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Enter Entercom

“This market can't sustain a winning sports team, let alone two or three sports radio stations.”

Lincoln Financial sold off its radio division, including three San Diego stations.
Lincoln Financial sold off its radio division, including three San Diego stations.

Could wide receiver Eddie Royal replace “Royals” by Lorde? Could Brandon Flowers of the Chargers take the airwaves from Brandon Flowers of the Killers?

Local radio stations KSON, KIFM, and FM94/9 were sold on Monday. They were part of a 15-station, four-city group owned by insurance giant Lincoln Financial, which sold its radio division to Pennsylvania-based Entercom, the nation’s third-largest radio conglomerate, which already owned 100 stations in 21 cities.

While the $105-million sale won’t be completed until next year, Entercom will start running its new San Diego stations January 16 under an agreement with Lincoln Financial.

Radio insiders are speculating what the changes could mean. Those asked agree that KSON (country) and KIFM (soft pop) probably will not change musical direction because of their ratings success and because they each have no direct competitor.

That leaves modern rocker FM94/9. While some cities have no alternative stations, San Diego has had two, FM94/9 since 2002, and competitor 91X since 1983. In the latest Arbitron ratings, 91X is in 14th place among all local listeners, and 94/9 is in 17th.

Some wonder if Entercom might do what it did to one of its FM stations in San Francisco three years ago: flip it from music to sports.

The official answer from Entercom is “no comment.” Entercom spokesman Greg Kaufman says that it is “too early to tell” what might happen.

But it is possible to analyze what Entercom may do based on the group of stations it already controls. Of its 100 stations, five are alternative, including two successful outlets in Seattle and Portland. (Garett Michaels, who ran FM94/9 for ten years, now programs “The End” in Seattle for Entercom).

But Entercom loves sports. Currently 19 of its stations are all-sports. Of its seven Boston stations, five are all-sports. Entercom stations handle hometown play-by-play broadcasts for the Red Sox, Bills, Royals, Grizzlies, Saints, A’s, and the Raiders.

Stations live and die by its advertisers. Two local ad buyers, Steve Ezratty (Bob Baker Auto Group) and Dale Weston (Toyota Carlsbad), were asked what they thought might happen to FM94/9.

Both agreed it would be futile for 94/9 to go all sports unless the station could hook up with either the Padres or the Chargers for the rights to carry their play-by-play. The Chargers are committed to Rock 105.3 and sister station all-sports XTRA 1360AM through this season. According to a report in the U-T, Padres are committed to Mighty 1090AM through 2015.

Ezratty admits an all-sports 94/9 would have the advantage over existing all-sports stations Mighty 1090AM and XTRA 1360AM because of its preferred FM signal, but, “Without a sports team, there is not much chance [for a new sports station].”

“This market can't sustain a winning sports team, let alone two or three sports radio stations,” says Weston. “Should Entercom want to make a format change on 94/9, I would tend to believe that they would target women, since it’s an easier and less costly format than sports.”

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Lincoln Financial sold off its radio division, including three San Diego stations.
Lincoln Financial sold off its radio division, including three San Diego stations.

Could wide receiver Eddie Royal replace “Royals” by Lorde? Could Brandon Flowers of the Chargers take the airwaves from Brandon Flowers of the Killers?

Local radio stations KSON, KIFM, and FM94/9 were sold on Monday. They were part of a 15-station, four-city group owned by insurance giant Lincoln Financial, which sold its radio division to Pennsylvania-based Entercom, the nation’s third-largest radio conglomerate, which already owned 100 stations in 21 cities.

While the $105-million sale won’t be completed until next year, Entercom will start running its new San Diego stations January 16 under an agreement with Lincoln Financial.

Radio insiders are speculating what the changes could mean. Those asked agree that KSON (country) and KIFM (soft pop) probably will not change musical direction because of their ratings success and because they each have no direct competitor.

That leaves modern rocker FM94/9. While some cities have no alternative stations, San Diego has had two, FM94/9 since 2002, and competitor 91X since 1983. In the latest Arbitron ratings, 91X is in 14th place among all local listeners, and 94/9 is in 17th.

Some wonder if Entercom might do what it did to one of its FM stations in San Francisco three years ago: flip it from music to sports.

The official answer from Entercom is “no comment.” Entercom spokesman Greg Kaufman says that it is “too early to tell” what might happen.

But it is possible to analyze what Entercom may do based on the group of stations it already controls. Of its 100 stations, five are alternative, including two successful outlets in Seattle and Portland. (Garett Michaels, who ran FM94/9 for ten years, now programs “The End” in Seattle for Entercom).

But Entercom loves sports. Currently 19 of its stations are all-sports. Of its seven Boston stations, five are all-sports. Entercom stations handle hometown play-by-play broadcasts for the Red Sox, Bills, Royals, Grizzlies, Saints, A’s, and the Raiders.

Stations live and die by its advertisers. Two local ad buyers, Steve Ezratty (Bob Baker Auto Group) and Dale Weston (Toyota Carlsbad), were asked what they thought might happen to FM94/9.

Both agreed it would be futile for 94/9 to go all sports unless the station could hook up with either the Padres or the Chargers for the rights to carry their play-by-play. The Chargers are committed to Rock 105.3 and sister station all-sports XTRA 1360AM through this season. According to a report in the U-T, Padres are committed to Mighty 1090AM through 2015.

Ezratty admits an all-sports 94/9 would have the advantage over existing all-sports stations Mighty 1090AM and XTRA 1360AM because of its preferred FM signal, but, “Without a sports team, there is not much chance [for a new sports station].”

“This market can't sustain a winning sports team, let alone two or three sports radio stations,” says Weston. “Should Entercom want to make a format change on 94/9, I would tend to believe that they would target women, since it’s an easier and less costly format than sports.”

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Comments
3

Bill Johnston, Chargers Public Relations director got back after this article came out. He said "No comment." He could have said something like "We have no plans to change our relationship with Clear Channel at this time." He did not.

Dec. 11, 2014

Hey Ken, Maybe his response has something to do with the Chargers likely moving to LA in 2016?

Dec. 23, 2014

Josh - There still needs to be a local radio outlet to carry Chargers' play-by-play in 2015, and that station(s) has not been announced. If Entercom were to commit to sports on 94/9, this affiliation, even if it was just for one year, would certainly get it on the map. And it would also make it more possible for this new 94.9 FM sports station to raid the talent from Mighty 1090 (the top-rated Scott and B.R. immediately comes to mind). Radio insiders tell me that CBS-owned 103.7 was very close to flipping to sports two years ago, with Scott and BR anchoring mornings. On the other hand, sports stations are considered to be more costly to run, since they have to employ more live-and-local talent than music stations. Then again, being the only FM sports station in town may allow 94.9 to topple 1360 AM which has a weak, scratchy signal and meager ratings, and 1090 which is a Mexican station and has to air those annoying Mexican public service announcements. Clear Channel is only halfway committed to all-sports here with its 1360 signal, and the company that owns 1090 is independent and just doesn't have the resources or the countrywide sports juice that Entercom has. It seems to me that Entercom sees this opportunity (to dominate sports radio in San Diego) as easy to get, low hanging fruit. But, they must also ask themselves is it worth it. In other words, would they NET more money being San Diego's sports powerhouse, or would they net more running the 2nd of two alternative stations. Entercom will ultimately figure this out.

Dec. 24, 2014

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