Reports have been circulating for several weeks now that CBS Radio would be permitting SportsRadio 610 WIP to take over classic rock station 94 WYSP (also a CBS Radio property), and later today, the news will become official, a local media source confirmed to the Brotherly Game. This move is being made almost in direct response to a move made nearly two years ago by the then-obscure local ESPN Radio affiliate, 950 AM, who moved their primary operations to the FM dial and renamed themselves as "97.5 The Fanatic" in attempt to tap into a younger demographic and compete with the long-time local juggernaut. And their rise, thanks to a combination of their move to FM and successful talent hires, has been nothing short of meteoric: what was once a WIP monopoly for local sports talk has quickly become a duopoly between WIP and 97.5 The Fanatic, and 97.5 looks to still be on the rise. (Our source intimated that long-time WIP host Howard Eskin's announcement three days ago that he will no longer have a daily show starting in September is not unrelated to their struggling ratings and upcoming move to FM.)
WIP simply cannot compete effectively with 97.5 The Fanatic from a ratings perspective if they remain on the AM dial, and it appears that management within both WIP and CBS Radio agreed that they needed to make the switch. Unfortunately, there's only a certain amount of interference-free FM spectrum available for use, and, like in other major markets, there is no room in the Philadelphia region for an entirely new FM entry. So CBS Radio has been forced to cannibalize one of its two pre-existing FM properties to give WIP a space on the dial, and it picked the lower-rated WYSP over classic hits station WOGL. WYSP has been, in its own right, slowly but surely losing its battle for Philadelphia rock radio to WMMR (which is ironically owned by the same group as 97.5 The Fanatic), and our source believes that the possibility of WIP taking over WYSP would not have even been considered if CBS Radio thought that they stood a chance of competing against WMMR over the long-term.
As an added benefit to choosing WYSP, 94 already has a deep connection to sports among many Philadelphians. WYSP has been the Eagles Radio Network flagship station since 1992, and has been used as an overflow station for Flyers and Sixers broadcasts when both WIP and WPHT have other commitments. All indications are that, like 97.5 The Fanatic, the new SportsRadio 94 WIP (just feels weird to write it like that) will keep its old AM frequency operational and use it for overflow programming.
From the perspective of the Union, though, this news could not be any worse.
The Union -- and, really, the sport of soccer -- seem to be wholeheartedly rejected by the on-air talent on both WIP and 97.5 The Fanatic. There are certainly a few exceptions on both stations, but anytime a caller manages to sneak through and try to talk about soccer to them, they're all but peer-pressured out of having a serious discussion about soccer. It's important to note that a lot of these same soccer haters are often just as unwilling to talk about the Philadelphia Flyers and the sport of hockey, which probably tells you all you need to know about them.
WYSP -- a non-sports talk station -- actually gave the Union the most attention of any station on the AM or FM bands (though it must be said that KYW Newsradio 1060, another CBS Radio property, does give Union scores and reports just as it does for the Phillies, Eagles, Sixers and Flyers, thanks to Union advocates Greg Orlandini and Matt Leon). Right from the beginning of the team's inaugural season, Union players, coaches and executives were regularly welcomed on the station's main morning program, The Danny Bonaduce Show. In addition, WYSP host Gordon Mays produces web content about the Union for the station's website, has often hosted his evening show live from Union home matches, and produces the excellent Union Sound podcast in conjunction with the team with interviews from players and coaches.
To have the Union's biggest advocate on the radio absorbed by arguably their biggest critic will not help the only Major League Soccer team without any official radio partners. If the Union were ever interested in doing English radio broadcasts for some or all of their matches, WYSP would have unquestionably been their first choice. There is, frankly, next to no chance that WIP or 97.5 The Fanatic would be interested, and as our source put it, the only reason that WIP is even listed in the Union's media directory is the desire of team executives to be courteous to them. WIP doesn't give "a flying [you know what] about soccer", our source reiterated, but the Union are trying to stay in touch with WIP to make sure that communication lines are always open, just in case they have a change of heart somewhere down the line.
In terms of the team's local media presence, this shake-up by CBS Radio will make the Union even more dependent on television partners 6abc and Comcast SportsNet for any sort of team coverage outside of match broadcasts. Unless they can their way onto WMMR's top-rated Preston and Steve show and other local programs (both radio and television) on a more consistent basis, they're about to find themselves in a situation where there is a decreasing amount of ancillary discussion about the team in the Philadelphia media, at a crucial time in the franchise's development where they are trying to piggyback on the team being in a position to contend for a playoff berth for the first time ever. If the Union remain in playoff contention as the season draws to a close, the front office will be trying to hype up the team and build a bit of a buzz throughout the city (at least, as much of a buzz that can be created at the same time as the MLB playoffs), and having a decreasing number of outlets to try and do that through is not what they've been hoping for.
Of course, however, the people that this will impact the most is those who work at WYSP, both on- and off-the-air. The Brotherly Game would like to wish everyone at WYSP the absolute best going forward.