Ex-Dore Daunic juiced about VU's move to The Zone

NASHVILLE-- Vanderbilt football and men's basketball broadcasts will be moving next fall to 104.5 <i>The Zone</I>-- and perhaps no one in town is happier than former Vandy baseball and basketball star Willy Daunic. Though regularly teased by his radio cohort George Plaster about his less-than-stellar athletic career at Vandy, Daunic has parlayed that career nonetheless into a successful gig in sports broadcasting.

NASHVILLE-- Vanderbilt football and men's basketball broadcasts will be moving next fall to 104.5 The Zone-- and perhaps no one in town is happier than former Vandy baseball and basketball star Willy Daunic.

Though regularly teased by his radio cohort George Plaster about his less-than-stellar athletic career at Vandy, Daunic has parlayed that career nonetheless into a successful gig in sports broadcasting. Alongside Plaster and Darren McFarland, Daunic helps hold down an afternoon-drive sports talk show that has rocketed up in the ratings since the trio moved over from WWTN 99.7 last August.

Vanderbilt's new three-year deal with WGFX-FM, announced by the school last Wednesday, was a huge win for Citadel Broadcasting, which also owns country station 103.3 FM, home of Nashville's Tennessee Titans. It means Citadel now owns rights for Nashville's home teams in both the National Football League and the Southeastern Conference.

It also means Commodore fans will be locking in 104.5 FM, a.k.a The Zone, on their radio dials, a fact that warms Daunic's heart-- not to mention that of his partner George Plaster, a Vandy grad who has become the most dominant figure on the Nashville sports talk scene.

"George definitely endorsed getting either Vandy or UT," said Daunic Monday. "Once Tennessee decided to stay with its flagship station 1510, we jumped at the chance to get Vanderbilt. I was really happy to hear it.

"It looks like a great time for us to jump on board with them. The basketball team obviously had a great year, and the football team looks like it might have a chance to get a lot better for the first time in a while. Bobby Johnson looks like he's finally going to have some depth, and all his key players back. They should be a lot more competitive."

The move has been a controversial one among Vanderbilt fans, especially those in far-flung regions of the country who'd grown accustomed to picking up Vandy broadcasts on WSM-AM's far-reaching late-night signal. No longer will fans in Missouri or Virginia or Florida be able to sit in their cars on frosty evenings and pick up Joe Fisher's midweek broadcasts.

But though WGFX-FM can't match WSM's signal strength, Daunic believes that's much less of an issue, now that all broadcasts are accessible over the Internet.

"Ten, 15 years ago, my Dad thought it was a great thing that he could pick up the games on the radio," Daunic said. "But now, with Internet streaming of our broadcasts, that's much less of a factor.

"In my mind, the benefits of being on a top sports station in Nashville, where people are tuning in wanting the pulse of what's happening in Nashville sports, far outweighs being on a signal that people get at night in all the different states."

Under the alliance with WGFX-FM, no longer will Commodore fans have to switch back and forth between AM and FM stations, which has been the case for the last ten years under the WSM arrangement.

"It was like that back when I was the color analyst back in the mid-90's," Daunic said. "At WSM, you never knew which games were going to be on what station. Some games were on 650, some were on 99.7 for a while, then they switched it over to 95.5. Vandy's games have been on three different stations over the last 8-10 years, and it forced a lot of Vanderbilt fans to go and find the games.

"Now everybody knows where the games are going to be-- 104.5. And you might have a lot of casual fans just stumble upon a Vanderbilt game that wouldn't have otherwise, because they're just tuning in to hear some sports radio, and maybe they stick around."

It also means that Vanderbilt broadcasts will be bracketed on either side by sports talk, rather than country music-- and it can't hurt that both Plaster and Daunic are Vanderbilt graduates.

The call-in shows with Johnson and Stallings will also move to The Zone, as well as Fisher's nightly Commodore Minute segments.

Still, Commodore fans shouldn't expect 104.5 to become an All-Vanderbilt-All-the-Time station, Daunic says. The Nashville market has become far too diverse for that, and the talk radio business too competitive.

"Certainly having Vanderbilt will influence what we talk about a little bit, but our battle is to get ratings. We have to go with what the most people want to talk about. It certainly doesn't mean we're going to shut out Tennessee and other SEC programs. There's still obviously going to be a heavy Titans influence. People in this town love the Titans.

"I don't see it changing all that drastically. We've always talked about Vanderbilt a good bit, especially when they have people's attention. For instance, when Vanderbilt shook up the department and got rid of the athletic director last fall, we talked about that for weeks.

"Now, what we might do is create some advantages for ourselves as far as the inside track. If a story breaks, we should be the first to have Bobby Johnson on, or Kevin Stallings. We already had good relationships with those guys, but now there'll be an advantage there.

"Hopefully 104.5 is where the Vanderbilt fans will learn to turn first."

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Plenty of ex-Commodores have gone on to successful careers in business, and a few (Will Perdue, Barry Booker) have even entered the world of broadcasting. But none is more visible on the Nashville scene than Daunic.

The 33-year-old Daunic first came to Nashville as an Eddie Fogler signee in the fall of 1989, and has never found a good reason to leave. He played three seasons of basketball and four of baseball at Vanderbilt before collecting his History degree in 1993. After spending two seasons playing baseball in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, Daunic slowly worked his way into the radio business under the guiding hand of Plaster.

"I was lucky in college that George took an interest in me," Daunic acknowledges. "I got to know George in college back when I was keeping stats. He and I hit it off, and I've been working for him pretty much ever since."

His relationship with Plaster has opened the door to other things, including radio work for Vanderbilt football, basketball and baseball broadcasts, and a few play-by-play jobs with Vanderbilt broadcasts on CSS cable. He also became known as the pre- and post-game host for Nashville Predators hockey, though he left that behind with the move last summer to WGFX.

"Since we've come over to WGFX, we're really excited about how things have gone," Daunic said. "We've really had a big splash in the ratings in a very short period of time. Now with this alliance with Vanderbilt, I think it's only going to grow."

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Vanderbilt radio play-by-play voice Joe Fisher also expressed excitement Monday over the move to a new flagship station.

"I think being on a station where sports and sports talk is a major point of emphasis can only help our exposure in this region," Fisher said. "[Citadel president] Steve Dickert and all the folks there seem genuinely excited to be a partner with Vanderbilt and ISP Sports. I'm also glad we're finally on one station for all our football and men's basketball games.

"Admittedly, there is a bittersweet aspect to this for me. My first full-time broadcasting job was as sports director for WSM. I have fond memories of my time with the 'Air Castle of the South', and I thank them for all they've done over the years as our previous flagship.

"But there is no doubt in my mind that this is a great move at a great time for Vanderbilt athletics."

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