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How Millennials Can Alter The Future of NYC Sports Radio

Jason Barrett

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WFAN has occupied the penthouse in New York City for quite some time. For over a quarter of a century, Mike Francesa has been a dominant force, and he’s not expected to suffer ratings amnesia during his final eighteen months on the air either. In case you missed it, the WFAN ratings king announced he will leave his radio home at the end of his contract in 2017.

This begs the question, what will happen once Francesa’s gone? Will loyal FAN listeners stick with the radio station and support the next show that follows Mike? Will they jump ship and throw their support behind the Michael Kay Show on 98.7 FM ESPN New York? Or will they change their habits and listen to other alternatives?

Where the story becomes more intriguing is when you take into account WFAN’s wheelhouse. The station has an excellent connection with males 45-54. Those listeners have grown up with the Fan and pledged their allegiance to guys like Francesa, and Joe Beningo, who have hosted daily for over twenty years. Even the radio station’s morning show, Boomer and Carton, has been in morning drive for close to nine years.

We’ve been down this road before wondering if a shift in the market would take place. When Howard Stern left the New York City airwaves, stations tried many different tactics to reel in his listeners. When WFAN parted ways with Don Imus after the I-Man made controversial remarks about the Rutgers Women’s Basketball team, Boomer and Carton took over and proved that they could not only keep the existing audience, but bring in new listeners as well.

But losing Mike Francesa is unchartered territory. Imus didn’t talk sports daily. He wasn’t connected to Chris “Mad Dog” Russo for nineteen years, and viewed as the sports radio show of record in the nation’s top radio market. He was also lining up against a national sports morning show, not a strong legitimate local contender. One of the few things he had in common with Francesa was that each of their shows skewed older, and received strong support from that demographic.

That was then, and this is now. The habits of listeners have changed over the past decade. Loyalty isn’t as strong as it once was. Content options are greater than ever before. And younger listeners are consuming sports radio programming differently. What that means is that prior success doesn’t promise future success.

I was curious to see how younger listeners in New York City were listening to Francesa, and his competitor Michael Kay. In the key demo of Men 25-54, Francesa has long been the king, and that continued in May. Mike finished just under a 7 share. Kay meanwhile was in the top 10 and slightly below a 5 share.

But when you turn the attention to the younger end of the demo, you can see a shift starting to take place. In May, Men 18-34 listened more to Michael Kay’s program between 3p-7p than they did Francesa’s. Kay was a half point higher than Francesa. The two shows tied in April with Men 18-34, delivering shares in the low 3’s. If you turn the clock back twelve months ago, WFAN was doubling ESPN New York’s performance. That’s a pretty significant shift.

It’s even more impressive for ESPN New York when you analyze the hours of 4p-7p. That’s when Peter Rosenberg joins Kay, and Don LaGreca (he doesn’t appear during the first hour of the program). With Kay’s program operating at full strength during those three hours, they’ve beaten Francesa with Men 18-34 during every single month in 2016.

To be fair to Francesa, he hosts his show from 1p-6:30p. I’m focusing on the head to head matchup with Kay, not including the earlier hours when Mike is lined up against Hahn and Humpty. We’re also looking at the younger audience, not the key demo of Men 25-54.

Another factor to take into account is that Francesa’s reach hasn’t grown during the past few years. Kay’s has. The YES Network now airs Kay’s show instead of Francesa’s. That’s helped the ESPN New York host pick up an extra 200,000 viewers daily. Kay, LaGreca, and Rosenberg are also active on Twitter, and collectively have 550,000 followers. Francesa remains uninterested in being present in the space. I don’t have full details to each station’s podcast and streaming data but I’d be very surprised if ESPN New York was losing that battle.

The reason this story interests me, is because we know Francesa plans to leave. Tomorrow’s Men 25-54 audience is starting to turn to Kay, and that hasn’t been the case in the past. Millennials do change their habits frequently, so assuming that these trends can’t be reversed would be a mistake, especially when a permanent replacement for Francesa has yet to be named. But, if you’re Kay, LaGreca, Rosenberg, and ESPN New York’s management, you have to feel optimistic about the way younger audiences are responding.

When you add it all up, here’s what it means. Francesa remains the king of the Men 25-54 competition, but in a radio market as competitive as New York City, Kay is doing quite well. WFAN reaps the benefits of a bigger radio cume. ESPN New York has the advantage of a larger total audience. I don’t see a massive change occurring during the next 18 months unless something unplanned takes place, but given the inconsistencies of radio ratings measurement that’s also not a guarantee.

What is clear though is that younger listeners are tuning in more frequently to ESPN New York. The addition of Rosenberg has paid dividends, and when WFAN moves on without Francesa after 2017, the person or persons they put in afternoon drive will need to have an ability to reach the younger end of the demo.

Nielsen is taking steps to make digital listening a bigger part of the ratings story which will further help ESPN New York’s narrative. It’s still WFAN’s turf until proven otherwise, but yesterday’s fortunes don’t promise tomorrow’s riches. If the FAN stumbles during the next 18 months or replaces Francesa with someone who doesn’t appeal to the younger end of the demo, we could see a shift in the market. That’s a story few thought was possible.

Sports Radio News

Chick Hearn Headlines Radio Hall of Fame Legends Inductees

Amongst other accolades, he is credited with broadcast 3,338 consecutive Lakers game from November 21, 1965 to December 16, 2001.

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Chick Hearn

The Museum of Broadcast Communications announced today the selection of 10 new Legends inductees into the Radio Hall of Fame for 2022. This distinction honors those in the industry who have contributed greatly to it and have since passed away.

Chick Hearn, the longtime voice of the Los Angeles Lakers, will be amongst those inducted in Chicago next month. Hearn was the voice of the Lakers for 41 years (1961-2002). Amongst other accolades, he is credited with broadcast 3,338 consecutive Lakers game from November 21, 1965 to December 16, 2001.  

The full list of those to be inducted as part of the Legends class are:

  • MrDoug Banks– Nationally syndicated on-air personality;
  • MrJames Brown– Legendary singer, to be inducted as a radio station owner of WJBE Knoxville, TN;
  • MrBob Coburn– Host of the syndicated Rockline show;
  • Mr. Chick Hearn– Play-by-play announcer/voice of the Los Angeles Lakers;
  • MsBernice Judis– Owner and General Manager, WNEW-AM, 1930’s–1950’s;
  • MrSid Mark– Host of syndicated program, Sounds of Sinatra show for 60+ years;
  • Mr. Bobby O’Jay– On-air personality, WDIA-AM/Memphis;
  • MrPervis Spann– On-air personality, WVON-AM/Chicago;
  • Mr. James Thompson– Group W Broadcasting President and President of the Broadcasters Foundation;
  • Ms. Rosalie Trombley– Music Director of CKLW-AM/Detroit in the 1960’s–1970’s.

“The Radio Hall of Fame is dedicated to recognizing the individuals who have made the greatest impact on our 100+ year old industry,” Kraig T. Kitchin, Co-Chairman, Radio Hall of Fame said. “I’m thrilled to see the Nominating Committee confirm the induction of these 10 individuals who each made such an impact on our industry in their time.”    

The Radio Hall of Fame will recognize its 2022 class of inductees, including the class announced in July, during a ceremony on Tuesday, November 1st.

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Sports Radio News

Tobin and Leroy Debut on WQAM Middays

“This is a big change for us,” Tobin said. “I’ve been doing morning drive, producing or hosting now, for the last decade. Now it’s to middays we go.”

Jordan Bondurant

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Tobin and Leroy

After a brief hiatus and the closure of 790 The Ticket, Brendan Tobin and Leroy Hoard officially returned to the Miami airwaves on Monday on 560 WQAM.

Tobin and Leroy debuted in its new midday timeslot of 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on the station.

“This is a big change for us,” Tobin said. “I’ve been doing morning drive, producing or hosting now, for the last decade. Now it’s to middays we go.”

Tobin added that the timing between when they made their exit from The Ticket and returned on WQAM was a bit off.

“It was a very weird week for us to take off last week. Because they were like, ‘Hey, you’re change times, you’re gonna change stations, and also it’s gonna be the busiest sports week of the year,'” he said. “So now we’re back, and nothing will happen this week.”

“There has been less action on days we thought we had to be here than what happened last week,” Hoard added.

Hoard actually arrived to the show late, citing traffic issues getting to the station. That was something even Tobin noted is an adjustment they have to make from when they were doing morning drive.

“We’ve all discovered here today is traffic is not the same at 8 a.m. as it is at 4 a.m.,” he said. “Very different.”

Tobin made sure WQAM listeners knew that even though they switched stations, the show isn’t changing. They continued with all the usual segments that fans know and love on Monday.

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Sports Radio News

Mike Rhyner Introduces Dallas to 97.1 The Freak

“So, where were we?” began Rhyner.

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Ben Torres / Special Contributor Dallas Morning News

There’s a new radio station in Dallas which features a number of personalities familiar to local sports radio listeners. 97.1 The Freak made its much anticipated debut and the first voice to be heard belonged to the ”Old Grey Wolf” Mike Rhyner.

97.1 The Eagle stopped regular programming late Monday morning and began stunting, a technique radio stations use to separate listeners from old programming and prepare them for new content. The station began by playing songs with the word “freak” in them before transitioning into a continuous loop of “The Waiting is the Hardest Part” by Tom Petty until 3p CT. Then, a voiceover detailing the Eagle’s history switched into the voice that Dallas-Forth Worth residents have gotten to know so well, Mike Rhyner.

“So, where were we?” began Rhyner.

Rhyner went on to relive his final moments at The Ticket in Dallas. He said he was getting his “head around being a Paw Paw” before getting a call from Ben Rogers of the Ben and Skin Show and thus an idea for The Freak began to take shape.

After that, the show’s intro music played and Rhyner welcomed in Mike Sirois and before you knew it, the guys were wondering about a quarterback controversy in Dallas.

97.1 The Freak is off and running with a lineup that includes “The Speakeasy,” with Jeff Cavanaugh, Kevin “KT’ Turner, Julie Dobbs, and Matt Cather in mornings (7-11am), “Ben & Skin Show” in middays (11am-3pm) and “The Downbeat” in afternoons (3p-7p) featuring Mike Rhyner alongside Mike Sirois and Michael “Grubes” Gruber.

The station is positioning itself as a lifestyle brand but given its talent connection to local sports radio and the strong interest in Dallas sports, it’s likely the talent will weave sports talk into their on-air discussions. Sports Radio 1310/96.7 The Ticket and 105.3 The Fan have enjoyed good ratings with the male 25-54 demographic and The Freak is expected to challenge them and every other brand that produces spoken word content.

“We’re beyond excited to introduce 97-1 the Freak – the level of talent is insurmountable, and we’re thrilled for the opportunity to further connect with Dallas Fort Worth,” Patrick Davis, Regional Senior Vice President of Programming Dallas, shared in an announcement.

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