ESPN Radio is replacing the Stephen A. Smith Show with First Take, Your Take with Jason Fitz, the network announced today. ESPN may think replaying segments of First Take then getting reactions to Smith and Max Kellerman quotes like they are on American Idol is clever, but it is not. This idea is doomed.
ESPN explained how the program, which begins on January 20, will work:
"The most compelling debates by Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman will be utilized to set the table to expand on the top stories of the day with additional opinions, conversation and dissection. Smith will regularly join Fitz on the show to provide his unique brand of commentary. A powerful lineup of sport-specific experts, as well as callers, will add their reactions to propel the discussion during the 1-3 p.m."
Just the idea of this is head-scratching. Radio thrives on up-to-the-minute, live content. Creating a show around segments that aired earlier is the exact opposite of that. It's not even clear who the target audience is here.
Smith's radio show is mostly made up of calls. It's not uncommon for callers to begin their questions by asking him to elaborate on a statement he made that morning on First Take, showing that a large portion of the radio program's listeners are also consumers of his television show. It's hard to fathom them now tuning in to hear what he already said an hour earlier five days per week. If they wanted that, they could just rewind First Take on their DVRs, watch it on-demand on the ESPN App, watch the videos on social media, or, wait for it... listen to the podcast version of the show. There is essentially no need for this type of show on radio-- or anywhere else. In fact, it's easy to assume it will be a worse option than the First Take podcast as it will feature random callers that have long been a detriment to most national sports radio shows.
This certainly does not sound like a move that will satisfy affiliates either. There was already a strong case that airing local programming was the superior option.
ESPN had other options to replace Smith. Moving Will Cain up from 3-6, for example, checked off all the boxes; his show has been a success, is growing, and actually is built like a sports radio show. Cain has become one of the best solo ranters in the genre and has one of the top national sports radio shows. Quality-wise, it would have even been an improvement over Smith, as Cain's shows consist of far more original content and thoughts.
Jorge Sedano would have also been a better solution. Sedano has a proven track record in several of the markets that carry the 1-3 time slot. This includes Los Angeles, which is now the most important affiliate with ESPN New York 98.7 going local from 1-3 p.m. ET.
Even if Fitz performs well, and he likely will, it won't be able to outweigh this ridiculous format. Nor could any other host in a role that is essentially DJing television segments.
This time slot is also not an area where the World Wide Leader reigns supreme. It goes up against the final two hours of The Herd with Colin Cowherd on Fox Sports Radio. Smith has a reputation for being on top of the mountain in sports media, but he is not in terms of sports radio, where Cowherd has been the best for the better part of the past five years. This move is undisputedly a win for Cowherd.
If the results of this decision are negative, like predicted here, at least ESPN has an easy way out. As reported by The Big Lead, Trey Wingo wants off Golic & Wingo by next football season. If and when ESPN moves Wingo, they can introduce a new radio lineup (again), which was already needed since Fox Sports Radio became a better listen, kicking the day off at 6 a.m. as ESPN Radio fails to entertain going up against Clay Travis.
First Take is the most-discussed daily sports show, Stephen A. Smith goes viral weekly, and Max Kellerman's arguments make you think. However, there is a reason your local radio show isn't getting knocked off the air for The Rachel Maddow Show, Hannity, NBC Nightly News, or the Today Show-- because putting television shows on radio is unnecessary and a horrible replacement for a radio show.