Sunday, January 27, 2002

Wayne Miller & Eric Thomas

Buzz good on sports talk radio

By John Eckberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Prime Time Sports is a kinder, gentler version of sports talk radio with a growing clubhouse of fans who tune to WDBZ (1230 AM) to hear African-American hosts Wayne “Box” Miller and former Bengal Eric “E.T.” Thomas.

        The show is basically a giant living room, says Mr. Miller, a Woodward High School graduate who sold local advertising in Cincinnati and did public relations before settling in behind a microphone in the Roselawn studios of the “Buzz.” Folks out there in radioland in the recliners — the regular callers — have handles like Big Bad Hoss, Big Daddy, Crowfeeder, Atomic Dawg and Lenny B.

        They speak in the casual Southern dialect of a guy at a coffee shop in Memphis. It just feels down-home and the funk intros don't hurt, either.

        “It seems like the show has just naturally come together,” said Mr. Thomas, who was born in Phoenix, grew up in Sacramento and has called Cincinnati home for 14 years.

        “Box and I were always calling each other talking about sports, maybe two or three times a night. And when the opportunity came to do it on-air, we saw a chance to become a top sports show in the city — a chance to go out and make this thing really, really good.”

        Callers may be professional athletes or people with pro sports connections.

        Where else can a fan hear the father of somebody like injured Bengal Rodney Heath politely, quietly and proudly report that his son's physical rehabilitation is going well — and that his son hates it when his daddy calls radio stations?

        Angry callers get time, too. “We don't hang up on anybody. It's a rule,” says Mr. Miller, who grew up in Avondale and now lives in Kennedy Heights. “We let everybody have their say and allow people to express opinions — whether they agree with ours or not.”

        Their numbers are rocketing, though a year ago there were not many to begin with in the coveted 25- to 54-year-old males bracket.

        Then, this was a station known as “a dollar a holler” because there were so few listeners and advertising was low-cost.

        That is no longer the case, as listenership among all Tristate men — known as a cume rating — in that age bracket increased by more than 100 percent from fall 2000 to summer 2001, according to Empower MediaMarketing associate media director Lynn Cortelezzi.

        Monday through Friday, the 5-to-7 p.m. slot draws 3,000 listeners, she said. “People are sampling it,” she said. “(Listenership) is consistently growing.”

        Robert K. Riggsbee, president of Inside Media, a multimedia management firm based in Cincinnati, said black women have flocked to the station because of the hosts' manners — a 220 percent growth in a year. “They are everyday guys who don't insult, belittle or blast their listeners,” he said.

        “This show has seen dramatic growth on limited marketing. Box is an icon in the African-American community. People are sampling and telling their friends. They are here to stay.”

        The show differs for another reason. Nobody shies from matters of spirit. Callers often ask God to bless the hosts, who in turn offer praise to the Lord. They have high goals:

        “In two years, I'd like this to be the preferred sports talk show in Cincinnati,” Mr. Miller says. “In five years, I would like this show to be a potential candidate for syndication.”

        Mr. Miller said as an aside that there is no doubt that affluence is growing in the minority community.

        “It is obvious that more people are putting themselves in positions to have disposable income, whether it's through education, working more than one job or entrepreneurship,” he says.

        “Sometimes, I close my eyes and think how if everything was on equal footing - how many more people would be able to live that lifestyle?”


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