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Signs in Air for WFAN to Make FM Jump

Coming off its silver anniversary celebration, WFAN, the most powerful all-sports station in America, may be positioning itself for a dramatic dial switch to FM.

Several factors are at play for WFAN to make that leap of frequency: First and foremost is last month’s announcement that CBS Sports Radio is being created. Original 24-hour programming will air on stations throughout the country starting in January. But as early as September, CBS Sports Radio will provide updates to affiliated stations.

One of those stations poised to take some of the network content is WFAN. Operations manager Mark Chernoff remains steadfast in the future of 660 AM.

“WFAN is locally programmed, no change.”

But there is much more to this story.

ESPN got its much-coveted FM home in New York at 98.7 in April. Ratings have immediately been impressive. But beyond that, FM is not just attractive to listeners and advertisers, it’s attractive to sports franchises.

The Yankees, heard on WCBS, are languishing through 2012 without a contract, in effect, like a lame duck president. They will be the biggest, off-season free-agent signing.

A former CBS Radio employee, who asked to remain anonymous, tells FishbowlNY that the Yankees are likely done with WCBS.

“If anything, they will go to the ‘FAN or WEPN FM,” the source says. “Whoever doesn’t get the Yankees will get the Mets, but there is a chance WFAN could try for both and clear the Mets on 660 and the Yankees on FM.”

Despite the stronger night time signal AM offers, the Bombers will likely dictate the need for being on FM.

“What the Yankees want to do is what the Giants have been doing, hold the broadcast rights and ‘lease’ time on a station,” the source adds. “WFAN then gets a guaranteed amount and loses the overhead of having to sell the spots while the Yankees retain total creative control and they have endless potential to profit as they sell spots. But it’s easier for those spots to be sold on FM even thought FM doesn’t have the full ‘reach’ like AM does.”

There’s another reason that the stars are aligned for a WFAN jump.

In May, Brian Thomas left WCBS-FM for CBS Radio in Tampa. Instead of hiring from outside or even promoting from within, to fill that spot, CBS gave Jim Ryan a dual programming role. He was hired in 2011 as the Fresh 102.7 program director. Therefore, in a effort to “keep the seat warm,” once a move is decided, WFAN can easily take over the 102.7 spot.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if CBS uses 660 as a clearing house for the CBS Sports Network while 102.7 maintains a local angle,” the source tells FishbowlNY.

In our recent interview to mark WFAN’s anniversary, Mike Francesa was open, if not cryptic, as to WFAN’s future.

“We’re in a cataclysmic shift right now,” Francesa says. “I just don’t know what shape it’s going to take… It needs time to settle.”

Furthermore, CBS’ recent flip to Top 40/CHR in Boston probably takes NOW FM/WXRK off the ‘FAN simulcast list.

The source, who spoke to FishbowlNY, contends, “ESPN had interesting numbers out of the gate. FAN still has a huge advantage in New York, but there will come a point where an FM signal may be needed during rights negotiations with sports teams. More and more teams are moving to FM across the country, and the Yankees may be attracted by WFAN if they had an AM and FM.”

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