NEW YORK — From Newburgh in the mid-Hudson Valley to Northern New Jersey, much of Long Island and all of the Five Boroughs, Class B 50kw WEPN-AM 1050 in New York has served Spanish-speaking audiences as the owned-and-operated flagship of ESPN Deportes Radio.
Come September 8, that will be coming to an end, as the entire network is shutting down. However, RBR+TVBR has confirmed that the radio network’s most popular shows will be moving to the digital realm.
In a statement posted to the ESPN Front Row blog just before Noon Eastern, ESPN Deportes explained the reason for the closure of its radio operations.
“Hispanic audience consumer habits are changing rapidly and this requires ESPN to evolve as well,” it said.
What it did not say but was confirmed by RBR+TVBR was that, come Sept. 8, some 10 full-time staff and 25 part-timers will be saying goodbye to ESPN Deportes Radio’s ninth-floor home at 2 Alhambra Circle in the heart of Coral Gables, Fla. An undetermined number of sales executives based in New York will also be impacted by the closure.
What won’t be impacted, and in fact could be enhanced, are the most popular ESPN Deportes Radio network shows — and perhaps the talent associated with them.
The statement on ESPN Front Row continued, “It’s no secret Hispanic fans skew heavily on digital and social, which is why we made the decision to discontinue ESPN Deportes terrestrial radio in September. Moving forward, ESPN will continue serving Hispanic sports fans with the widest variety of sports through multiple platforms including television, digital, social, mobile and audio podcasts.”
In fact, it is through podcasts that Raza Deportiva and Fútbol Picante will continue. Furthermore, signature program Jorge Ramos y Su Banda will continue as a podcast and as a live in-studio TV show; the show started on radio and later added a ESPN Deportes TV simulcast due to its popularity.
It marks what one ESPN representative called The Walt Disney Company-owned brand’s “full throttle” effort to shift its audio focus to the digital realm.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR STATIONS?
While WEPN is the lone O&O in the ESPN/Disney family to air ESPN Deportes Radio, some 44 affiliates can be found across the U.S.
In some cases, ESPN wasn’t kind with their demand for clearances. In Fort Myers-Naples, Fla., a renewal for ESPN Radio rights tied to Beasley Media Group‘s WWCN was so heated that the company shifted the station from 770 kHZ to 99.3 MHz, replacing 11-year Active Rocker WJBX-FM “99X.” One of the primary reasons for the move was ESPN’s insistence that ESPN Deportes Radio be cleared in the market; it ended up on the AM signal.
Similarly, Good Karma Broadcasting-owned WEFL-AM 760 in the West Palm Beach market became an ESPN Deportes Radio affiliate after the ESPN Radio programming was moved to WUUB-FM 106.3, purchased in spring 2013.
The fate of WEFL, WWCN-AM and 41 of the other 42 affiliates wasn’t immediately known.
At perhaps the biggest ESPN Deportes Radio affiliate, Spanish-language sports coverage will continue.
That’s Lotus Communications-owned KWKW-AM 1330 in Los Angeles, which did not learn of the ESPN Deportes Radio closure until after the ESPN Front Row post was made public.
The Class B facility with 1 tower for daytime and 2 towers for nighttime broadcasts was all-Sports for eight years before ESPN Deportes Radio debuted, Lotus President Jim Kalmenson told RBR+TVBR as he was walking in to a staff meeting to discuss the immediate future of KWKW come September 9.
“We will continue to be the one and only Sports station [serving Spanish speakers] in Los Angeles,” Kalmenson said, adding that a deal is pending for some syndicated programs to fill slots presently held by ESPN Deportes Radio shows.
“We have a major array of excellent sports,” Kalmenson said. “Sports radio is strong.”
In his view, ESPN Deportes Radio was hampered by a scattershot growth plan.
“They had trouble getting advertising clients because they never built a true national network,” Kalmenson said.
In markets such as Miami, the programming — largely tied to Hispanics of Mexican heritage — failed to attract a largely Caribbean population base. It started on WOCN-AM 1450, and in July 2011 moved to WNMA-AM 1210. Today, ESPN Deportes Radio is on WMYM-AM 990, a one-time Radio Disney O&O.
For KWKW, ESPN Deportes Radio played a support role to locally based programs Kalmenson said are higher-rated than those offered to the national audience. Additionally, he’s proud of KWKW being home to Spanish-language play-by-play of the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers NBA franchises, the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, the L.A. Galaxy of Major League Soccer, and 50 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim MLB games.
Further, Lotus contracted with Fútbol de Primera to exclusively produce coverage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France for KWKW.
Meanwhile, in New York, questions are already arising regarding the future of such talent as Tenchy Rodriguez, winner of the 2019 Medallas de Cortez award for Local Personality of Year for his program at WEPN.
An ESPN Deportes representative would only comment to RBR+TVBR that the shutdown of the network would result in “staff impact” and could not speak of individual talent.
WEPN will swap ESPN Deportes Radio programming for English-language sports programming, including live play-by-play. With speculation running rampant that the YES Network and New York Yankees want to purchase a station, rumors are flying that WEPN-AM or WEPN-FM, operated as “ESPN Radio New York” via an LMA with licensee Emmis Communications, are YES’s targets.
Regardless of what happens, Spanish-language sports fans will be heading to their smartphones, tablets, and laptops come September 9 in some 43 cities.
Tenchy Rodriguez and 35 others could be heading to the unemployment line.