By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Odd station out?

Let me see if I’ve got this straight. According to the Boston Globe’s Chad Finn, ESPN’s ratings- and signal-challenged Boston radio station, WAMG (AM 890), will shut down just as ESPN’s Boston Web site is making its debut.

But sports-radio ratings leader WEEI (AM 850), locked in a war with new sports station WBZ-FM (98.5 FM), will start carrying some of ESPN’s programming. Then, a few months from now, WEEI will match ‘BZ’s far better signal by moving to the FM dial. That, in turn, will open the way for ESPN to start a new Boston station at AM 850.

So ESPN goes from being number two in a two-station battle to number three in a three-station battle. It will have a better signal than it does now, but it will still be pretty lousy. And it will continue to deal with the challenge of not having any local professional games to carry.

Wow. Doesn’t sound smart to me.

On “Beat the Press” yesterday, ironically, we talked about how smart the folks are at ESPN, which is marking its 30th anniversary.

Earlier: “Optimism amid the newspaper gloom.”

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  1. amused

    If WEEI takes all of its programming to FM, they’ll need two of those signals to get coverage, and WAAF needs both to try to grab the ex-WBCN audience. And why woild Entercom compete with itself by carving the audience? Look for mike-fm to die .eei to be on aM and fm and signals and frequencies to be rearranged for eei and aaf to max out

  2. Marc

    YOur analysis is spot on except it overlooks one thing. debuts on Monday and ESPN really needs a radio platform to compliment the website. Since the new site will have Mike Reiss and Tedi Bruschi, the need is even greater. By the way, while I am seemingly a lonely voice on this, I like the ESPN programming, especially Mike and Mike and Colin Cowherd. Besides, what can be worse than D&C?

    • Dan Kennedy

      Marc: I don’t think you’re a lonely voice. The problem with ESPN Radio is that the signal is terrible.

  3. raccoonradio

    Dan: if WEEI moves to 93.7, let’s just say you’ll get it VERY well in Danvers (think that’s where you are)…that stick next to 128 and Rt 1!
    And I’ll get it very well at work in N. Reading 🙂

    Mike btw may make money for Entercom– no DJs, desirable demo, good ratings. They could pop up at 97.7 or 99.5 (buying WCRB?) There are all sorts of possibilities. If this happens quick enough “ESPN 850” could have non-Sox baseball playoffs. And 850 would become the place to put some play by play (Celts, Revs, college) when there’s a conflict.

  4. Todd

    “So ESPN goes from being number two in a two-station battle to number three in a three-station battle.”

    I don’t understand this line, Dan. The moment WBZ-FM launched last month, ESPN890 became a distant number three. You make it sound like moving to the 850 frequency will make them worse.

    Why doesn’t this move make sense for ESPN? Perhaps in the short term they lose their 24/7 radio presence, but given their poor ratings and poor signal at 890, things weren’t going to improve if they remained status quo. What do they have to lose making this move?

    I also expect that once the switch is made (ESPN fulltime on 850 and WEEI broadcasting on FM in Boston) you’ll probably see EEI’s game broadcast conflicts (Celtics, BC football and basketball) shifted to this station instead of what they currently do (moving games to WRKO).

    • Dan Kennedy

      Todd: True enough. I was referring to the position that ESPN will be in after going to the bother and expense of starting a new station at 850.

  5. Dunque

    They are probably counting on their audience to grow simply from people who already have their pre-sets on 850.

    Given that their signal IS awfuly it’s really a pretty clever strategy.

    If (and I assume it has been) the ESPN Chicago experiment has been successful the cross-promotion from the website along with the folks too lazy to change their pre-sets on the AM side, then their audience should go up fairly significantly.

    ESPN = Disney. If any folks know cross promotion it’s these guys.

    This is actually a pretty clever move.

  6. Kevin


    I think what is happening here is Entercom who needs cash will sell 850 to Disney which also owns ESPN Radio stations in major markets.

    Entercom may be betting that the local brand will be fine no matter what.

  7. George Williams

    It sounds like ESPN will end up as the primary (only?) sports station on the AM dial. That can’t be all bad. I know I’m old and live in Boston so they do not care about my listening habits but WEEI (850) comes in great for me. On the other hand, reception for the new sports station on FM really stinks and I’ve given up trying to listen to it.

  8. Amused

    I suspect that if ESPN radio has a deal with Entercom, it’s going to be something that gives it WEEI right to carry ESPN games over the air and if it has to make a deal to get the rights to the ESPN play-by-play programming it wants, that deal will mean using some ESPN chat shows on nites, weekends, and one of its HD subchannels.

    WEEI isn’t going to walk away from the frequency where everyone has been finding it since 1994 — since that would mean giving up dial familarity in a battle with a new station thath doesn’t have any dial familiarity whatsoever.

    As for the ESPN Web site, ‘EEI has spent a lot on its own site; it’s not going to help its web competition become a destination site for Boston sports news by giving ESPN the local sports news credibility that would come by allowing it to go on one of the three AM radio frequencies worth a damn in Boston.

    All of the Entercom FM stations are licensed to cities well outside of Boston — WAAF is on two frequencies, one in Brockton, the other in Westborough. Mike is licensed to Lawrence. None of those signals provide good coverage of the entire market, so neither WEEI or WAAF can win on only one of Entercom’s existing FM signals.

    So…what Entercom needs to do is keep WEEI on its traditional frequency 850 kc., keep WAAF on its traditional frequency, 107.3 and use the 93.9 and 97.7 frequencies so that each station the best market penetration possible, while offering ESPN more than CBS can offer so that its attractive radio package goes on WEEI. ESPN has absolutely no bargaining position in Boston unless ABC buys a major signal, so if Entercom allows ESPN programming on 850, it is giving away the store on both radio and the web.

    Unless, of course, their strategy is to be the Misogny/Racist/Right Wing Nut Station and wants to protect that niche by having WBZ-FM and ESPN battle over “serious sports talk.”

    The elephant in the room is Entercom’s WRKO; would teh company dump the calls and format as part of a realignment? Wouldn’t they then have to pay off Howie while he skates to FM talk?

  9. Amused

    Oops, a correction — I didn’t mean that if entercom allows ESPN programming on 850 it gives away the store, I meant that if WEEI leaves 850 and that frequency becomes all ESPN all-the-time then Entercom has given away the store.

  10. Joel

    Dan, I think you have this all wrong. This would be a different espn radio than what you heard on 890 and feature the likes of those just hired by espnboston and those local guys at espn like mike reiss, peter gammons, michael smith, and possibly tedy bruschi. we’re not talking more of winter and the other retreads at 890.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Joel: How is that in conflict with anything I wrote? As I said: (1) worst signal of the three sports stations; (2) no local professional games.

  11. Jim C

    personally, I think anything that will provide meaningful sports talk alternatives to D & C is greatly welcome. I think there’s little doubt that WEEI is feeling the heat of WBZ-FM; why else would ALL the Sox games suddenly come “home” to EEI, along with all the other “improvements” (gee, I wonder where the 15 minute commercial breaks went?????) I just hope that Mike & Mike is available through the football season. That’s when they shine.

  12. raccoonradio

    While 93.7 is licensed to Lawrence, their antenna is in Peabody–the engineer who helped put it on says it’s maybe 10 miles from Boston. That isn’t bad. (One rumor had WEEI going to 99.5, whose tower in Andover is 24.5 miles from Boston…don’t think so). WMKK covers much of the Boston area. WCRB 99.5 has problems to the south. OK, so Entercom could have WEEI on both 93.7 and 97.7 or something like that. Does well.

    ESPN 890 is now running a looped announcement saying that they are leaving the air today.

  13. The big problem with this is that both WAAF 107.3/97.7 and WMKK 93.7 make money for Entercom Boston. Not as much as WEEI, of course, but they make money.

    I seriously doubt that if Entercom moves WEEI to an FM signal that they could jack up the ad rates high enough to offset the loss of revenue from destroying WAAF or WMKK. I say that because WEEI’s ad rates are already sky-high.

    Perhaps Entercom would purchase another FM signal but I don’t see how that makes fiscal sense. Major market FM signals, even in this depressed economy, are still going to sell for mondo dollars…even WCRB 99.5 should fetch well over $50 million. Hell, it could fetch over $75 million.

    Presumably Entercom could recoup some of that with a sale of the 850AM signal, or the 680AM signal (which is more-or-less the same coverage) but I would think that if anyone was going to give them real money for 850AM it’d be ESPN, and we’d be hearing about an actual sale right now…not this goofy “carry some of ESPN’s programming” deal.

    The real problem here is that most of Boston’s AM signals were ideal for covering the market 40 years ago when they were locked into their current configurations…but they’re totally inadequate today. WRKO and WEEI are prime examples…back in the day there was very little population west of their locations, now Metrowest is home to some of the most lucrative demographics.

    I suppose WEEI could break up the simulcast of WAAF on 107.3 and 97.7…probably putting sports on 93.7, leaving WAAF on 107.3, and moving Mike to 97.7. That’s a tremendous waste of a lot of marketing effort and money, but it’s certainly very cost-effective. While 97.7 doesn’t have anywhere near the coverage 93.7 does, the signal isn’t too shabby overall (especially in the car).

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