The Top Rated Sports Talk Stations In the Country

Published on: February 07, 2012 | Written by: Clay Travis

Our radio show here in Nashville, 3HL, went to the Super Bowl last week and broadcast live from radio row. A big part of the job on radio row is booking guests. But given the vast number of stations this occcurs in a mostly haphazard fashion. Public relations staff attempt to get their clients on as many stations in as many different markets as possible, but those PR staff don't have any actual data to determine which stations are popular and which aren't.

Instead the size of the city is used as a proxy for how many people listen.

Then PR staff can brag that they got their clients on a long list of cities. But what if you go on stations in those markets that no one actually listens to? Then you've just wasted your time and your actual results are worthless.

Basically it's stupid and lazy to use the city that the show appears in to serve as a proxy for how many people are listening.

Lots of big city sports talk shows have relatively small listening audiences and lots of smaller cities have large audiences.

Ultimately, being on the largest station in a good-size market is better than being on the second or third -- and sometimes first -- rated station in a large market.

But where was the sports talk data to compare respective stations across the country?

That is, what sports stations really own their individual markets in the country? That data doesn't seem to actually exist. At least not in a way that's easily accessible.

That's never made sense to me. After all, if local sports talk radio is bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars a year in ad revenue -- and it is -- how is it that you can't compare stations?

Especially as we enter an era where you'll be able to stream any show from any city at any point in time.

Isn't it important to see who actually wins in their local market?

Well, after a discussion about the lack of this data on our drive back from Indianapolis, my co-host on 3HL Brent Dougherty went to work tracking down the numbers for top sports stations across the country.

We knew, for instance, that our station, 104.5, and the shows on it ranked very highly. (In fact, 104.5 the Zone is presently the highest rated station among adults in the city of Nashville. This is virtually unheard of for a sports talk station.) But where were the other dominant sports stations in the nation? And how did we stack up?

In other words, if you were a PR person and wanted to ensure that your clients got the most bang for their buck, which stations would you try to book them on?

Well, here's the list of the highest rated sports talk stations in the nation. (Note: these are based on top 60 radio markets in the country. Therefore these are the highest ranked sports talk stations in the top 60 markets in the country. Why did we pick 60? Because that got every city with a pro sports franchise. And some, like Birmingham, without a pro franchise.)

This data is based on the November 2011 PPM book, the most recent non-holiday based data book to use. These numbers are for adults 6+ Monday-Sunday 6 am to 12 am and the data is from radio-info.com. Therefore, these are the broadest possible data encompassing all shows that air on a station from six in the morning to 12 at night. There are all sorts of ratings metrics, but these are the only available public data to compare sports stations. So it doesn't prove, for instance, whether a specific show in a morning or afternoon drivetime market outperforms others, for instance. It also doesn't specify just men, which many sports talk stations use to trumpet ratings. But it does take the entire impact of a station into account across the board which is actually the most fair way to look at a station's reach into a market.  

So here goes with the top 21:

1. Nashville 104.5 the Zone 8.1

2. Birmingham WJOX 7.0

3. Detroit WXYT   6.8

4. Columbus WBNS 6.8

5. St. Louis WXOS 5.5

6. Buffalo WGR 5.1

7. Oklahoma City WWLS 4.9

8. Minneapolis KFXN 4.8 

9. Baltimore WJZ 4.7 

10. Pittsburgh KDKA 4.4

11. Kansas City WHB 4.3

12. Boston WBZ 4.1

13. Boston WEEI 3.8

14. San Franciso KNBR 3.4

15. Seattle KIRO 3.1

15. Dallas KESN 3.1

17. Washington D.C. WTEM 3.0

18. Dallas The Ticket 2.9

18. Philly WIP 2.9

20. Denver KKFN 2.7

21. Chicago WSCR 2.6

21. Houston KILT-AM 2.6

21. Portland KFXX 2.6

Lots of y'all are going to ask about Los Angeles, the highest rated sports station there is KSFN and it only does a 1.5. Lots of y'all are also going to ask about Atlanta, the highest rated sports talk station there was 680 the Fan and it does a 1.7.

More data. Of this list our top ten are the only sports stations to finish the November book in the top ten in their respective markets. So I've bolded those stations as the ten clearly most dominant in their respective markets as well. For whatever reason the sports talk conversation in these markets is of primary interest to the most people. You'll also note that Boston and Dallas have two top 17 sports talk stations -- meaning those markets have to be competitive as hell -- but that combined they still wouldn't equal the ratings of Nashville's 104.5 the Zone. 

So PR people, consider yourselves armed with actual radio data about which stations own their respecitive markets. 

If you want to book the best sports stations in the country, this is your list. 

(One other note, this is share in local markets, but larger cities clearly have more people. So these aren't gross listener numbers, it's simply how many people in the respective local sports markets are listening. For instance, New York's WFAN would have many more listeners than Nashville's 104.5, but WFAN is just the 13th most listened to station in NYC whereas 104.5 is the second most listened to station in Nashville.)  

Photo up top courtesy of here. Go check out his galleries.