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The former Sportsnet 650 host is starting a sports podcast with more of a national scope.

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Andrew Walker is trying something different.

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Like so many in Canadian broadcasting, he’s been swept up in the seismic shift underway in media today. Major broadcasters are cutting their traditional radio operations down to the bare minimum, casting their focus on what everyone is looking at: the digital realm.

So, yes, Andrew Walker is starting a podcast, a year and a bit after he was dumped by Rogers Sports and Media. He’d been a host at Sportsnet 650 for nearly four years, had been in the company since 2010 and had been working in radio as a whole since 2004.

His new podcast is called The Hedge and has more of a national focus. He’s pulling on the fact that his name has been known in Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary for the past decade.

He’s also aware that sports fandom is changing. There are still plenty of fans who are passionate about their team, but because of long-standing sports pools, like for NFL or NHL, and the rise of sports betting, fans’ interests also have them looking towards individual players and moments.

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There’s something to grab there, he thinks.

“I’ve thought this for a long team, you might have the Canucks to follow but on a Thursday you’re cheering for Nate Mackinnon because he’s in your pool. Or on a Sunday you’re cheering for Pat Mahomes because of your fantasy team. I do think that’s where we’re going,” he told Postmedia.

On Monday, he launched his new podcast, called The Hedge. Episodes will be released daily, no more than one hour apiece, generally about 30 to 40 minutes long, split into three segments.

“There’s headlines, what’s the big story of the day? Giving some opinion. The second segment is an interesting interview,” he said. (On Monday’s launch episode, I had Dan Shulman on.)

“Third segment is a bet of the day, with a look at what happened the night before.”

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He’s trying to take lessons from what didn’t work in radio and apply them going forward.

“On radio, you do these shows and then maybe the team isn’t very good. You start to think “oh good here’s another four-hour show,” he said. “You pigeonhole yourself.”

In the wake of Rogers dumping him last year, he did a lot of soul-searching. Doing sports radio was all he’d ever wanted to do. But now he was seeing what a cruel industry it is, especially in Canada.

“I was so disenchanted for a while. I took a career transition course. I hated it. My whole life and career, this is what I do,” he recalled. Along the way, he had a conversation with Ryan Jespersen, an Edmonton political commentator who has found success online after being dumped himself from the Alberta capital’s talk-radio station.

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Jespersen’s YouTube channel has 10,000 subscribers and his podcast is said to have solid figures as well.

“Terrestrial radio is collapsing. Ratings are down, sponsorship is down,” Walker observed. “The younger demo is more into podcasts, more social media. A huge portion is there.”

For a while, I have met with a sales consultant.

“A lot of it was therapy. She asked me a lot of “why are you doing this,” he said.

He tried to play the role of antagonist when he was on the airwaves, especially in Vancouver, but he knows in hindsight it wasn’t a great fit.

“I’m a big boy. So many people harping on me and I got in trouble with Sportsnet because I pushed back. Here I am, I’m 37, I’m at my peak and here’s people saying things…it really erodes your confidence,” he admitted. He had to think long and hard about why he was doing all this.

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Obviously he’s got his confidence back, an essential thing as he dives into the unknown.

“It’s stressful, the no-guarantees, the unknown, it’s taken a lot,” Walker said of putting this all together.

The Hedge is now part of Jespersen’s network, produced by Relay Communications.

He’s also taken note of what Matt Sekeres and Blake Price have done in Vancouver, taking their popular radio show from the late and lamented TSN 1040 to the live-stream plus podcast world, much like Jespersen and others have done. Having a close relationship with your listeners and then with your sponsors is key. More than ever really.

“I do like what Sekeres and Price have done. I liked what Rod Pedersen has done in Regina. What Steve Dangle in Toronto has done,” he said.

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Sekeres, who has no affiliation with Walker’s project, said the key to his show’s success since launching just over a year ago, has been about being nimble. At first, they presented just as if it were a regular broadcast.

But they’ve seen how their listeners want to consume in their own way.

“We picked up a radio show and dropped it into the digital space. In the year since, we’ve learned that people want to consume it on their own time. So we’re getting the podcast out earlier to facilitate listening hours. We used to drop a 3-hour show at 6, now we drop a 2-hour show at 4,” he said in a text message.

Sekeres and Price were also very aggressive in how they branded themselves, keeping up with their sponsors, doing everything they could to help their old listeners. know how to find them in new ways.

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(Full disclosure, I am a weekly contributor to Sekeres and Price.)

They also managed to maintain relationships with long-time sponsors.

And Walker has been working hard to develop relationships with sponsors so he had some underpinning right off the bat.

“That’s what helped S & P work, they had money with them from the get go,” I observed. “I was just doing cold calling. But I found my groove. Your sponsors say a lot about you.”

He’s landed a presenting sponsor deal with Boston Pizza, plus secondary sponsorships from CoolBet, a Canadian betting company, and Dobber Hockey, a long-standing independent fantasy hockey and hockey prospects news website.

Landing sponsors who have a bit more of a national reach was important, he felt. He’s aiming to draw in listeners across Canada, something that he has never been easy to do. Unlike in the US, national sports radio has never taken hold in this country.

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When he was young, he dreamed of having his own nationally syndicated show. Now that he’s older, he’s come to realize why that’s just such a hard thing to do in Canada.

“Look at the Dan Patrick show, you’re not angry in Cleveland that they’re not talking about the Cavaliers. You’re just listening to the show,” he said.

“People in Canada are so tribal. People in Vancouver got mad I’d worked in Toronto. The success of the Raptors, Blue Jays, Canadian national soccer maybe is changing that a bit,” he pondered.

One way or another, if this is going to work, he knows he has to produce a captivating and entertaining product.

He still hears from people in all the places he’s worked. Add it all up, and he thinks he’s got the recipe right.

[email protected]

twitter.com/risingaction


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