Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Illustration for article titled The Ringer Isn’t Alone, White Noise Reigns Supreme on Detroit Sports Radio

You hear that?

No.

Neither do sports fans in Detroit.

Talk about a lack of diversity. In a city that is 82.7 percent Black, according to the latest census, the only all-sports talk radio station in town — 97.1 The Ticket — has NO full-time black hosts on the air.

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Enter white noise.

Yep. No Black voice. No Black perspective.

And there hasn’t been one for about three years now.

It would be one thing if this was a radio station in Iowa or Nebraska. But in Motown, the Blackest city in America?

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It’s the ultimate case of being tone deaf to a community and having a total disregard for Black people and their opinions. And if you listen to the callers to the station, many are African-American.

It’s just plain arrogant.

As America goes through this movement to clean up the ills of systemic racism in the wake of the George Floyd murder at the hands of a white cop in Minneapolis, institutions, corporations and even media companies are being called out for not including people of color into the mix.

If 97.1 The Ticket was a statue, it would have been toppled by now.

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A recent New York Times piece exposed the lack of diversity in Bill Simmons’ website, The Ringer. Despite having a staff of 65 employees, Simmons had NO Black editors or staff writers covering the NBA or NFL. It was also revealed that more than 85 percent of the speakers on Ringer podcasts last year were white.

How possibly are you getting the full story when everyone talking and reporting are the same — basically white men?

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Imagine driving around in your car in Detroit and listening to an all-white radio show talking about NASCAR’s ban on the Confederate flag or the Colin Kaepernick protest. Hard to be compelling radio when none of the hosts could give a perspective about being Black in America.

“This doesn’t surprise me,” said Terry Foster, who is Black and retired in 2017 after a 13-year run on Detroit’s successful Valenti and Foster Show.

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“I remember getting blowback from one member of management for having too many Detroiters on the air.”

Detroiters? That’s code for Black callers.

“Black Lives Matter,” adds Foster. “In Detroit radio, Black voices don’t.’’

The only current Black host on the station is Brian Chapman, who works part-time. He’s been at the station for six years, but hasn’t been on the air since the pandemic hit back in March.

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Full disclosure, before it became the sports program The Ticket, I worked on the air at 97.1 FM Talk Detroit. But now there’s no one.

There’s just no excuse for this to be happening in 2020. This station, WXYT-FM, is owned by Entercom. Jimmy Powers is the long time program director there. He was contacted about the lack of diversity on his staff, but didn’t respond to a text message.

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Though not official numbers, it is believed that the station has only two full-time African Americans — Tony Ortiz, an update anchor and David Hull, a phone screener.

It’s mind-boggling that the station — which broadcasts Tigers, Pistons and Red Wings games — didn’t feel a need to represent brown people from the community it serves.

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That was the thinking of Lorna Gladstone, the program director of WDFN 1130AM in Detroit, the city’s original sports station. I have firsthand knowledge. When the station launched in 1994, I was the first on-air hire. And it was far from a token hire.

In fact, Gladstone’s staff was incredibly diverse. I did afternoon drive on a show called “The Odd Couple.” Mike Stone was the co-host.

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At night, Ike Griffin, a Black former MSU football player, did a solo show. And in morning drive, Greg Russell, who is Black, was the sports update anchor. There were plenty of women on staff, too. Jennifer Hammond, now a sportscaster on Fox 2 in Detroit, was on the midday show.

Detroit isn’t the only city with a diversity problem now. WFAN in New York, one of the nation’s largest if not the largest sports-talk radio stations, the one that started it all back in the 80s and serves as diverse a city as they come, does not have one single black voice on air anymore after former Jet Bart Scott left the station for ESPN in January.

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“Sports talk becomes more listenable, more urgent, more compelling with a diversity of opinions and people,” Gladstone said. “It’s unimaginable that any sports radio station in this country does not have at least one — and if large, several Black hosts and Black producers/reporters on their staffs.”

The easy copout is that there isn’t any good Black radio talent out there. Gladstone doesn’t buy it.

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“It can only mean the station is either incapable of identifying and coach talent,” she said. “And/or indicates a clear racial bias. Good radio reflects diversity. It ups the game.”

Except in Detroit, and sports news outlets across the country, where apparently only white is right on sports-talk radio.

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