ESPN 980 (WTEM-AM) in Washington, D.C. had planned to install a new radio show on March 16 featuring two personalities, one of whom had a history of criticizing Washington Redskins management, when the show’s debut was derailed by a few prank calls purporting to come from ESPN management.
Although the show will make its debut on Monday, rumors have been floated that Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who also owns ESPN 980, was behind the effort to kill the program and silence the critic, according to the Washington Post.
“The Man Cave” will be co-hosted by former Washington Post columnist Jason Reid and veteran radio and TV personality Chris Paul. Reid has been harshly critical of Redskins management. It had been vigorously promoted by ESPN 980, which was looking to compete with 106.7 the Fan, the dominant sports station in the area.
On March 16, ESPN 980 aired its normal programming, ESPN Radio’s nationally-syndicated “Mike and Mike” show, instead of premiering the new show. The station did not offer an explanation. ESPN 980 had planned to move “Mike and Mike” to a sister station, SportsTalk 570 (WSPZ-AM), operated by Red Zebra Broadcasting, the parent company of ESPN 980, also owned by Snyder.
Instead, the station was apparently cowed by two phone calls from a person claiming to be ESPN President John Skipper, who hails from North Carolina. Red Zebra chief executive Rick Carmean took the call, and was convinced the caller was Skipper, according to three sources, because the caller imitated Skipper’s Southern drawl, related inside information about the station, and called from the 860 area code, which is where ESPN has its headquarters. In one call, the prank caller asserted that ESPN would suffer legal action and possible fines if it replaced “Mike and Mike” with “The Man Cave.”
Carmean, convinced, canceled the new show, and allegedly told others that Skipper had killed it, but he also told Redskins management about the phone calls, whereupon Redskins President Bruce Allen called Skipper to ask him why he was upset about the new show. Skipper, confused, according to three sources, called his underlings and asked them what was happening. When ESPN management and WTEM management communicated, Carmean realized the phone calls were faked and was relieved at hearing that Skipper was not opposed to “The Man Cave.”
Yet even after the situation seemed back to normal, longtime WTEM program director Chuck Sapienza resigned.
Traug Keller, senior vice president at ESPN, stated, “ESPN did not determine the local programming changes by the Washington, D.C., radio affiliate, nor did any member of ESPN management reach out to the decision makers in order to influence any such decisions.” Allen told the Post, “Talk to the radio station. You should talk to the radio station.”
Reid’s criticisms of the Redskins have included tweets he wrote when QB Robert Griffin III was reportedly benched, saying, “Don’t pay any attention to that nonsense about Robert still being in their long-term plans. Trying to prop up publicly to trade him,” “I have a pretty good idea who made that comment. And let me just put it this way: My 7-year-old son would have assembled a better roster,” and “There are forces in the building that make failure inevitable. Believe that.”