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Bears preparing to unleash HD Radio

Sports franchises can develop stations with team-controlled programming

Ed Sherman

On media

8:38 PM CDT, October 29, 2013

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The Bears already have two de facto sports talk stations in town. The daily dissections, not to mention overreactions, drive WSCR-AM 670 and WMVP-AM 1000 during the football season.

Now there's the prospect of another station. And it will be wall-to-wall Bears because it will be run by the Bears.

Bears President Ted Phillips said the team will explore the possibility of launching its own station via HD Radio. He said it could happen next season, but more likely in 2015.

HD Radio is an emerging technology that is expected to have a dramatic impact on the radio landscape. In essence, participating stations have substations within their frequencies that are broadcast in high definition.

In its deal with WBBM-AM 780 and WCFS-FM 105.9, the team has the rights to use 105.9 HD3 as its own exclusive radio outlet.

"How cool is that?" Phillips said. "I can't say we will do it next year, but the brainstorming will begin next year. In my mind, we're probably looking at 2015."

Currently, the Penguins, Phillies and Cowboys have HD Radio stations. More pro franchises, though, are looking at the option as HD Radio is expected to have greater distribution with manufacturers now making them available in new cars. The technology also allows access via smart phones apps and through the Internet.

The Penguins, who launched first in 2009, have Monday through Friday shows airing from 2-6 p.m. Additional programming includes games from the Penguins' minor league affiliate; college hockey and flashbacks from classic games. It's all Penguins, all the time, as the team looks to super serve its core fans.

The Bears would have a similar programming lineup for their HD station. They now are positioned to make a move thanks to the opening of a new multimedia facility at Halas Hall, the most advanced in the NFL. Part of a 40,000-square foot addition, it includes fully operational TV and radio studios.

The Bears already produce several shows for television. An HD station is a natural next step in their bid to generate more original content to satisfy a fan base that can't get enough football. The question is when, Phillips said.

"The HD penetration still is not that high," Phillips said. "It's very labor intensive. We have to make sure it is worth it."

Joe D'Angelo, senior vice-president for HD Radio, said there are currently 14 million HD Radio units in the marketplace. The big move will happen on the car front. Angelo said 33 auto companies have announced plans to incorporate HD Radios in 170 models by year's end.

Because most people listen to the radio while driving, the sooner consumers buy new cars, the quicker they will have access to the latest technology. D'Angelo contends HD Radio is in a similar position as HD television was in the late 1990s, when it still was in limited use by networks. A few years later, it became a staple.

"HD television was around for a decade before it got consumer traction," D'Angelo said. "HD Radio is moving faster, given the penetration in the car market."

Besides the Bears, the White Sox also have discussed HD Radio, although it appears to be further down the road for them. Their deal with WSCR gives them access to 104.3 HD 3.

"It is a nice option as the technology gains more and more distribution," said Brooks Boyer, the team's chief marketing officer. It is something we have been monitoring for quite some time and will continue to monitor."

The Bears would be ahead of the curve if they launched a HD Radio station in 2015. However, by the end of the decade, they probably will have plenty of company, as teams will ride the latest technology.

More '85 Bears: When Rich Cohen sat down for a lunch interview with Mike Ditka, the coach asked a blunt question as only he could.

"Why the hell would you want to write a book about the '85 Bears?" Ditka said. "Do you know how many people have written about this team?"

Cohen replied, "Why did you run that offense all those years? Because you thought you could do it better than anyone else."

Ditka replied, "Good answer."

Cohen's new book, "Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football" definitely is different from previous versions about the fabled team. The Glencoe native and best-selling author writes it from the perspective of a 17-year-old kid who came of age with those Bears and then reconnects with them on a personal level more than 25 years later. It is a lively and compelling portrait of not only that team, but the franchise and its place in Chicago.

"A lot of the stuff about that team is Game 1, 2, 3, 4," Cohen said. "I didn't want it to do that way. That team transcended the sport. That team expressed a lot about Chicago. The way the people play. The way they think of themselves. No other Chicago team affected me in that way."

Special contributor Ed Sherman writes at shermanreport.com. Follow him @Sherman_Report