Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Radio Bombshells To Our East

Tuesday was a big, big day for announced radio changes to the east of Ohio. do they affect us?

Or, do they? Read on....

To start, CBS Radio officially unveiled the next two stops on its FM Sports Radio Express. All aboard, Washington DC (July 20th) and Boston (August 13th)!

The DC sports flip announcement is almost an anti-climax. Everyone from Dave Hughes' to the Washington Post's Paul Farhi has been reporting the rumored/conirmed change of talk WJFK/106.7 to sports ("106.7 The Fan"...what a shock!) since the first rumblings came up a couple of years ago (!).

And next Monday, the station that once called itself "Washington's Super Station", one of the early affiliates of then-Westwood One/WKRK New York morning drive host Howard Stern and the flagship for the radio show hosted Watergate figure G. Gordon Liddy, and former "morning zoo" hosts Don Geronimo and Mike O'Meara in afternoons - will become yet another stop in CBS' drive to spread FM sports talk far and wide.

A slight Northeast Ohio connection - Geronimo and O'Meara's Westwood One-syndicated "Don and Mike Show" has some affiliate history here.

The program once aired on Cleveland talker WERE/1300 - now Radio One's 1490 - and also aired for a while not that terribly long ago on Warren's WANR/1570. Beacon Media Group's flagship statiion, as we reported last week, is now sports "Fox Sports Radio 1570" after running classic hits.

The CBS Radio move to sports in Washington puts the "Don and Mike and Successors" era to an end, as not only is WJFK pulling what's now (for a few more recorded days) "The Mike O'Meara Show", Westwood One will also end the show nationally...offering up 30 days of repeats to close things out.

Geronimo retired from large market radio after the stunning death of his wife Freda, and is now doing a midday local talk show on Rehoboth Beach DE talker WGMD/92.7 - OK under the terms of his CBS Radio non-compete, as the company has no stations in that region. (And thus, those outside the Ocean City/Salisbury MD market won't be able to hear what Don is doing these days, as WGMD has to shut off its streaming audio during his show.)

Overall, the WJFK change means that CBS Radio under Dan Mason is officially off the young-skewing "FM talk" bandwagon...the DC station was its last station in the format.

In Boston, the mounting of an FM sports station by CBS is also not really a surprise - it, too, had been rumored for some time. But how it will happen is a bombshell of the highest order.

In August, CBS Radio will christen the new "Sports Hub" at 98.5 FM, which will take the historic WBZ calls on the -FM side. The move displaces hot AC WBMX on that frequency, but "Mix" in Boston will land on 104.1 FM.

That's your bombshell right there...104.1 FM is the long-time home of iconic Boston rock outlet WBCN/104.1, which exits to a presumably automated HD2/Internet presence when WBMX makes the frequency its new home.

The new "Sports Hub", WBZ-FM 98.5, will pick up WBCN's local morning show ("Toucher and Rich") and New England Patriots NFL play-by-play, and WBZ/1030's broadcasts of the NHL's Boston Bruins.


Over the years we've been here, OMW has heard various rumors that Clear Channel would convert our own iconic rocker in Cleveland, WMMS/100.7, to various other formats....mostly FM talk.

That's a rumor that has very nearly come true in 2009, with MMS' acquisition of Shane "Rover" French's popular "Rover's Morning Glory", and the growing audience of afternoon talker Maxwell...which, along with the late night "Loveline" Westwood One syndicated sex/relationships show, makes rock music almost an afterthought on 100.7.

WMMS is now only a "rock station" a little middays, a little early evenings, and 6vernights/weekends...give or take an overflow Indians or Cavaliers conflict game when sports PBP powerhouse talk WTAM/1100 is faced with airing two games at the same time.

CBS Radio's FM Sports Drive started not terribly far from here.

The company has always had a taste for sports radio, owning stations such as Phliadelphia sports mainstay WIP/610, Chicago's WSCR/670, and more. But when sports radio met FM, and Portable People Meters (PPMs), at Detroit's WXYT, the numbers were basically eye-popping.

"97.1 the Ticket", in the PPM ratings, became a powerhouse. The FM side of the once-AM only WXYT/1270 propelled "The Ticket" into Top 5 land, both in and out of the young male demos sports radio delivers.

WXYT moving to former FM talker WKRK's 97.1 frequency also put a giant asterisk on Clear Channel's sports competitor up there, WDFN/1130 "The Fan". The 50 kW station now basically acts mainly as a repeater for sister Premiere's Fox Sports Radio lineup.

Will CBS Radio launch sports on one of its four Cleveland FM frequencies?

Our gut feeling/prediction continues to be "no, they won't", and many of the reasons haven't changed since we last approached this topic.

1) CBS Radio announced some time back that it wanted to exit from non-major/below top 10 markets.

Though trying to sell radio stations in the current economic climate most resembles selling ice to Alaskans, the company still isn't likely to spend the cash and the time to remake a station it doesn't want to hold onto.

All of the FM sports flips so far in the CBS Radio world have been in large markets - with the semi-exception of Baltimore (WJZ-FM/105.7). But Baltimore is heavily tied to nearby DC, and CBS has an O&O TV station there (WJZ-TV/13).

As for Cleveland, RadioInsight's Lance Venta has told us that some rumors of a possible "CBS Radio sale announcement" were kicking around a few weeks ago - involving Good Karma Broadcasting's Craig Karmazin (WKNR/850-WWGK/1540).

We don't see Karmazin with the resources or intent to buy the entire CBS Radio cluster in Cleveland, but maybe he picks off one of the signals...and THAT'S how Cleveland would get an FM sports talker?

We haven't heard anything about this from anyone other than Mr. Venta, so we won't make more of this than that idle speculation.

2) Mr. Venta tells us that CBS has registered a whole host of "CBSSports(city).com" domain names to back up the FM sports radio moves. Cleveland isn't one of the cities registered by the company.

We continue to have the FM Sports Talk Watch here in Ohio, with the recent conversions in Columbus (WBNS-FM 97.1) and Toledo (WLQR/1470's simulcast on WLQR-FM/106.5, the former alt-rocker WRWK).

The other eastern U.S. bombshell was a big swap in America's largest market.

The New York Times Company officially exits radio with the sale of classical stalwart WQXR/96.3 in New York City.

It'll flip the powerful 96.3 frequency to Univision Radio as the new home of that company's "La Calle" format, and will flip the WQXR calls and classical format to public radio's WNYC/93.9-820...which will mount that effort on the former home of "La Calle", Newark NJ-licensed WCAA/105.9, a lesser signal.

It reminds one a lot of what happened here in Cleveland, when the Great Frequency Swap moved classical WCLV from its long-time home at 95.5 FM, to Lorain-licensed 104.9 FM.

Back in 2001, WCLV president and OMW reader Robert Conrad positioned the change as "saving classical music" on the radio in Northeast Ohio, and did manage to nudge the 104.9 rimshot signal a little further to the east at a new site in eastern Lorain County, in Avon.

The WQXR/WCAA situation is similar, though the 105.9 frequency in the New York City market transmits off the same Empire State Building facility as 96.3.

But the latter is a more powerful signal, and the new "WQXR" effort at 105.9 will have to deal with losing about 5 million listeners on the edges of the signal - in heavily populated areas like Long Island and parts of Westchester County.

Just as much as it was in 2001, commercial classical radio is an endangered species...and even in this economic market, it's still true.

Closing out the Northeast Ohio connections, new 96.3/New York owner Univision also owns, on its TV side, Cleveland's WQHS/61...


Chuck Matthews Blog said...

WXYT/Detroit, and now the CBS FM Talk, all overseen by former WIP Program/Operations Manager Tom Bigby. I have a feeling Bigby is involved with the other flips as well. Tom is very good at what he does.

Chuck Matthews Blog said...

Sorry..meant to write "
and now CBS sports talk in Dallas...."

Anonymous said...

DC is not a bombshell -- it had been rumored since Christmas at least.

WBCN was a legendary station ... once upon a time. Past reputation may be great for the Liberal Media but it don't mean nothin' in real life. In fact, WBCN got more exposure in recent years as the New England Patriots' flagship station.

You also happened to omit the most visible all-sports station owned by CBS or anyone: The Fan, SportsRadio 66, WFAN, New York.

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