Dave Johnson Discusses Illinois' Move to WIND

When the University of Illinois announced that their new radio home in the Chicagoland area was WIND, many people were happy because an Illinois football or basketball game would never be pre-empted for another sporting event. Some people still had some unanswered questions about the move, including IlliniBoard.com. In this Question & Answer session Associate Athletic Director Dave Johnson answers Brumby's questions on the Illini's new radio home in Chicago.

First, I would like to thank Dave Johnson for taking some time out of his day to do this e-mail question and answer with IlliniBoard.com. Dave, first off congratulations on finding a new radio home for the Fighting Illini in Chicago that will always have the Illinois games and the coaches' shows on when they are aired. Now, I would like to ask you some questions on how the process for finding a new radio home for the Illini in Chicago was undertaken.

IlliniBoard.com: I know the State of Illinois has a very specific bidding process for state entities to undertake, could you describe the parameters that you were required to go through as you looked to secure a radio home for Fighting Illini Sports in Chicago?

Dave Johnson: First of all, thank you for this opportunity. I appreciate this chance to visit with our most loyal fans. In 2002, the State of Illinois changed the bidding process requiring that any project totaling more than $ 25,000 per year now has to submit to a sealed bid process. Working with the UI Purchasing Office, the DIA put together the bid document with ranked criteria for selecting a station. The actual process is very simple, very clean and does not allow for negotiations. While there were multiple criteria involved in the decision-making process, the top two criteria were the most important in grading the bids.

1. Clearances – We want a radio station that will carry every minute of every game live. We have had to work around conflicts, moving to other stations, tape-delay and joined in progress or shortened broadcasts in the past. We've been bumped for DePaul and the Blackhawks on WSCR and the Bulls on ESPN-1000. That's a disservice to our Chicago alumni and fans. We want one location for all of our games.

2. Strength of signal in Chicago – On behalf of our Chicago area fans, we want a signal that will cover all of the Chicago area daytime and nighttime. At the lower end of the AM dial (560), WIND has excellent clearance throughout Chicago and the suburbs.

IlliniBoard.com: I read in the Champaign News-Gazette last Sunday that only two stations provided an official bid to be the Illini radio home in Chicago (WIND and WSCR), and that a third station wanted to wait until next year. Through the bidding process, would it have been possible for the school to approach another radio station in the city to try and broker deal? Basically, would it have been possible for you to approach Station A without them giving you a bid and try to get them to bid on the Illini radio rights?

Dave Johnson: The bid was mailed specifically to every Chicago radio station, including WBBM, WLS, ESPN-1000, WGN and more than a dozen FM stations. I met personally with Paul Agase, Drew Hayes and Mitch Rosen at WSCR to explain the state bid process, that I couldn't negotiate a deal as we have done in the past. I also spoke with general managers and program directors at WLS, WGN, ESPN-1000, WIND and several FM stations that, based on their format, could add sports programming. With several professional sports contracts currently under negotiation (White Sox and Blackhawks), our timing was excellent.

IlliniBoard.com: In one of the e-mail responses that you sent out to many interested Illinois fans after the decision was made to select WIND as the radio home of the Fighting Illini (and was posted on the IlliniBoard message boards by Kedric) you made mention that the sports stations, WMVP and WSCR, wanted to have the Illinois coaches interviewed by their "own personalities (and own opinions)." How much was this a factor in the final decision, and what were the main factors taken into account when deciding on the radio home for the Fighting Illini?

Answer: The most important criteria was finding a Chicago radio home to air all of our games and to provide a strong signal for our fans in the entire Chicago area. The "Ron Zook Show" and "Bruce Weber Show" addition is a bonus for our Chicago listeners and was not a key factor in the selection process. However, we're thrilled that we're going to be able to bring the one-hour coaches call-in show, hosted by Brian Barnhart, to the entire state, including Chicago and St. Louis, beginning this fall and not have to rely on an individual station's own programming schedule and on-air personalities. I've talked to many Chicago-area Illini fans over the years who have been disappointed that our coaches shows were not broadcast in Chicago.

IlliniBoard.com: As a former out of state resident who used to rely on the Score's 50,000 watt signal to listen to Illinois games when I could not reach a sports bar or my apartment, I am disappointed to see the signal strength decrease. I know many out of state Illinois fans from Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, etc. used to rely on the Score for Illinois sports broadcasts. Was it ever an option to go on one of the other clear channel stations in Chicago that do not carry news, like a WBBM or a WLS?

Dave Johnson: The 50,000 watt signal on WSCR-AM 670 has been wonderful for our fans throughout the Midwest. WSCR submitted a bid that was not competitive with the WIND bid based on our criteria for clearances and strength of signal in the Chicago market. And, I applaud the WSCR management for its honesty in detailing the possibility that the White Sox could potentially move to the station. If you look at this year's White Sox schedule and compare it with our Illini football schedule, we would get bumped three times in September. And, if WSCR resigns the Chicago Blackhawks and the NHL resolves the strike, we're back to getting bumped 8-12 times per year during the basketball season. That is simply unacceptable. WLS, WGN and WBBM were not interested in pursuing Illinois athletics. Unlike Northwestern or DePaul, we have an enormous statewide network that covers the Illini from Quincy to Danville to Southern Illinois to Rockford and the Quad Cities. We have the state of Illinois completely covered. As for our out-of-state fans, we provide all of our broadcasts on our website, fightingillini.com, for a nominal monthly fee.

IlliniBoard.com: What are the new options for those out of state fans to listen to Illinois games in their car? I believe the Big Ten has signed a deal with XM Satellite Radio, will the Coaches' Shows be available through an XM subscription as well as the games?

Dave Johnson: Good question. Satellite radio is the emerging technology that will provide an opportunity for Illinois fans throughout the country in the near future to listen to the games. The Big Ten Conference has signed an agreement with XM Satellite Radio to provide multiple channels for Big Ten football and basketball games. Similar to the Big Ten agreement with ABC, CBS and ESPN, a majority of our games will now be broadcast nationally on satellite radio. As of right now, the coaches shows will air on our statewide network and online at fightingillini.com. However, it is worth exploring our satellite radio options for the coaches show.

IlliniBoard.com: As one of the Illini fans that subscribes to fightingillini.com's premium audio and video service for things like live video of the post game interviews, and even some full length live videos of Women's Basketball, is there still going to be an option to listen to the Illini sporting events and coaches shows online with this new deal, or are these two separate entities? I also noticed that WIND streams their content online free for listeners across the country; will they be allowed to stream the telecasts from the Illini Radio Network?

Dave Johnson: All Illinois radio broadcasts, including football, men's and women's basketball, volleyball, baseball, the "Ron Zook Show" and the "Bruce Weber Show" will air on our official website, fightingillini.com. We've also added video streaming of press conferences and other Olympic sports, including wrestling, women's basketball and gymnastics. We will continue to add more video content to the website. The Illini Sports Network broadcasts (football, men's basketball) will only be available on our official website, fightingillini.com.

IlliniBoard.com: The Score has been the home of the Fighting Illini in Chicago for a long time. Is there any plans for a marketing campaign across the Chicagoland area with billboards and the like alongside the freeways and toll ways to remind Illinois fans in the area that the Fighting Illini are now going to be broadcast on WIND instead of WSCR? Would it be possible to have a billboard on the highway with the face of Ron Zook stating something like "Listen to the Ron Zook Show on Thursday nights at 6:00 in Chicago, only on WIND" and similar billboards for the Bruce Weber Show during basketball season?

Dave Johnson: The leadership at WIND and its parent company, Salem Communications, has been very enthusiastic about promoting Illini broadcasts in Chicago. We are looking into several promotional programs, including all Chicagoland Alumni Association events, Illini Day at Wrigley Field, a print advertising campaign and utilizing the extensive billboard network that WIND is currently using on nearly every major expressway in Chicago. You really can't drive around Chicago right now without seeing a WIND billboard. We're looking at different options to add an orange stripe or tag to the existing billboards.

IlliniBoard.com: Thanks again for taking the time to do this question and answer. Is there anything else you would like to add for Illini fans across the country?

Dave Johnson: As Illini fans, we've enjoyed a magic year with five Big Ten Championships (men's basketball, men's tennis, wrestling, women's track, and baseball). We've all enjoyed wearing our ORANGE all the way to the NCAA Final Four and an incredible four months as the nation's top-ranked basketball team. Enjoy the moment! Coach Ron Zook and his staff are recruiting hard throughout the nation and will get our football program turned around. Four years ago, Coach Bill Self warned prospective Illini basketball season ticket holders that they had better purchase tickets "while they still can." He was right. With Coach Zook and his staff on the move and a dramatic increase in season ticket sales already this spring, think about buying Illini season or single-game football tickets "while you still can." Thank you for your loyalty and support.

Dave Johnson, Class of 1986


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