Another wrench has been thrown into the New York sports talk radio war.
ESPN New York will relinquish its 98.7 FM signal on Aug. 31, 2024, and focus on its digital distribution and 1050 AM for its top programming, including “The Michael Kay Show” and Jets, Knicks and Rangers games.
The decision by Good Karma Brands, which controls ESPN New York, is a reflection of the changing business that has devalued the need for an expensive FM signal.
(Good Karma owner Craig) Karmazin would not detail the financials of the decisions, but he said that Good Karma data shows that 60 percent of ESPN New York’s listenership is outside of radio and, of the 40 percent who rely on the radio, eight out of 10 are expected to find the station on AM.
A few thoughts:
• It is hard to argue this is not a win for WFAN. AM radio has become passé — see the recent brouhahas over removing AM receivers from cars — and there are more people listening to FM. So WFAN will be presenting itself to a larger over-the-air audience. That is indisputable.
• But is it a big win? We are skeptical. ESPN will still have the AM signal. It is not leaving terrestrial broadcasting entirely. Streaming is the way things are going. And now Good Karma has an extra $12 million a year to play around with once it stops leasing the signal — that likely sounds pretty good to the suits over at Audacy, WFAN’s financially imperiled parent company. So while WFAN is gaining an edge, it may be a negligible one all things considered.
• Content (and talent) is king. If WFAN keeps on rolling out polarizing midday and afternoon drive programming, people are going to figure out how to listen to ESPN. Or just not listen to anyone. Both are bad for WFAN.
• ESPN has done a better job building a streaming following than WFAN. Starting with the fact the apps to stream its shows actually work. Although you need to research all of those apps.
• Hey, maybe Michael Kay was actually onto something when he bragged about how popular his show is in Raleigh and Spokane!
• It is a bit funny that ESPN is leaning into streaming after it went out of its way to deceptively diminish it when Kay was claiming fake victories over Mike Francesa.
• I do wonder if Audacy, even in its weakened state, could try to take a swing at getting the Jets’ radio rights down the road. You could park them on WCBS 880 and then the big four teams would all be under the company’s umbrella.
• God, we cannot wait for the next batch of ratings. Back after this.