Updated 1/18 with more comments from more former hosts -- UTICA-ROME -- After a run of more than 40 years, the locally-produced and aptly-named sports talk show SportsWatch ended its run on Townsquare Media news/talk station WIBX 950 last Friday night. We've since heard from some of the folks who've hosted SportsWatch over the years, including one of the show's final co-hosts, WIBX program director Jeff Monaski, who explains why the show ended, and how there's a bit of a silver lining to the story.
But before we hear from the last host, we'll start with the very first host. Lee Hamilton is still in sports radio, hosting mornings at The Mighty 1090 in San Diego. Our earlier attempts to reach Hamilton were unsuccessful, but he found the story and wrote to CNYRadio.com on Wednesday afternoon with some helpful WIBX sports history:
WIBX-"SportsWatch" began in 1971 as a Saturday show from 9am-12 Noon. I was the Voice of the Mohawk Valley Comets and the Sports Director at WIBX. We put the talkshow on the air, then expanded our sports coverage, with a 15-minute Sports Roundup show each weeknight 6:15pm. We also brought on New York Yankees baseball (Mon-Fri) and New York Mets baseball (Sat-Sun). We also broadcast the Hall of Fame Cooperstown game, the first time ever, plus Hamilton College and Utica College sports for the first time.
Added 1/17 -- After we posted Lee's original comment, he wrote back with some additional SportsWatch history, and some praise for WIBX's longevity in the Mohawk Valley:
WIBX has had great heritage of announcers, who went on to major league play-by-play jobs.
- Bill O'Donnell, a 1950s broadcaster, went on to become the Voice of the Baltimore Orioles.
- Lee Hamilton, in the 1970s, became the Voice of the NFL-San Diego Chargers and Seattle Seahawks.
- Tim Roye, is now the Voice of the NBA-Golden State Warriors.
- Jim Jackson became the Voice of the of Philadelphia Flyers.
- Mike Haynes became the Voice of the Colorado Avalanche.
Think about that lineage, from one small regional radio station. WIBX's legacy of course goes back to 1925 as a CBS radio affiliate, the era of Eliot Stewart and Fred C. Bowen who ran the stations until the 1980s. I have stayed in touched with many of them, even though ownership has changed multiple times over the last 3 decades. I visit the Mohawk Valley and family every summer and have a cottage in the Adirondacks.
Proud to have started there. It was the 1st Voice of the Mohawk Valley, and is a cornerstone of the community with its News-Talk format. It was a great time to be part of a great regional News-Talk-CBS affiliate. WIBX was the first station upstate to transition from old standards music to News-Talk-Sports, and actually should be saluted today for the resources it invests in manpower to do News-Talk, Newsblocks, and added value to their website. In my industry, I don't see that type of commitment other places.
Longtime local broadcaster Tom Coyne was on board when SportsWatch expanded to five days a week. Coyne is now co-owner and morning show host at 95.5FM/1550AM WUSP and 1480 WRCK, which launched as 24/7 sports simulcast this past summer. His memories and thoughts:
I started on SPORTSWATCH in 1980, it was on Saturday mornings from 9AM to 12PM. In 1981 I was given the opportunity to take the show to weeknights, which I did until Tim Roye replaced me in the SPORTSWATCH seat in 1984 and I took over THE TALK OF CENTRAL NEW YORK.
I give them credit for sticking with the show as long as they did, especially after they de-emphasized their other local talk programming. But, I knew they were looking to kill the show for a while.
SPORTSWATCH was a great deal of fun and WIBX had a great commitment to sports at that time; local sports talk, YANKS & METS, GIANTS, RANGERS, high school sports, UTICA DEVILS, UTICA COLLEGE Div I basketball. It was heaven.
I'm not sure where they're going now. I'm just glad we, at WUSP & WRCK, are trying to keep and grow the local element of this enjoyable part of our lives.
Former SportsWatch host Danny Clinkscale is the co-host of Between the Lines at Union Broadcasting's Sports Radio 810 WHB in Kansas City. Here are his reflections:
Since the hosts of the show are now NFL, NHL, MLB and Major College basketball announcers...and another [works] at the Baseball Hall of Fame...and I am one of them, although not the highest on the tree..it's a great story. Bob Papa, Lee Hamilton, Jim Jackson, Tim Roye, Bruce Markusen, and others. Sad how it slowly died.
Added 1/18 -- It is sad to see a great sports institution in Central New York come to an end. It is too bad that a big part of our industr now for smaller to midsize markets is the preponderance of syndicated programming. Obviously, it is for financial reasons, as the three or four gigantic conglomerates that control radio cut personnel.
Just look at how greatly CNY was served by top shelf talent that went on to great things in the industry.
For most of the time that I was at WIBX, we had a THREE person sports staff. Yes, we had some other duties, but our major one was sports. My time with Jim Jackson and Bruce Markusen there was so fulfilling. We covered so many great events. To have the chance to do play-by-play of a world class road race (Boilermaker), Division One College Hockey (Colgate), AHL Hockey (Devils), Major League Baseball Hall of Fame Game, Utica Blue Sox, What is now the Web.Com golf tour (then the Hogan Tour) and on and on.
But at it's heart was SportsWatch. Not only did we do the 6-8 slot...but basically around events it was an all night type of show, and weekends, too.
It is with great pride I can look back on having been part of it, with all of the incredible talents who preceded and succeeded me. It provided an invaluable base for the balance of my career.
Bruce Markusen enjoyed one of the longest runs as SportsWatch host, from 1987 to 1995. Today, he writes columns for The Hardball Times, and serves as a museum teacher at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Here are the thoughts he shared with CNYRadio.com:
It is sad to hear about its demise, especially given the great tradition of hosts, guests, and excellent local and national sports coverage that Sports Watch has provided over the years.
Just look at the roster of Sports Watch hosts over the years: Danny Clinkscale now does major radio in the Midwest, Jim Jackson is the voice of the Philadelphia Flyers, Bob Papa does play-by-play for the football Giants, Lee Hamilton works at Sirius Radio, and Tim Roye graduated to the NBA. Plus, Adam the Bull is now doing a talk show in Cleveland.
I have many great memories of hosting Sports Watch from 1987 to 1995. First and foremost, I loved taking calls, particularly from avid Mets and Yankee fans who expressed thoughts on trades, controversies, and other major developments. And there were so many opportunities to interview notable sports figures, like Keith Hernandez, Utica native Dave Cash, Mets GM Frank Cashen, ESPN's Dan Patrick and Chris Myers, Howie Rose, Rangers broadcaster Sal Messina, Whitesboro's Mark Lemke, Dave Jennings of the Giants, and a slew of players from the Utica Blue Sox and the Utica Devils.
A show like Sports Watch, which gave us a chance to do longform commentaries and gave listeners the opportunity to sound off, should still have a place in a smaller market like Utica. I hope that someone else in Utica or nearby will give a Sports Watch-format a try.
Brent Axe got involved with SportsWatch in 1996, first as an intern, then producer for Brad Davies. When Davies left, Axe took over as host until 2002. After several years in Syracuse sports radio and TV, Axe recently joined syracuse.com as a Sports Community Engagement Specialist. He also shared his SportsWatch memories and reflections with CNYRadio.com:
I'm very sad to hear "Sportswatch" has come to an end. Doing that show, first with Brad Davies then as host, will forever hold some of my favorite professional and personal memories. It was honor to take the baton from some of the great names before me who hosted that show and interact with the great sports fans in the Mohawk Valley. "Sportswatch" has a legacy as strong as any sports-talk show in the country and existed before sports-talk radio exploded in this country. It's a sad day for radio in the Mohawk Valley.
Added 1/17 -- Adam "the Bull" Gerstenhaber was next to host the program. These days, he's talking sports on the radio every afternoon on Cleveland's 92.3 The Fan, and as of earlier this month, he's also on CBS Sports Radio Network affiliates nationwide every Saturday night from 10pm to 2am Eastern. His reflections from working at WIBX:
I loved my time working for WIBX and hosting SportsWatch. It was my first job as a sports talk show host and I learned great lessons there that I have taken with me to NYC and Cleveland. I worked with some amazing people...especially my good friend Jon Meyer, who hosted some shows himself.
I remember taking over SportsWatch in the summer of 2002 just a few weeks before the Boilermaker and I had to put together the broadcast in a short period of time. I was pretty lost for awhile but, got it together and had a great broadcast. I loved covering that race.
Some of my fondest memories with WIBX was doing play by play for Utica College. I still remember 2 of my regular callers Jim and Lance...they were a riot. It is sad to see SportsWatch go.
With the addition of Adam's comments, we also want to add our thanks to CNYRadio.com readers who reminded us David Vander Wende took over when Adam the Bull left WIBX, and hosted the show until 2007.
That's when Gene Conte and Fred Miller started co-hosting SportsWatch. Conte became WIBX's program director duties in 2008. The pair left WIBX in 2011 to work for Galaxy's ESPN Radio Utica-Rome 99.1/1310 (WTLB/WRNY/WIXT), where Conte is PD and the pair co-host "The Cheap Seats" on weekday afternoons. Gene Conte shared some candid reflections on SportsWatch and other changes at WIBX:
I was certainly happy to be part of SportsWatch.
I would like to correct you on the time slot. The show was only on from 3 to 5 for about 2 years when myself and Fred did the show. It went back to it’s 6 to 8 slot after TownSquare bought the station. [Editor's note: Thanks for pointing this out; our original story from Friday has been corrected.]
My personal opinion was management at both TownSquare and before that Regent had little interest in sports at all, it came in handy around Boilermaker and Heart Run time. The big problem, they did not know how to sell it, and put very little effort into it. Even though Fred and My Home Town Sports was the catalyst in bringing High School play-by-play back to the area in a way not heard in this area before.
And for this last go around, they had a sales guy on the show and they didn’t sell it.
TownSquare is proud to list NASCAR and the NFL on their list of programming, all brought in when I was Program Director there. Not to mention, Glenn Beck, and Fox News.
As for Don Liable’s comment that Adam the Bull was the last legit host of SportsWatch: I laugh in his general direction.
RIP SportsWatch, you were a victim of FM Sports Radio.
Last but not least, we heard from WIBX program director Jeff Monaski, who co-hosted SportsWatch with Ray Rich during the past year and a half since Conte and Miller left the station. Monaski explained the reasons behind the decision to cancel SportsWatch (you'll note if there's any silver lining to this cloud, it's the fact that nobody lost their jobs as a result of the show's cancellation) and he points out that the end of SportsWatch doesn't mean the end of all sports programming on WIBX:
We decided that station personalities needed to focus on our 'full-time' jobs, if you will. Ray is in sales and I am the Program Director/ Brand Manager. Not that either of us were neglecting our duties at the station, but it's not like the old days when [there was] a Sports Director position - which for many years was accompanied by an Assistant Sports Director role - and your job was to cover and comment on sports, local or national. Having full time responsibilities during the day makes it very difficult to cover local sports at night or on weekends, and as our station and company grow - especially our online presence - we all felt our time was better spent focusing on our main roles, while continuing to offer sports on our website.
While the locally hosted sports talk is going away, we expect to continue to carry the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and the NFL ---regular season Sunday games, prime time (Mon, Thurs, and Sun night football) and all the playoff games including the Super Bowl.
Ray and I LOVED doing the show, and hope that at some point in the future, SportsWatch can return in some fashion - maybe segments online, or back on the air evenings or possibly weekends.
The history of the show is magnificent...from Clinkscale, to Tim Roye to Adam the Bull, Bruce Markusen, to Brad and Brent, Jim Jackson and Hacksaw Hamilton, among others...we truly felt privileged to co-host SportsWatch knowing there were so many talented and successful broadcasters who had sat in those seats before.
CNYRadio.com would like to thank all of these gentlemen for taking the time to respond to our request for thoughts, memories, reflections and comments about the long history of SportsWatch. Your time and words are appreciated. CNYRadio.com also attempted to contact some of the other hosts listed here -- including Tim Roye, Brad Davies, and Jim Jackson, but we either couldn't track down appropriate contact info, or we did not receive a response to our email inquiry. (It wasn't that we forgot about them or ignored them, or anyone else whose names we may have inadvertently omitted.)
As a result of SportsWatch ending, Monaski points out the following changes to the WIBX program schedule:
CNYRadio.com has also learned of some staffing changes elsewhere within WIBX, as a result of the recent arrival of Bill Keeler as morning drive host. News anchor/reporter Branden Block tells CNYRadio.com his last shift at WIBX was on Sunday, but since he was notified earlier in the week, he was able to work his contacts and line-up a new job elsewhere in the media world (he chose not to disclose the details). And Jim Rondinelli, who spent many years working an extremely early shift to prepare morning drive newscasts for WIBX and its sister stations, now gets to sleep in a little later -- he has moved to the dayside shift.