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VOL. 36 | NO. 30 | Friday, July 27, 2012

Plaster ‘jumps’ back into familiar Sports Night radio role

By Terry McCormick

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George Plaster wondered if his radio career in Nashville might be finished, even after his six-month non-compete had expired.

Until Monday, when Plaster signed on to his familiar Jump theme music at WPRT-FM 102.5 The Game, he had been absent from the airwaves for more than 10 months. He had last broadcasted at WGFX-FM 104.5 The Zone for the past eight years, playing an integral role in building Nashville’s first all-sports FM station.

But Monday was like turning back the clock for Plaster, a reminder of a time when his Sports Night show dominated afternoon drive time in Nashville with ratings consistently in double digits. At his side was longtime sidekick Willy Daunic, who had been at The Game for several months, manning the afternoon driver’s seat while Plaster plotted his comeback.

Darren McFarland, who was a part of The Zone’s most successful run with Plaster and Daunic until his departure there at the end of 2009, was back as well. McFarland had been with The Game since its inception last August, doing mornings with former Tennessee Titans tackle Brad Hopkins.

“Willy was a big factor in this decision,” Plaster says. “You can’t work with someone for 18 years and not know each other. We have developed a chemistry. He was at 102.5, and I wanted to see if there was a way we could make that happen.

“Darren is one of the people whose friendship I really value, and it’s going to be great to be working with him again.”

Plaster admits he took a hard look at his future during the time off before he and Cromwell Radio, which owns The Game, finally came to an agreement just two weeks ago.

“There were a lot of different things I looked into, including looking at radio in other markets and looking into some other opportunities that didn’t have anything to do with radio,” Plaster admits. “Now when I say I looked at other markets, there’s really only one other place I would go other than Nashville, and that’s Atlanta. I can’t say I did a lot on that front, but it was something that I at least explored.

“I didn’t think when all this started that it would take this long, but it was a lot more important to me to make the right decision instead of a quick decision,” he adds. “A quick decision isn’t always the right decision, and I would much rather err on the side of getting it right.

“I hope it is the right move. When we went to 104.5 eight years ago, there were no guarantees that that was the right move, either. It wasn’t a shoo-in that an all-sports format would make it eight years ago.”

Cromwell is hoping this is the right move, as well. The station switched to an all-sports format 11 months ago to compete against The Zone, but in that time has been near the bottom of the Nashville market People Meter ratings, coming in most surveys at around 1.0.

Meanwhile, The Zone’s ratings also are down, showing up at 4.4 in the June People Meter after holding steady in the fives in previous books.

Plaster should provide a more solid foundation for The Game as it tries to challenge the broadcast veteran’s former home. Plaster, Daunic and McFarland are now the fourth afternoon-drive team in 11 months.

“George is the standard for sports talk in Middle Tennessee,” says Tincy Crouse, Nashville market manager for Cromwell Radio, which also owns The Buzz (102.9) and The Light (102.1) in this market.

“We have already seen an increase in advertising and interest before George even went on the air,” Crouse adds. “It has been helpful from a notoriety and revenue standpoint. George had the No. 1-rated afternoon show when he was on the air, and we think lots of folks will be eager to hear him on The Game.”

There were obstacles to clear in order to for The Game to land Plaster. Cromwell is still feeling its way around the sports talk radio business. The station’s signal, though powerful at 100,000 watts, has a north/northwest direction that is a potential issue in terms of audience.

And there is a new side deal on Plaster’s end as part of the bargain – a statewide network. Making that work played a part in trying to make Plaster and The Game a fit.

“Mostly, we were just trying to figure out what was going on with the network and paperwork and finalizing things like that,” Crouse says. “We had hoped to have George on the air by July 2, but we were not able to make that happen. But we have George on (now), and it was important to have him on the air by the time Titans training camp opened this week.”

The “network” began this week when stations in Murfreesboro (WGNS 1450-AM) and Manchester (WMSR, 107.9 FM and 1320 AM) came on board.

“The fact that we’re setting up a network is something that made this even more attractive, and I really appreciate the fact that (Cromwell owner) Bud Walters was open-minded about this and some of the other things that I wanted to see happen,” Plaster says.

“We are setting up the network, and are still in the process of adding stations over the next two or three weeks. There should be about 10 to 15 stations across the state when we’re finished getting it set up.”

The network will have a sales and promotions staff operating independently of 102.5, which will serve as the flagship for the network.

“Basically, that is an effort by George and his associates to put the show on stations that are not competitors with us. That network is totally separate from us,” Crouse says.

The other thing that is separate, of course, is The Zone, where many of Plaster’s friends in the media business still reside. He will be going against The Zone’s “3HL,” a show he helped create for middays at 104.5 that was later bumped into Plaster’s afternoon drive time after his departure.

“There’s a part of my heart that will always be at 104.5 The Zone,” Plaster says. “I was treated as good as an employee could be treated during my eight years there.

“I have a lot of friends still there, and that had nothing to do with why I left. But when Cumulus bought the station, given my situation with them in the past, I knew that I was probably not going to be able to stay.”

It was Plaster’s litigious departure from Cumulus at WWTN (99.7 FM) more than eight years ago that led to The Zone being born.

Plaster and Cumulus had a history of acrimony, dating back to 2003 when Cumulus bought WWTN from Gaylord Entertainment. The relationship deteriorated, with Plaster being suspended for two weeks. Shortly thereafter, Plaster left Cumulus, which invoked a non-compete clause to keep him off air. Plaster sued Cumulus claiming breach of contract, the case was settled before going to trial, and he joined Daunic and McFarland at The Zone in 2004.

Plaster left The Zone last September after Cumulus purchased the station from Citadel Broadcasting.

Zone program director Brad Willis declined to comment on Plaster’s return to the airwaves, citing Cumulus company policy referring inquiries to John Dickey at the corporate offices in Atlanta. Telephone messages left for Dickey were not returned.

Plaster says he is ready for the challenge of helping make The Game competitive, even if it comes at the expense of his old locale.

“We all have to compete in life and at our jobs, and a lot of times in the media business, you compete against people whom you consider friends. And that’s part of what being a professional is all about, and you have to do that type of thing in this business,” he says.

Editor’s note: Author Terry McCormick, in addition to writing for the Nashville Ledger, covers the Tennessee Titans for TitanInsider.com and is the AFC blogger for National Football Post. He also has contributed Titans reports for Sports Night and 102.5.

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