3“In this interactive age, sports talk radio was the first interactive medium,” Keller said. “Sportstalk radio has been connecting from the get-go, and now using the new technologies continues to do so.“Radio’s prominence on this campus [at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn.] has risendramatically in the last few years. It has good business success and great reach and just great numbersto back it up in how many fans are consuming it.”
Following the mission
The way longtime ESPN management consultant Anthony F. Smith tells the story in “ESPN TheCompany,” the idea for the multimedia role that radio could play began in 1991. Corporate partner ABCRadio asked ESPN to provide 30-second spots that could be used during breaks in its regularprogramming. That request triggered some innovative brain cells in Bristol to realize it was time toventure beyond TV in pursuit of the company’s mission.Jim Allegro, who worked on the finance side, approached then-ESPN President Steve Bornsteinwith the idea of starting a national sports radio network. No one had previously been successful withthis idea, so the right man for the job as it turned out was John Walsh, the innovator behind an earlierrevamping of the cable TV icon “SportsCenter” that retains his signature today.“Steve pulled me in an office in New York one afternoon,” Walsh recalled in a recent interviewhe gave to Indiana University’s National Sports Journalism Center. “‘We’re starting this radio and allthese guys are going on the air and we’re not paying them an extra dime. They’re all going to do it. It’sgoing to be part of their assignment.’”With the mission in mind to serve fans, the project began, and it didn’t matter to Walsh whenhe was told he had two months to get the network on the air. That’s a short time for most companies,but for ESPN it seemed about right. Smith’s book details other instances of fast-paced change at ESPNand explains that it’s simply part of the can-do, risk-taking culture that built the company.