Exclusive: WFAN Reportedly Will Drop Its Legendary 660 Format for CBS Sports Radio

WFANNewLogoFinalBy JERRY BARMASH

WFAN has become a sports radio institution since moving to 50,000 watt clear channel 660 on the AM dial in 1988. Tuned In has learned exclusively that station brass have decided to put upstart CBS Sports Radio on 660 in January. A person close to the situation cautions the switch is tentative.

“There is an effort to make sure that the FAN is not too adversely damaged by the change,” the source indicates.

As we reported last week, a source told Tuned In that CBS Sports Radio will finally get its elusive New York clearance sometime early in 2014.

WFAN/CBS Sports Radio had no comment for Tuned In.

Related: Insider Says WFAN to Become CBS Sports Radio in 2014 

Reportedly, there has been an internal struggle between ‘FAN execs and the network honchos regarding what to do with WFAN. CBS Radio began a ‘FAN simulcast on 101.9 FM in November. But sports powerhouse ESPN took the first dive into the FM pool in April of last year by shifting its poor 1050 signal to 98.7.

The source says removing WFAN from its popular AM spot is a no-brainer, but everyone needs to tread lightly.

“I think waiting until January is the smart move. It lets you have a year of working out the programming bugs and figuring out how you can co-exist with the station that invented sports radio,” the source tells Tuned In. “No one at the corporate level is stupid — WFAN is the voice of sports in New York City and you don’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. But there is a place for an alternative voice.”

Of course, placing that “alternative voice” on 660 is likely to find plenty of resistance.

FrancesaMike Francesa was apparently one of the lead voices in opposition to WFAN no longer living on AM. The Daily News wrote, the group “believes more people listen to the station on 660 and leaving that frequency would be a terrible business move.”

Francesa signed a multi-year extension earlier this month.

It remains a confusing concept to know if WFAN-FM is a marketing must for sports franchises. WFAN’s AM signal stretches, on most nights, across the eastern half of the United States. And nights are when most games are heard. FM does not go as far and wide, but it’s gaining a renewed momentum, the likes we haven’t since the nascent progressive rock days of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

“If, like me, they see the FM as a way to attract younger listeners then I think [teams] will be whole hog in support of it,” the source says.

Not all share that same view. James Piccoli is a media specialist based on Long Island. He says, if CBS does choose AM as its network radio home, that would sound the death knell for the almighty WFAN.

“The FM signal is limited.  I have driven to Florida in February and March and listened to 660 WFAN from New York to Miami,” Piccoli says. “The CBS Sports Network is generic sports talk for small markets.”

As for the idea of trying to bring ball clubs on board at WFAN-FM, Piccoli says that is hardly the best selling point.

“CBS Radio is in discussions with the Mets [WFAN] and Yankees [WCBS] to keep their radio rights and not lose them to ESPN NY,” Piccoli says. “If the games are not broadcast over clear signal 50,000 watts, WFAN becomes less attractive.”

Both teams’ radio contracts expire after this season.

WFAN is like most 21st century broadcasters, streaming online and via mobile devices. However, that gets dicey when play-by-play is introduced into the mix. There are usually separate deals in place with the leagues forbidding game audio on the station Website.

“Maybe [CBS Radio] feels the 50,000 watt clear channel is not as important as it once was,” Piccoli says.

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