ESPN Radio Ready To Play Ball On FM In New York City?

There are rumblings that ESPN Radio in New York City could finally land an FM signal, which would possibly give them more leverage in acquiring local radio rights to Yankees baseball - provided rival WFAN doesn't also make the jump to FM in response.

Earlier this year, I wrote a full-length article on the sports radio landscape in New York which, at the moment, consists of two stations, both on the AM dial. Meanwhile, many other radio markets (some with up to four stations in the format) have at least one sports radio signal on the FM band.

Note that in the previous paragraph, I wrote “at the moment.” That’s because the sports radio void on FM in Market No. 1 is about to come to an end.

It is being reported that ESPN is currently in the process of nailing down a deal for an unidentified FM station in New York City, so that the programming currently heard on AM 1050 can move to their new FM property, while the content on 1050, as I have previously speculated and others are doing so today, would switch to the feed of the Spanish-language ESPN Deportes network.

The station currently known as “ESPN New York 1050” holds the radio rights for the Jets, Knicks and Rangers – and an FM station could buoy their chances of landing the Yankees, whose current radio deal with WCBS-AM expires this year.

Sources say that an ESPN deal for an FM stick could be reached as soon as this week. A perfect launching pad for the new FM signal could be Thursday night’s NFL Draft, which emanates from Radio City Music Hall.

The FM signal most anticipated to convert to ESPN in New York City would be 94.7 WFME, licensed to Newark, NJ. Their signal is limited on Long Island – where a huge population of Jets fans resides – but as Radio Insight’s Lance Venta points out, the 1050 AM and 94.7 FM signals “complement each other” (of course, that’s considering 1050 AM remains with their current English-language ESPN Radio programming). An ESPN Radio spokesperson told Radio Business Report that they “have nothing to announce” at this time (shocker). Likewise, getting an answer from Family Radio about the fate of WFME-FM may have also been akin to pulling teeth, but I would consider it a far more pleasant experience than actually having a tooth pulled. I spoke to Judi Rathbone, the secretary of Programming for Family Radio in California, and while she had pointed out that sister stations WFSI in the Washington, D.C. area and WKDN in the Philadelphia area were sold (the latter switching to a conservative talk format just this week, in fact), she had heard nothing about a possible sale of WFME-FM. When I pointed out what many local news outlets in New York, as well as radio news sources, were reporting, Rathbone tells me that it’s “just speculation,” adding, “We did have a few [parties] that were interested in purchasing WFME.”

Not only is it known which station is ESPN’s likely target, but given the phrasing of the report – “a long-term programming rights deal” – it is also possible that ESPN could enter what is known as a local-marketing agreement (LMA) with another station. So it could be possible that WFME may not be the station in question – but then, if WFME is not for sale, then how come they switched from a non-commercial license to a commercial one earlier this year (as covered in my post on this earlier this year)?

Let’s go down the New York radio dial and break down the possible suitors, frequency by frequency:

92.3 WXRK: Forget it. CBS Radio, owner of ESPN rival 66 WFAN, runs this station. In fact, if ESPN should gain a presence on the FM dial in the Big Apple, 92.3 would be a prime candidate to flip to a simulcast of WFAN… you know, to even the playing field. When a new FM sports talker in Philadelphia went on the air, CBS stood pat and left their legendary WIP on the AM dial, and watched as “97.5 The Fanatic” ate into WIP’s audience and revenues. As of last fall, WIP is now on FM in Philly. CBS would know better not to make the same mistake again. No dice here…

92.7 WQBU: The former WLIR/WDRE. Niche Mexican music on a fringe signal on Long Island. Nope…

93.1 WPAT: Spanish music, licensed to Paterson, NJ, but serving the city. Used to be a popular easy listening station back in the day. A possibility…

93.5 WVIP: Licensed to Westchester but receivable in most parts of the city. RBR.com says it’s possible…

93.9 WNYC-FM: NPR – i.e. non-commercial license. Not happening here…

94.7 WFME: The leader in the clubhouse…

95.5 WPLJ: While their ratings are mediocre, they bill very well. Yet RBR says this, too, could be a candidate…

96.3 WXNY: Univision acquired this signal just a few years ago, and it’s now in the top ten. Next…

97.1 WQHT: This station usually contends nicely with rival Power 105.1 particularly in the summertime. Yet owner Emmis has had financial troubles of late – so much so that they sold 101.9 to Merlin Media (much to ESPN’s chagrin). This would be a dark horse to land ESPN programming, provided Emmis is ready to unload another big city signal – and some radio observers agree

97.9 WSKQ: The leading Spanish music station in the city. Nope…

98.3 WKJY: Serves Long Island, so no go here…

98.7 WRKS: Also owned by cash-strapped Emmis, but “98.7 Kiss-FM” is a perennial top ten station, so a sale of this signal over WQHT would truly shock me…

99.5 WBAI: Another strong possibility, except for one problem: Owner Pacifica has been mighty stingy to give up this prized signal, right smack dab in the middle of the FM dial. ESPN could offer WBAI that suitcase that Jules and Vince had in the movie “Pulp Fiction” and they still wouldn’t budge. I would say 50/50 here, but they’re also operating with a non-commercial license…

100.3 WHTZ: The world famous Z-100. Pop radio royalty. Not happening here…

101.1 WCBS: The revamped “CBS-FM” is also doing well – and it’s also owned by CBS, which also owns WFAN, so this is off the market…

101.9 WEMP: Merlin Media CEO Randy Michaels confirms ESPN will not take over the signal they have owned for nine months now…

102.7 WNEW: Also owned by CBS Radio. Next…

103.5 WKTU: Like Z-100, all of Clear Channel’s FM stations are performing great. So their cluster will probably be off the market, too.

103.9 WFAS: The longtime White Plains-based station recently moved their city of license to The Bronx. Maybe, maybe not…

104.3 WAXQ: Clear Channel (see above)…

105.1 WWPR: Clear Channel (see above)…

105.9 WQXR: Now operated by WNYC, which means non-commercial…

106.7 WLTW: Lite-FM. ‘Nuff said. (Oh yeah: Clear Channel – see above…)

107.5 WBLS: This was another likely candidate for assuming ESPN programming on FM, as I pointed out in my original post on this issue. But Inner City, which also has its own financial troubles, does not appear to be putting this station on the market at this time. or, as Randy Michaels tells RBR: “I don’t think WFME has come on the market… Not likely to be WBLS… More likely BS.”

Come this weekend, New York sports radio listeners will find out for sure if ESPN becomes the first sports radio station in the area on the FM dial.

Or if people were just BS-ing them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s