When the Padres shopped around their reported $2M radio rights package, ditched 1090, and moved to FM 94.9, the questions that were raised focused on the limited geographic range of an FM station. At the same time, people speculated just what the plan was for 94.9. I’d heard theories that the station would convert over to an all-sports format, wondered if it would switch to a new hot talk format, or my personal hope, utilize their (then) existing personnel, specifically Cantore and (or) Woods, to do things like the pre or postgame show to have crossover appeal. None of these appear to be happening. Regardless, the expectation was that 94.9 and the Padres had some kind of plan was assumed. Maybe they do. But if they do, they definitely do not how to execute the plan.
Enter Rich Herrera. I was let in early on the fact that 94.9 was bringing in a huge Giants fan from Florida before the hiring was announced. Herrera was being hired as the head of Padres radio, but also had ample on-air experience. There were a lot of local possibilities both in the local sports radio industry and at 94.9 itself (Woods is a huge baseball guy that’s done well making the Padres podcast rounds as a guest), and I think the hiring of Herrera caused a lot of consternation that the station went with their out of town guy instead of someone in the market. After all, with the Chargers leaving, this job is one of the premier big sports jobs left in the market. Part of me thinks I was clued into Herrera’s hiring to crush him for being a mega-Giants fan, but I decided to hold back until I saw what he could do and to see his radio strategy play out a little. Well, a few months have gone by and the strategy, if you could even call it that, is going dreadfully.
Dave Palet and Jeff Dotseth, on their delightful podcast, discussed how they had no idea what the Padres radio strategy was. By the next day, Padres brass called Jeff to fill them in that the master plan was to create fans out of non-sports fan 94.9 listeners. They believe that Padres fans will find the broadcast on whatever station it’s on, while having games on 94.9 will pull in younger, casual or non-fans that are accustomed to listening to music. On paper, I guess you could come up with ways this strategy COULD work. Unfortunately, the execution doesn’t create a lot of confidence. You stick a pre-game host that has credibility and familiarity with the existing alternative rock listener base to transition from 21 Pilots over to baseball and I could at least see the plan in play. Woods was the guy. Knows baseball, knows the Padres, is well liked by the core 94.9 listeners. I didn’t think this would realistically happen, but Cantore, a decidedly casual Padres fan, could have provided even more casual or non-fan crossover appeal to reach that new 94.9 audience. Of course, this didn’t happen. 94.9 fired them in favor of a morning zoo duo from Long Island, while Rich Herrera hired himself to do the pre AND post game shows. If you haven’t listened to Herrera, listen to him on a podcast he did with pre-fired Cantore and Woods. He is a classic radio guy, complete with big, fake radio voice and tries to be edgy by talking about attractive young women. He brags on his Twitter (@rbirich) about dining at Hard Rock Cafe and Hooters. This is not a guy that the 94.9 listenerbase is going to embrace with open arms. Here’s a thing I’ve learned by being a talk radio fan: when I have non-talk radio fans in my car, they demand music, they will not tolerate me putting on talk radio. The listeners that are listening to 94.9 for the music are not necessarily going to embrace a middle aged radio guy, let alone a middle aged radio guy with a fake radio voice talking about the 65 win Padres. Cantore and (or) Woods were the perfect transitional host(s) to bring these new listeners into the Padres fold. Even the Padres marketing brass saw this, I believe. I was clued into the fact that Wayne Partello himself recommended two names to 94.9 for the postgame show, both who have previously taken paychecks from the team (gotta control the message!), but who would have been far better choices to bridge the 94.9 to Padres gap. These recommendations appear to have been summarily dismissed by 94.9 brass in favor of noted Giants fan and Dodger podcaster (he does a podcast with Kevin Kennedy discussing the Dodgers) Rich Herrera taking on all roles.
So the talent choices are questionable. On top of that, 94.9 for some reason is pushing a majority of Spring Training games onto their KSON partner. To me, it’s not a great sign that 94.9 isn’t fully embracing their role as the Padres radio partner. This would be workable if there was any kind of outreach between Padres Radio and the fanbase, but they are failing at even accomplishing a bare bones social media campaign. Their primary Twitter handle, @PadresRadio, has approximately 150 Twitter followers, or the average number of followers a random egg account has. The account generates very little original content and primarily retweets Padres official tweets or team employees, giving fans VERY little reason to follow the Twitter account. Here are some examples of the GREAT CONTENT on @padresradio:
In case you were wondering, 2017 Topps cards came out a month before this Tweet.
This creates an issue because, to his credit, Herrera is creating a handful of Padres Radio podcasts which primarily interview team employees (raising the question of whether he’ll be another bought and paid for yes man of the team). Unfortunately, these podcasts aren’t available anywhere except on 94.9’s website. No iTunes, no Stitcher, no Google Play. And the only realistic way to find out when one exists is to follow @PadresRadio, which clearly, no one is doing. In no way should Marver and I ever have more knowledge and execution of running a podcast than a professional media organization, but here we are.
With Herrera taking on the head producer gig, and both on-air talent roles, the entire Padres Radio strategy is hinging on one man. With all the work to be done building a Padres Radio infrastructure at an alt rock station, already a ballsy and risky endeavor, Herrera is off touring Los Angeles, doing Dodger podcasts with Kevin Kennedy still, posing with MMA belts, and unironically bragging about eating at the local Hooters franchise. If the master plan is to rely primarily on interviews with team employees then there’s really no reason to tune into Herrera’s shows or podcasts; we can get that team employee viewpoint on padres.com already which will be immediately mirrored by the Union Tribune.
Did I mention that 94.9’s signal doesn’t cover San Diego County, let alone into contested areas like Riverside County or Imperial County. Meanwhile, the Padres are one of the only teams in MLB with literally zero radio network affiliates. It’s 94.9’s signal or bust. And while Herrera and 94.9 are floundering while twiddling their thumbs to yet another spin of Sublime, the previous flagship, 1090, sent their talent to Peoria to report from Spring Training last week. But of course, Mike Dee and Wayne Partello focused on short term profit via an excessive rights fee as opposed to long term support and sales development that having a presence on a station like 1090 (that is primarily listened to by ex-Chargers fans, the most available potential customer base right now) would bring. Short term profit no matter the future cost was the modus operandi of the Dee regime, and it appears Partello is pushing to die on the same hill.
The Padres and FM 94.9 strategy is just baffling at this point. The personnel decisions, the rights fee decision, the marketing strategy, the execution, all of it is just baffling. You won’t catch me saying the Padres don’t come up with good ideas. They do. But every time they have a chance to execute said good idea (the Wooden Classic comes to mind), they find a way to botch it during the execution phase. Let’s hope someone realizes they are headed down yet another path of failure and fixes things with Padres Radio before it’s too late. This period is critical for the Padres to capture new fans and establish themselves as the de facto sports team in town. Botching the radio programming would be a terrible blow to these efforts.