I rarely take stock in rumors. Even if the source of a rumor is from a credible source, there are so many variables involved, that many rumors rarely come to fruition. Take Hollywood for example. There are so many fragile and powerful egos in play (not to mention money) that have to be managed at all times, and can kill a project dead in its tracks. Sports is another industry that loves rumors, and love to quell them at the same time. Psyches of superstar athletes are just as delicate as A-list actors and actresses, but General Managers have learned that once details are leaked to the press, there are thirty other GMs ready to make counter offers in order to block negotiations. Also, sports rumors are usually revolve around their annual trading deadline, so there is a small window of time involved. But the one industry in which rumors have close to a 100% accuracy of happening is the radio business. Bottom line: if you hear a rumor that a radio station is going to change its format, the question is not if, but when.
The most recent example involves ESPN radio New York. The TV network loves to proclaim itself as “the worldwide leader in sports,” but a more accurate description should include the caveat “except in New York City.” For NYC was the birthplace of the 24 hour, all-sports radio station, and for the past 25 years, WFAN has been one of the highest rated radio stations in the most competitive media market in the country. ESPN was late to the game in regards to New York radio, and even though they are the flagship radio station for the Knicks, Jets, and Rangers, WEPN has never been much of a challenger. And for a long time, management has been trying to find a spot on the FM dial. And even though they failed to grab the modern rock’s frequency (and was the only modern/alt-rock station in NYC) last year, they found another declining format willing to sell.
Personally, I understand the rationale behind the decision. The move to FM will increase their radio signal. However, I doubt I will be able to catch their signal all the way from Knoxville, TN, like I did one time on a clear November night during a cross-country road trip. I also doubt that fans of the NY local teams will switch to ESPN’s national simulcast just because they are now on FM. In other words, I don’t think that the niche market of New Yorkers that truly care about life beyond the suburbs will outnumber those that want to hear local guys talking about the local teams. Especially when it comers to mid-day personality Colin Cowherd. Also, I do not believe the provocative, incendiary style of their teasers are as effective as they think. Their promotions come off as pandering to the lowest common denominator, and while it might work for other talk radio formats (i.e.: politics), it reeks of desperation when it involves sports.
The real endgame is the rights to the Yankees’ broadcasts. Currently, the rights belong to Viacom, which owns both WCBS, and WFAN. WCBS-AM is the current home of the Yankees, and WFAN is the home of the Mets. ESPN Radio realizes that the only game-changer that will raise their rankings is to become the new home of the Yankees. Since this has been an open secret for years, Viacom has viable options to thwart this potential threat. Viacom also has a FM station in its stable (92.3), and there has been a rumor floating about that WFAN will soon be simulcast on that frequency. Heck, they’ve done that before – they’ve aired a (NY football) Giants game on 92.3 FM when their game was on at the same time as a Mets game – on Sunday afternoon in September when their schedules overlap. As US Customs Agent Dave Kujan knows, “A rumor is not a rumor that doesn’t die.”
- Iconic NY black radio station 98.7 KISS FM folds (thegrio.com)
- KISS AM goodbye: ESPN radio moves to 98.7 (newsday.com)