage makes it more challenging.”
Can a radio station owned by a team be a fair critic of its owner, its team and the league?
“Talking Redskins works in sports talk every month of the year, but being a team-owned radio station prohibits you from being unbiased no mater what you may hear,” said Dave Pugh, who replaced Zier as regional manager of the Clear Channel stations, including WTEM. “We’ve gotten calls from Redskins management regularly because of not only the fans speaking their minds but our [broadcasters’] perception and opinion as well.”
Last year, for example, the Redskins demanded that WTEM change the hosts of its weekly chat with Coach Joe Gibbs after objecting to the tough questioning of former hosts Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin. The station complied, subbing in Weinstein.
Riggins, who has often been a tough critic of the Redskins since retiring from the team 21 years ago, doesn’t seem to be holding back. Is Snyder, his new boss, thin-skinned, he was asked during an early-morning interview at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown last week.
Riggins considered the question for a moment: “He’s like tissue paper. He’s a very sensitive guy. He reacts to things.” But, he allowed, Snyder may also be misunderstood. “He made a lot of things happen at an early age,” Riggins said. “If I had done many of the things he’d done, I would have been very confused.”