Well, 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.