Commentary

Highs and lows of radio drive time

Updated: August 31, 2011, 9:58 AM ET
By Duff McKagan | Special to ESPN.com

So last weekend, my band, Loaded, continued our rock tour -- the same one that almost put us behind bars in Guantanamo two weeks ago for the un-American act of trying to cross a border with (gasp) guitars and tattoos. Ah, but during this past week, we were in the simpler confines of the Northwest, home to this band and home to fans who are familiar with Loaded. Two good things, indeed.

The first gig was a rock-radio affair up near Seattle. You know the kind: Your local FM rock radio station more than likely has one of these per year. A five-band bill, lots of booze, "calendar girls," heat and a fair share of drunken knuckleheads (I used to be one of those latter-mentioned drunken knuckleheads, but now I just prefer to think of myself as a tea-totaling buffoon).

The gig the following day was another rock-radio "summerfest" outside of Portland, Ore. The difference with the Portland show, though, was the blaring fact that Portland's rock station no longer exists. Yes, like the drying up of some of the larger newspapers in this country, advertisement revenue has been wreaking havoc on some of our last great independent radio stations.

Sports radio in major cities with major league teams have been able to stay relatively strong, and many have remained independent too (KJR sports radio in Seattle is a great and shining example, even after 710 ESPN radio started up in the same town). But I am a fan of sports radio and will always try to find whatever I can, wherever in this country I might be.

I have also been a radio nerd of sorts since I was a little kid. I still love to find faraway broadcasts late at night. When I am in Central Washington camping, I have picked up stations off the "skip," from as far away as New Mexico and Texas. The "skip" refers to a radio signal bouncing off, unimpeded, the top part of our atmosphere and traveling greater distances because of it. The area where the signals bounce off this ionosphere is higher at night, allowing them to travel even farther. At least this is how I understand it.

We left the Seattle show after the gig sometime that night. We wanted to get to Portland, get into our hotel, and get a good night's sleep. Driving after a gig, I like to listen to sports radio. Leaving Seattle, it was of course, easy to pick up either ESPN radio or KJR, but at the rate of speed that I drive (yes, I don't drink alcohol, so the worst a cop can do to me is give me a speeding ticket), we quickly started to lose our radio signal.

[+] EnlargeDodgers cap
Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty ImagesThe Los Angeles Dodgers' radio network has in impressively wide reach.

No worries, I like trying to find those faraway stations on the skip. Well, lo and behold, I landed smack dab on KSFO, the AM station that carries San Francisco Giants games. If you are not familiar with West Coast geography, let me just inform you, that I was a good 700 miles from the Bay Area. And there I was, all caught-up in the late-night replay of that night's Giants game against the Houston Astros.

To those of you with satellite radio in your car, this all may seem just sort of quaint and dumb, but I am old-school. Terrestrial AM and FM radio are just things that I believe cannot be bettered. Take from that what you will. …

At the radio-show without the radio station in Portland that next day, the crowd seemed so much more into it. You could sense that they felt a bit left out and small. They let each and every one of the bands we played with know that Portland should remain a tour stop no matter what. All of those bands took notice (Korn, Chevelle, All That Remains, Loaded and Five Finger Death Punch).

On the way out of Portland on Sunday night, I found "Sports Radio 750 The Game" -- Portland's self-promoted "home" of sports. It carries Trail Blazers, Ducks, Timbers and Dodgers games.

That makes sense. Wait … What? Dodgers games? In Portland, Ore.? What about the Mariners?

They are only 170 miles away. Or the Giants? They are about 600 miles away. But the Dodgers? That team is a cool 1,000 miles away. I checked to see if this was on some sort of "skip," but it wasn't.

What gives here?

Hey, Portland! If you are going to pick some random team out of nowhere to air its baseball games, maybe find some team that doesn't have the McCourts as its owners … for now, anyway.

Musician Duff McKagan, who writes for Seattle Weekly, has written for Playboy.com and has his autobiography due out later this year, writes a weekly sports column for ESPN.com. To send him a note, click here and fill out the form.

Michael "Duff" McKagan, a founding member of Guns N' Roses, writes a weekly column for Playbook Sounds and is a passionate sports fan. McKagan is currently playing in Loaded and Velvet Revolver, is a prolific writer, including an autobiography, "It's So Easy: And Other Lies."