OMW reported earlier today that Salem sports WKNR/850 Cleveland was on the outs with the ESPN Radio Network. We have a little more clarification.
As we mentioned earlier, OMW sources tell us that the folks at ESPN dropped a bombshell on WKNR on Monday...a 90-day notice to get out of the network's contract with the long-time affiliate. We hear that ESPN Radio will eventually be heard on another Cleveland market outlet, and from what we are told, that outlet will be a 24/7 affiliate of the network.
It appears, for now, that ESPN isn't going to be pulled immediately from the WKNR airwaves, despite Salem's obvious displeasure with the exit move.
As we reported here first, the station performed what we've called in the past a "Soviet-style purge" of ESPN's mentions on the WKNR website, including erasing program listings for morning show "Mike and Mike" in at least two places. (We also believe an ESPN news ticker once graced the 'KNR site...that's definitely gone.) By the way, a tip of the OMW hat to long-time reader Nathan Obral for first noticing the absence of ESPN material on WKNR's website.
While station management may have wanted to pull the plug immediately on ESPN Radio, cooler heads seem to have prevailed. Not only would that move mean a mad scramble for a new morning show, nighttime and weekend programming, but it would have cost the station tonight's Major League Baseball All-Star Game. To the on-air listener, there's no riff between WKNR and ESPN. Yet. We'll see how that changes over the next three months, and when.
Now, as far as that "what next" option for the sports network... there really seem to be very few options. Let's ride the Speculation Train, shall we? All of the above is merely open thinking on our part. Feel free to hit the comments or the local radio message boards to dissect this one:
STOP 1: With ESPN leaving Salem, there goes all that company's stations - even if one of them were willing to go 24/7 with ESPN alongside WKNR, which would be unlikely even in the best of a Salem/WKNR relationship. WHK and WHKW aren't changing from their talk and religious formats, anyway.
STOP 2: Clear Channel has no stations to give ESPN for full 24/7 coverage, as they have no other Cleveland AM stations besides WTAM/1100. And even if there were a Clear Channel FM in dire trouble, it wouldn't go all-network sports, ever.
STOP 3: Both of Radio One's AMs have a purpose - WERE/1300 with its new company-driven urban news/talk format, and WJMO/1490 with its long-time local gospel format. Ditto, certainly, with their FM stations.
That leaves no other full-market, full-time Cleveland signals left for ESPN besides one: company-owned Radio Disney outlet WWMK/1260. We'd almost consider the in-house move from kids radio to ESPN a given, except we don't know if ESPN has ever flipped a Radio Disney station to ESPN sports.
Note that ESPN Radio owns a full-time Pittsburgh sports station, WEAE/1250...which does its best to be competitive in the tough Pittsburgh sports radio market.
It just swiped Stan Savran, former afternoon drive competitor (WBGG/970) to WEAE's popular afternoon drive show with Mark Madden, to help with Steelers coverage and fill-in talk.
And in an odd coincidence in this situation, former station owners Jacor and Capstar once swapped WEAE and WKNR in a two-city deal made necessary by regulatory concerns at the time.
Be sure you realize we have NO even rumored information that WWMK/1260 is the eventual destination for ESPN Radio in Cleveland. But if our speculation turns out to be correct, and ESPN Radio does go 24/7 on Disney's own 1260 frequency - it seems likely from the company's history in sports formats that they'll make a run at being competitive...with at least some local presence on the air.
It would be a fun ride...