Why the switch to the FM dial is smart for ESPN
It had been rumored but as of this morning it was official: ESPN Radio in New York was making the move to the FM dial.
Ask any sports fan and they’ll tell you why this is welcomed news. Listening to ESPN Radio on Long Island, via it’s New York City transmission on WEPN 1050 AM, can be a nightmare. And here’s why.
All radio stations are given precise instructions from the FCC on what frequency they can broadcast on, how much power and in which directions. Sometimes stations will not transmit as much in one direction (let’s say north) than another (let’s say south) if there is another station on the same frequency (to the north). If they did there would be some horrible interference for listeners living where the signals overlapped. And with radio transmissions victim to atmospheric conditions it’s always good to have a little extra elbow room in there. One solar flare and your signal could start bouncing all over the place.
One advantage of the FM dial over the AM dial is the signal strength. The science behind is complicated but to make a long story short: FM signals are clearer. They’re less likely to get interference from your kitchen light, a tall building along the interstate or overhead power lines. (For you old time tv folks think VHF and UHF.) (It’s worth noting clearer and stronger are not necessarily the same thing. While an FM signal is likely to be crisper and have more depth an AM signal will actually go further on the same amount of power. It’s all a ratio between power and frequency. And in the case of WCBS 880 AM it’s a clear channel station. No one else broadcasts on 880 AM in the United States. There for if conditions are right you could hear WCBS from as far away as… let’s say… Atlanta. The same goes for WFAN 660 AM).
When ESPN jumps to WKRS 98.3 FM next week it will not only gain space on the clearer FM dial but also a stronger Long Island signal reach. It’s 1050 AM signal was truncated over Long Island. Frankly, I’m not sure why in this particular case but I can say that their new home on 98.3 FM has no directional limitations. And while it’s new reach may not appear wider, remember that the FM signal is clearer so living on the edge of the frequency won’t be as horrible as if you were on the edge of an AM signal. It also means they won’t be pumping out half of their signal to the ocean (I wonder if sea creatures are Mets or Yankees fans… probably Marlins fans).
And of course everything comes down to money. ESPN has been struggling in the ratings against CBS-owned WFAN 660 AM, which invented the all-sports format when it took over WNBC AM in 1988. By moving to the FM dial, ESPN has some advantages. It’ll reach a younger audience (those scanning the music dial rather than the talk dial) and it’ll be clearer (I think I may have said that already). ESPN likely hopes being clearer means they could score a deal with the New York Mets or New York Yankees to broadcast their games. Those contracts, both currently with CBS, end after this current baseball seasons. Currently those broadcasts cannot be heard on the FM dial unless you’re in the minority that owns an HD radio, which allows you to get sub-channels much like the ones now available on television. (The Mets can be heard on the WFAN simulcast on WXRK 92.3 FM’s hd three channel and the Yankees on the WCBS simulcast on WCBS 101.1 FM’s hd three channel).
So where does the Internet come into all of this? As with satellite and HD radio, Internet radio is digital. You either have the full signal or no signal at all. You can listen to ESPN Radio, WFAN and many other stations online through a computer or mobile device but contract limitations between professional sporting teams and radio stations prevent live game coverage from streaming. In other words, teams do not want out of market listeners (let’s say those in Atlanta) listening to WFAN online to hear the Mets games. Teams would rather sell that coverage to Georgians through MLB.com. On that same note, the stations want to make sure listeners are listening on the radio – - where advertising is plentiful.
As technology continues to reinvent the radio wheel over and over again we can look forward to new ways to enjoy our favorite content. Mind you though that some of this just gets plain old confusing after awhile.
Here is audio of the switchover
This is a column by SmithtownRadio.com’s James Brierton. His opinion is his own and does not represent that of SmithtownRadio.com.