Sports radio, whether locally or nationally, remains the last holdout in media diversity.
Since its advent in the 1980s, sports radio voices over the years have been mainly White, programmed by Whites, seemingly only for White listeners. If by chance a Black host is heard, typically that person was a former pro athlete as opposed to someone who’s Black and trained as a broadcaster.
Also, it has been alleged that Blacks don’t listen to sports radio. I’ve listened to sports radio since its beginning, but in recent years I’ve stayed away from it simply because I’m tired of hearing the same old White voices, or even new White voices who lack personality and are barely knowledgeable in sports.
Jason Barrett in his sports radio blog (sportsradiopd.com) has pointed out that sports radio’s current state is due to station management and program directors “being heavily Caucasian and refusing to step outside of their comfort zones.” He found in 2015 that Minneapolis, among the top 20 U.S. markets with sports stations, had 10 Whites as weekday on-air hosts and zero Blacks in similar roles on the two local sports stations.
Two years later, nothing has changed.
“The issue I have with sports radio all over the country [is that] you can have a White host, two White hosts, and think nothing of it from AM to PM. But if there’s a Black guy, I say there’s an 80-95 percent chance he’s a former athlete,” noted Washington D.C. radio host-producer Kevin Stanfield.
On this historically racial double standard that exists in sports radio, “You don’t have to be former athlete [if you are] White to get a job in sports radio,” continued Stanfield, who works part-time at a D.C. station that carries NBA, NHL and college sports.
Stanfield got his start in sports radio simply as a caller to the Tony Kornheiser Show years ago when the PTI co-host had a D.C. daily radio show. “I was a big fan,” recalled Stanfield.
“Tony’s style is a little different. I was a regular caller. I did a comedy routine every Friday that lasted a couple of months in 1997. At the end of the year, ESPN Radio was starting 24/7 and was putting up Tony to do a national show,” said Stanfield.
Kornheiser as a result asked Stanfield to join the show as board operator — Stanfield then was working part time at a local station in a similar position after he was laid off from a job at IBM. He accepted the host’s offer, and ESPN picked him up each morning “in a limo” for work at the network’s Connecticut studios.
“I didn’t know whether to sit in the front or the back,” he joked. “That lasted for five years.” He also worked at XM Radio before it merged with Sirius.
“I just love the concept of radio,” noted Stanfield, a military veteran who enlisted at age 17 and worked in corporate America after his discharge. However, after getting into it, he soon found out that radio is not only a “cut-throat” business but also a racial brick wall for Blacks seeking regular weekday sports radio hosting jobs.
That brick wall will exist as long as sports radio and its movers and shakers stay inflexible and White. “We can talk about these problems until we’re blue in the face, but what our industry needs now are solutions,” stated Barrett.
“[That] I don’t have a [regular] show because I didn’t play [pro] ball is what disturbs me,” concluded Stanfield.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.