The world of sports talk radio has blossomed into a vast universe over the past two decades. There has never been more outlets for sports talk, discussion, and however you might describe the vitriolic content of some of these shows. Within this vast, and ever growing universe there are personalities that shine brighter than the others, with a gravitational pull of influence that can not be ignored, or denied. This list aims to highlight some of the more notable, and influential sports talk personalities. This includes both radio and/or television. The main criteria is influence. How do we define influence? I’m afraid that we can’t disclose that. Suffice it to say that it’s similar to how one might quantify beauty, hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. Enjoy!
Honorable Mention: Charles Barkley / NBA Analyst / ‘Inside the NBA’ / TNT Sports
Charles Barkley is our ‘Honorable Mention’ only because he has never had his own radio and/or television show with which to have the kind of influence this list requires. However, we feel that his influence is as great as it can be for a network television analyst. You can’t spell personality without Charles Barkley. How powerful is personality? What personality could come away as revered, respected, and downright likable, after being an admitted degenerate gambler who refuses to be a role model? Charles Barkley is the answer. His opinions are always honest, and people respect that. He is self deprecating, and people respect that as well. He also has the added caveat of knowing what he is talking about. All this is in addition to being one of the greatest professional basketball players to have ever lived. Championship rings be damned. #WeLoveCharles.
#8. Scott Van Pelt / Sports Talk Host (Formally SVP & Russillo)/ ESPN Radio & TV
Scott Van Pelt started his ESPN career in 2001 where he co-anchored the late edition of SportsCenter. He then moved to radio as the co-host of ‘SVP & Russillo‘ working alongside Ryen Russillo. He was also a golf analyst and occasional announcer. What audiences like about Scott is his sense of humor, he is a funny man who garners chuckles during almost every one of his broadcasts. That sort of thing goes a long way with influence. In 2015, Van Pelt left ESPN radio to become the solo anchor for ‘Late night with Scott Van Pelt‘ on SportsCenter. We told you he was funny.
#7. Doug Gottlieb / ‘The Doug Gottlieb Show’ / CBS Radio & Television
From 2003 to 2012 Doug Gottlieb worked his way into and onto the ESPN analyst roster and ‘cut his teeth’ working college basketball for ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN News. He also wrote compelling prose for ESPN.com. He is now the host of his own sports show appropriately called ‘The Doug Gottlieb Show‘ for CBS Radio with a television simulcast on CBS Sports Cable Network. It could be argued that his unique brand of opinions, and his perceived predilection for confrontational interviews helped cleared his path out of ESPN, and into the waiting arms of CBS Sports Radio. In either case, his fans love his work, and have helped foster his successful show. We look forward to his continued, and growing influence in the world of sports radio and television.
#6. Stephen A. Smith & Skip Bayless / ‘First Take’ / ESPN Television
It’s been called ‘formulaic’ by it’s detractors, and perhaps some other less than colorful adjectives. However, ‘First Take‘ with Stephen A. Smith, and Skip Bayless is nothing if not highly entertaining sports talk television. They also have the ratings to back up that claim. This past summer 2015 saw their audience jump 22% to nearly a 1/2 million daily viewers. The reality is that sports is entertainment, and these two men have their finger on the pulse of what makes for good entertainment. If for nothing else, this qualifies them as influential. On any given morning you can side with one or the other, because there will always be a side to choose. The homework gets done, and audiences are entertained.
#5. Mike Francesa / ‘Mike’s On’ / WFAN NY
Mike Francesa started his career back in 1982 as a CBS Sports researcher. In the decades that followed he has risen to great heights in New York City radio, and by extension, nationally. In 1989 he teamed up with the high energy voice of Chris Russo for what became the wildly popular ‘Mike and the Mad Dog‘. The show was a New York sports mainstay from 1989 to 2008. The two men went on to win the ‘Marconi Award‘ for Personality(s) of the Year. Becoming the first sports-talk hosts to ever be honored with the award. In addition, in 2012 Mike Francesa was ranked No. 1 on a list of the 100 most important sports talk radio hosts in America by Talkers Magazine. Not bad Mike. Currently he hosts ‘Mike’s On: Francesa‘ for WFAN in NY. What makes Mike’s show such compelling radio is his honest, and realistic take on sports news. He often has insights into the story behind the story, and his audiences love him for it. Count us in that group.
#4. Mike Greenberg & Mike Golic / ‘Mike & Mike’ / ESPN Radio
When we think of ‘mainstream’ sports radio/television, we think of Mike Greenberg, and Mike Golic‘s ‘Mike & Mike‘ morning show on ESPN Radio and television. Opinionated? Yes. Controversial? Rarely, if ever. These two men are a perfect compliment to each others personalities and the content of their show is often compelling, with the help of the ‘who’s, who’ of sports figures, and popular culture guests. Their show is often the first stop on the daily train of sports talk, and they outline the stories of the day in an entertaining fashion. Mike and Mike are a staple of the American sports talk diet.
#3. Jim Rome / ‘The Jim Rome Show’ / CBS Radio
In the world of sports talk radio, you can’t spell controversy without Jim Rome. Since his infamous 1994 provocation of then NFL quarterback Jim Everett on national television, which prompted a physical altercation. Jim Rome has become the ‘bad boy’ of sports radio. He is widely known for being acerbic, and unapologetically confrontational. Depending on who you might ask, he is either loved or hated, rarely anything in-between. However, whatever your opinion of him might be, you have to respect his level of success, longevity, and influence. He is among, if not the highest paid talent in sports radio/television with his nationally syndicated radio show ‘The Jim Rome Show‘, as well as his Showtime interview-format show, and his former shows on ESPN 2, Fox Sports Net, and FX. His loyal radio followers are affectionally (we think) called ‘drones’. Jim Rome is nothing if not influential, what kind of influence depends on who you ask.
#2. Michael Wilbon & Tony Kornheiser / ‘Pardon the Interruption’ / ESPN Television
Since it’s 2001 premiere, ‘Pardon the Interruption‘ has informed, and entertained the afternoon television slot for sports fans around the nation. In many ways Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon‘s acerbic repartee has opened the doors for the eventual flood of sports programs that have used it as a blueprint. If ‘Imitation is the finest form of compliment’ then consider these two men as duly complimented. Besides the entertaining nature of their discussions, they bring thoughtful and intelligent dialogue to the world of sports in a way that transcends the vitriol that often rules the airwaves. When it is all said and done, the contributions of these two men will be long appreciated.
#1. Colin Cowherd / ‘The Herd’ / Fox Sports Television / I-Heart Radio
For over 20 years Colin Cowherd has provided a refreshing refuge for the intelligent sports fan. Unlike the vast majority of sports talk radio programs, Cowherd doesn’t break down games, instead he provides critical analysis that deftly incorporates life philosophy and compelling analogy, to the world of sports. His ability to remain pragmatic, and unemotional are noteworthy. His honesty and candor are appreciated by millions of people on a daily basis, this author included. His recent departure from the ‘World Wide Leader‘ and subsequent arrival at Fox Sports has primed his show to achieve even greater heights, and allowed for the overall expansion of his platform. His carefully selected guests (ie. Jason Whitlock, Greg Cosell, et all) offer unique insights, compelling opinions, and rich analysis that with all due respect, is heads and shoulders above his contemporaries. The addition of Kristine Leahy as his talented, bright and effusive newscaster, has only added to the shows success. In our opinion, Colin Cowherd’s influence in the sports talk universe is number one with a bullet. Then again, you probably already knew that.