British Columbia

All-sports radio war about to hit Vancouver airwaves

A battle is looming for the hearts, minds and ears of local sports fans with a new all-sports radio station set to launch in two weeks.

Sportsnet 650 becomes second all-sports radio station in Vancouver market on Sept. 4

The sports radio landscape in Vancouver is about to become awfully crowded with the Sportsnet 650 launching Sept. 4. (CBC)

A battle is looming for the hearts, minds and ears of local sports fans with a new all-sports radio station set to launch in two weeks.  

But can this market support two all-sports radio stations?

In one corner you have the 16-year veteran TSN 1040 — undisputed champion in what has mostly been a field of one.

In the other corner, the contender, Sportsnet 650 —  scheduled to hit the airwaves Sept. 4. A rookie sure, but poised to punch above its weight as the new owner of the Vancouver Canucks radio broadcast rights.

Steve Darling, Mira Laurence and James Cybulski are hosts of the new Sportsnet 650 morning show. (James Cybulski/Twitter)

"It's the one difference maker," said Craig MacEwen, programming director for Sportsnet 650.

Canucks, Canucks and more Canucks

"The number one sports brand in this city and province is the Vancouver Canucks and now that brand is on Sportsnet — TV, radio, digital and the Hockey Night in Canada tie-in.

"It's a really big advantage. We can use both TV and radio to push and promote each other. TV games can draw attention to the radio post game program ... and to our drive show and others," MacEwen said.

Rogers plucked the Canucks radio rights away from TSN 1040's owner Bell Media back in March, putting an end to an 11-year relationship between the hockey team and station.

TSN 1040 morning hosts Dave Pratt and Bro Jake. (TSN)

A month later, Rogers announced it had acquired oldies station CISL 650 and was turning it into an all-sports radio station with the Canucks as its anchor property. 

Like all major Canadian cities hockey drives the boat, and the ratings for all-sports radio. Last year, audience numbers for TSN 1040 grew substantially when the NHL season began, only to fall off as it became apparent how much the Canucks were going to struggle.

Stick with the program

TSN 1040 can't call itself "the home of the Vancouver Canucks" any longer, but Canuck programming will be as prominent as ever, according to TSN Radio director of programming Rob Gray.

And as for competing with the new kid on the block, the plan at 1040 is to stick with the program. 

"I cannot speak to what Rogers financial benchmarks might be, but we will be successful going forward," said Gray. 

"What I have seen over the 16 years that we have been on the air, is that despite the ebbs and flows of success on-ice or on-field with the Canucks, B.C. Lions, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, among others, is that the appetite for compelling, engaging, personality-driven, and locally focused sports talk radio really never wavers."

Gray says 1040 will "continue to work hard and be the voice of Canucks Nation" and points to the hiring of former Canucks' assistant general manager Laurence Gilman, and the rehiring of Canucks reporter Jeff Paterson as moves made to bolster that pledge.

Kurtenbloggers weekdays

Last week the station also announced a new 9 a.m. to noon show hosted by Mike Halford and Jason Brough, the pair of writers and weekend radio show hosts formerly known as the Kurtenbloggers.

"They have the perfect personalities for our format," said Gray. 

Sportsnet 650 has also been busy announcing new hires, including Brendan Batchelor and former Canucks goalie Corey Hirsch as the play-by-play and analyst team.

Sports-guy-turned-news-guy-turned-politician Steve Darling returns to his roots as co-anchor of the morning show alongside James Cybulski and Vancouver Island sports fixture Mira Laurence. 

And former TSN 1040 personality and B.C. Lions game caller Scott Rintoul will team up with new-to-Vancouver Andrew Walker for the important afternoon drive show, which leads into Canucks game broadcasts.

Game of Thrones over Seinfeld

MacEwen says an announcement of the full roster of on-air talent is imminent and will highlight youth and diversity, something that will also set 650 apart from the definitively male, middle aged and white competition at 1040.

"We will skew 20s, 30s and 40s because in my opinion a new voice needs to be heard," he said. "If you talk to a lot of people in the market they want to hear a different take — they don't necessarily want to hear references to Seinfeld, they want to hear something about Game of Thrones."