Emmis to lease WRKS-FM NY to ESPN Radio


Emmis CommunicationsWell, the speculation is over for where ESPN Radio will end up in NYC on the FM dial–Beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Monday 4/30, ESPN Radio New York (1050 AM) will be heard on Urban AC Kiss-FM 98.7 FM in an LMA/lease between ESPN Audio and 98.7’s owner, Emmis Communications. ESPN New York 98.7 is New York’s first 24/7 sports talk station on the FM band.

For now, 98.7 FM and 1050 AM will simulcast content but plans are to turn 1050 AM into an ESPN Deportes New York Radio owned operation in conjunction with Hispanic Heritage month (Sept. 15 – Oct. 15).

 “Opportunities like this don’t come along too often and it’s tremendous that we were able to conclude a deal that will enhance our mission of serving sports fans in not just English but Spanish as well,” said Traug Keller, ESPN SVP/Production, Business Divisions. “Come Fall, Spanish-speaking New Yorkers will have their first 24/7 sports talk radio station.”

ESPN New York launched 11 years ago and will now feature a local weekday line-up that will remain mostly unchanged with Maxed Out in the Morning with Jared Max (4-6 a.m. ET), Mike Lupica (Noon-1 p.m.), Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco (1-3 p.m.) and The Michael Kay Show (3-7 p.m.). Patrick McEnroe will also have a Saturday show on the station from 10 a.m. to Noon, beginning 5/5.

The Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco Show is a new offering and capitalizes on Stephen A.’s widespread popularity on ESPN New York platforms and as a regular opposite Skip Bayless on ESPN’s First Take (ESPN2, weekdays, 10 a.m.)

National shows, Mike & Mike in the Morning (6-10 a.m.) and The Herd with Colin Cowherd (10 a.m.-Noon), remain on ESPN New York and both continue to see increased listenership and penetration in the market. February’s ratings indicate ESPN New York has had five straight months with at least a 3.0 share, good for 12th place in the market with a 3.1, up 35% year to year.

The addition of 98.7 FM in metropolitan New York reinforces ESPN Audio’s strategy to pursue FM distribution for its content. Of ESPN’s 364 full-time affiliates, 137 are positioned on the FM band, representing a growth rate of 120% in the last two and a half years. FM stations make up 30% of ESPN’s total affiliate base (not all are full-time).

“This move to the FM dial is in keeping with the industry trend of sports radio shifting (from AM) and offers an even broader reach for our content,” said Dave Roberts, ESPN Radio New York Vice President and General Manager. “By combining the FM reach with our wide variety of digital offerings from ESPN Audio, we are uniquely positioned to provide coverage of all of New York’s sports.”

Emmis also entered into a transaction to sell the intellectual property rights of Kiss FM, the to YMF Media, who is in the process of acquiring New York radio stations WBLS-FM and WLIB-AM. In conjunction with these transactions, Emmis also announced that it entered into a loan agreement with a large insurance company. The total consideration related to the proceeds from the loan agreement, initial payment from the sale of Kiss FM intellectual property rights, and the present value of certain loan reserves required under the agreement with the insurance company which Emmis expects to receive in the future, will be approximately $96 million.

The long-term LMA is not tied to a sale of the station.  Transaction proceeds will be used to repay amounts outstanding under Emmis’ senior credit facility and to pay transaction fees and expenses. 

“We want to thank our loyal employees and especially the fans of Kiss FM for an amazing 30 year run including several periods where Kiss was the number one ranked station in New York,” Emmis Chairman and CEO Jeff Smulyan said. “Recent changes in the way radio ratings are measured made it very difficult for us to find success with Kiss FM despite the great work of our Emmis New York team. We hope the best parts of Kiss will continue to live on. With enhanced financial flexibility we look forward to enhancing our service to New York’s urban community at our award winning Hot97 brand.”

This weekend Emmis New York plans to celebrate 30 years of Kiss FM. Emmis purchased Kiss FM 98.7 in 1994.

“I have so many friends on the Kiss FM team and this is an extraordinarily difficult decision for me, however the benefits to the financial health of Emmis as a whole are significant. Coupled with the sale of a controlling interest in three of our radio stations to Merlin Media and the forthcoming sale of KXOS in Los Angeles, we will have one of the healthiest balance sheets in media thereby positioning Emmis for future growth,” Smulyan said.

The Emmis employees affected by the announcement will receive generous severance packages.

RBR-TVBR observation: This is the fifth LMA Emmis is executing. Besides the three Merlin Media LMAs in NYC and Chicago, the Grupo Radio Centro deal in LA for KXOS-FM, so this is yet another way for Emmis to bank some bucks. We were a little surprised on the move, as WRKS is currently seventh in the market for Arbitron ratings. But Emmis is currently having issues, with preferred shareholder lawsuits and countersuits. Perhaps the offer came at the right time.




  1. What a major change.Back in 1966..Murray the K,Scott Muni,Johnny Michaels and Bill Rosko Mercer brought Progressive rock to WOR FM with The Sound is WORFM by mid 1967.Bill Drake brought the New York form of Boss Radio with Sebastian Stone as PD and 98.7 became the Big Town sound though the format never rivaled Drake sister stations such as KHJ and CKLW.WORFM forever changed the face of New YORK radio with WMCA,And WABC adding more oldies to their respective playlistMOR station and early sixties talker brought in Don Imus,Howard Stern and Wolfman Jack just to mention a few became 66 W N B C long before spotsradio 1050 the old WHN(before that WMGM and became 1050 The Fan before frequency move down the dial to ^^WNBC and the demise of WOR Fm and Progressive rock brought us Metromedia,s WNEW FM and the New YORK Heavy WABC FM.Jerry Clifton replaced Drake as programmer and 98.7 became ((X with The Q format.WCBS FM went from Gus Gosserts ecelectic mix to Oldies 101 which came switched to Jack and now is rockin the house with oldiesAs David Bowie once sang changes I will wish ESPN the sports shill network the best on the one time legendary 1440 broadway local WOR.Good luck to WBLS.I still remember the forerunner the old 1600 WWRL and the best jocks to come out of there Frankie Crocker and Chuck Leonard before he went to WABC and Frankie joined Murray The K at Powerradio WMCA.The ever changing face of New York radio is still crying out for something to replace WJRZ,WHN and WYNY and show New York that a top 40 Hot Country station would kick butt and take initials and never look back in the rear view mirror as Todays Country is 60,s Top $0 and a Giant in waiting to show The Big Town what radio should be. Mike Mangan,Newsradio WSTP GM and Innovative programmer of “Talk Radio that Rocks”

Comments are closed.