Cumulus Media has reached a local marketing agreement with ESPN to manage and operate DFW’s KESN/103.3 FM ESPN Radio.
ESPN will retain ownership, but since Cumulus owns rival sports station KTCK/1310 AM “The Ticket” and FM signals are often seen as more desirable than AM signals, this has stirred up the rumor mill pretty good.
“They have a great sales team and great talent and we are looking forward to our partnership,” Dan Bennett, vice president/marketing manager for Cumulus Dallas, said in an email. “We are looking forward to working with them.”
We’re hearing, and Radio Ink is reporting, that the station will remain an ESPN affiliate, with a mix of national and local programming -- which is pretty much what it is now. Just what the local slots will be appears a bit unclear, although Bennett says that no changes are planned in format or air staff.
Richie Whitt, who has seen sports radio from the inside out, speculated about something like this happening close to a month ago on his DFWSportatorium site (third item). In a post today, Whitt sees this as the next step in the Ticket’s move to the 103.3 frequency, with the possibility of ESPN Radio moving to 1310. The Dallas Morning News’ Barry Horn sees something similar, although what exactly is going to happen remains unclear.
Bennett dismissed those reports, saying “None of this is coming from us.”
UPDATE: Star-Telegram sports writer Mac Engel has also posted on this on his Big Mac Blog, with some additional info:
“A source said the executives at ESPN Radio in Dallas were unaware of this merger until last night. This same source also said that ESPN's radio personnel will relocate from its office in Irving to downtown Dallas at Victory Park, where The Ticket currently operates. ESPN's Dallas affiliate built and moved into new offices in Irving approximately four years ago.”
Engel also shows some healthy skpeticism:
“So far everyone involved has been told this acquisition will not affect the respective lineups at either station. Don't buy it. That's what they all say in the beginning, and a few months later changes are made.”
If a frequency change for the Ticket were to happen, it could be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, DFW’s longest-running and by far most successful sports-radio station could benefit from a move to an FM signal that allows for better audio quality and market reach. On the other hand, the Ticket has been at 1310 AM for nearly 20 years and has worked very well at that frequency, and when you try to fix what ain’t broke, there could be consequences.
The Ticket has had an FM simulcast for years on Sanger-based KTDK/104.1 FM, which hits the northern parts of Tarrant and Dallas counties and points north into Oklahoma. Cumulus recently sold that frequency, although the Ticket is still broadcasting on it pending completion of the deal (the LMA deal with ESPN will take effect once the KTDK deal is closed). KESN’s Allen-based transmitter is much more powerful, and reaches all of Tarrant and Dallas counties, which is important when it comes to ratings.
Cumulus’ owning one sports station and managing another in the same market might seem unusual, but Cumulus has other similar double-ups in DFW: It owns talk stations KLIF/570 AM and WBAP/820 AM/96.7 FM outright, as well as country stations KSCS/96.3 FM and KPLX/99.5 FM “The Wolf.”
Second UPDATE: The Ticket is teasing a “big announcement” at 7:40 a.m. Thursday during The Musers with George Dunham & Craig Miller and Gordon Keith. This might be a red herring -- often “big announcements” have to do wtih contests or other station promotions. Then again, it might not be a red herring. Tune in to find out.