Thoughts on Sports Radio Experts' Best Shows List

Colin Cowherd
Colin Cowherd /

Jason Barrett's BSM released its annual list of the 20 best national sports radio shows today. The list collected votes from 47 radio professionals from 30 cities and 18 companies. The ranking is based on the following criteria: "Strong ratings in 2019, industry track record, reputation, and influence, finished 2019 with the network/station, ability to entertain and inform consistently, points are given for each spot (Eg: 20 for 1st, 1 for 20th)."

While these lists are always fun, and this one is enjoyable, it's left me with several reactions. Here are my thoughts on this year's ranking:

The Herd with Colin Cowherd in first place isn't surprising. Cowherd's show has the most conversation relevance with his solo rants bringing out all kinds of emotions from listeners, viewers, athletes, and competitors. Since moving to FOX, Cowherd has wisely incorporated recurring segments that easily translate to digital videos. Cowherd's talent is indisputable across the radio industry. So much so, in an interview with the New York Post, former ESPN senior vice president of audio Traug Keller openly admitted his biggest regret was letting Cowherd get away. 

The Rich Eisen Show is ranked too high. Eisen's show is not a top-10 sports radio show as it's ranked here. The show struggles to create waves, talking points, or any sort of remembrance. This especially was the case after FOX Sports Radio placed The Herd in the same time slot. The Rich Eisen Show's future is in limbo, as well. As The Big Lead reported, the show needs a new home and its run on FSR is in jeopardy.

Chris "Mad Dog" Russo, Will Cain, and Paul Finebaum should be higher. Of course, on the flip side, a few shows and hosts came in too low.

I wrote last year that Mad Dog Unleashed is in the upper echelon of sports talk. It's puzzling that the Stephen A. Smith Show and the Jim Rome Show come in above it. Smith is at the top mountain in this industry, but his now-concluded radio show was mostly unprepared and consisted of reshuffled, general topics. Rome is a legend, he changed the game, his peak was the greatest of the genre. But it's been some time since he was in the conversation. Russo is electric, hilarious, into the content, and a thrill to listen to.

There weren't 13 sports radio shows better than Will Cain's in 2019. As most industry sources would agree, Cain has found a rapport with his on-air producers and does a traditional sports radio show in the afternoon. Cain's show is the closest representation to what sports fans, not just the ones on social media, are talking, thinking, and arguing about. In ESPN's press release of its radio division's fall ratings, the Will Cain Show experienced the highest growth of them with "an increase of 18 percent across all platforms with M25-54 for the season."

No sports show across the radio airwaves has the impact, influence, and dedication of the Paul Finebaum Show. Finebaum has a rabid fan base and his relationship with the callers couldn't be better if it were scripted. Most of the words uttered by radio host get the listeners to react, and while Finebaum's do that, it more importantly gets the decision-makers in college football to as well. While ranking eighth isn't exactly nothing, it's also not where it should be.

Barstool was snubbed. Of the twenty best national sports radio shows of 2019, Barstool's radio channel on SiriusXM certainly had at least one of them. The Barstool Radio ShowThe Yak, and CCK all made cases for placement on this list. The three shows have everything sports radio shows were meant to have: fun, chemistry, passion, and an audience that plans its day around the air times. Dave Portnoy and Big Cat have also eclipsed several of the hosts on this list in notoriety.