On Friday, New York City’s terrestrial radio dial will lose its modern rock station. Ennis Communications is selling WRXP 101.9 to Merlin Media, and tomorrow, Merlin will take over programming. Eventually, the station will move to a news/talk format, but the sale requires federal approval which won’t arrive until the fall.
Now, why, you must be wondering, am I writing about an FM radio station format flip and sale on a Yankees site? Well, with the end of WCBS-AM’s five-year, $65-million contract looming at the end of the season, the Yankees and their radio broadcasts will be one of the most lucrative baseball free agents this winter, and Merlin, by many accounts, will attempt to play a role in the bidding.
Tied in with the fate of the Yankee radio rights are the futures of John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman. Bob Raissman had more on this story recently:
If WCBS radio re-ups with the Yankees, Sterling and Waldman will be retained. Despite all the blunderful calls and uncomfortable moments, the suits there have never complained about Ma and Pa’s performance.
The voices would likely be on the ropes if ESPN-1050 gets the rights. Considering the station’s weak signal (two Dixie cups attached by a string) that’s a longshot. Still, money changes everything. If ESPN brass is willing to pay silly dough for the Yankees it could land them, thus greatly improving its chances of finally toppling The Sports Pope Radio Network. If ESPN does acquire the rights, it would select its own voices. Yet one well-embedded 1050 mole said ESPN would consider keeping Pa but probably dump Ma.
The other possible player could be WRXP-FM. Merlin Media recently purchased a majority stake in the station from Emmis Communications. Already, there is speculation that WRXP, 101.9 FM (rock and alternative) will change its format to a conglomeration of news, talk and sports. What better way to get instant recognition than to have the Yankees, a mega-marquee property, as WRXP’s anchor tenant. The familiar sound of Sterling and Waldman would be a plus in a new format launch.
There’s always the possibility – and it’s a strong one – that in any new deal Yankees suits will demand the right to select the radio broadcasters or, at least, the right to approve the voices. This would be a positive development for Sterling and Waldman.
Raissman, decidedly not a fan of the duo he has termed Ma and Pa Pinstripe, has been speculating on their ousters for a while, but it seems as though the team is married to the pair. Waldman has blazed a trail as the first female in the radio broadcast booth, and jettisoning her could be a costly move. Sterling and his histrionics are popular (although CBS-AM’s ratings are dropping despite the popularity of the Yanks). I do like Raissman’s suggestion that the Yanks add some younger blood to the broadcast booth to spell John and Suzyn, but the two seem to miss games only for religious holidays and rarely anything else.
The bigger issue, as I mentioned in February, will concern the strength of the Yanks’ radio broadcast signal no matter where it moves. ESPN 1050 has a very weak signal compared to WCBS’ powerful booster, and sticking the Yanks on FM would lead to clear sound but a significantly smaller broadcast radio. In the car, for instance, I can tune into 101.9 only as far north as Miller Hill Road in Hopewell Junction on the Taconic but can get 880 AM loud and clear in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts.
To visualize the potential signal change, take a look at this post on Bostonography. The typographically-oriented site recently compared the Yanks’ and Red Sox’s relative broadcast coverage, and it’s clear just how strong the Yanks’ AM radio affiliates are as compared with their FM counterparts. A frequency switch could spell bad news indeed for fans accustomed to WCBS AM’s signal. MLB.com’s radio package might just look more appealing come 2012.