Back in October, when New York’s 66 WFAN, the original 24-hour sports talk station, began simulcasting on 101.9 FM, it looked like the writing was on the wall. A full-fledged flip to all-national CBS Sports Radio on AM 660 was imminent, perhaps as soon as the network’s launch date last Wednesday.
But at the time, CBS Radio President Dan Mason was coy on confirming such details, saying: “We don’t see this as a 30- or 60-day deal. We think there is a long period of time before an audience gets acclimated to moving back and forth from AM to FM. That’s not to say the stations will remain identical forever. We’re taking it a day at a time.”
Now, not even two weeks into the new year, and the network, Mason appears to have a new plan.
“I think the company purchased a $75-million FM station to not only expand WFAN but also to expand our sports offerings. There’s a natural migration of listeners that will want to hear ‘FAN on FM and that’s in process,” he told Newsday’s Neil Best.
Mason added that the existence of WFAN and WFAN-FM “creates a bigger platform, so the long-term goal is to have a two-channel business. That’s the long-term goal. You hear the “CBS Sports Minutes” on ‘FAN now, but over time, especially as the audience migrates to FM, you will hear more involvement from the sports network, probably.”
In other words: Locals could indeed be able to hear WFAN personality Marc Malusis do his Saturday morning network show on 66 WFAN.
Heck, they may as well go ahead and plug in CBSSR’s morning show on 660 AM. You know what they say about train wrecks, and Tiki Barber is the epitome of a train wreck career.
UPDATE, 1.27.13: In his New York Daily News column today, Bob Raissman reports that the network’s eventual takeover on AM 660 could come as early as February 11. However, there’s word of a power struggle behind the scenes between the network and WFAN, the latter of which is allegedly spearheaded by their afternoon drive host. “Spies say Mike Francesa has been throwing his weight around,” Raissman writes. (Yeah, we already know how much he loathes the network after just a few days on the air.)
Radio experts say that a reason for the continuation of the WFAN-AM/FM simulcast, even during sporting events where a conflict would arise (e.g. if a Brooklyn Nets game was being played at the same time as a New York Mets game, rather than broadcast the Nets game on AM 660, both 660 and 101.9 would carry the Mets game, with the Nets game being bounced to another radio outlet in the area), is because CBS Radio management wants to make sure that the 101.9 FM signal on its own would be enough to outrate their rival, WEPN/”ESPN Radio 98.7″, on their lone FM signal. There could very well be a large faction of WFAN listeners who are still listening via AM 660.
Here’s an idea for CBS Radio, especially if the higher-ups are adamant on CBSSR eventually supplanting WFAN’s local programming on AM 660: Start positioning the station as “Sports Radio 101.9 FM WFAN.” No more of this “Sports Radio 66 and 101.9 FM” business. Remove the “AM 66” from Francesa’s mic flag so even viewers of his show on YES Network will get in the habit of tuning to 101.9 FM.
When WIP in Philadelphia began simulcasting on 94.1 FM in the fall of 2011, they started being known as “94 WIP.” No longer was their longtime positioner of “610 WIP” being stressed, even though the local programming would be heard on both signals for sixteen months. (WIP-AM is now “CBS Sports Radio 610,” which does carry some local sports broadcasts in the event of a conflict.) If Philadelphia got a sixteen-month notice for their sports radio station’s migration to FM, the least that the listeners of the very first all-sports station in the country (in a bigger market than Philly) is at least sixteen weeks. Meanwhile, it’s been just 12 1/2 weeks since the WFAN-AM simulcast began back on November 2 of last year. “If [WFAN] leaves 660, it could lose a significant number of listeners,” Raissman writes. “Is CBS ready to take that risk?”
Absolutely not, for the reasons I stated above. Yes, the listeners are aware that they can find WFAN on 101.9 FM, but they just haven’t emphasized the 101.9 FM dial position. Their “66” spot on the AM has always got top billing for the duration of the simulcast. Before WFAN bids adieu to local programming on AM 660, they must rebrand themselves as “Sports Radio 101.9 FM WFAN.” I mean, the simulcast split is inevitable. How come CBS hasn’t been doing this since November 2?