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Radio Row: Another shoe drops in the rapidly changing sports radio scene. How much more is to come?

Colin D. | January 5, 2015

“It is possible, however, that Front Range Sports, now flush with the $5.75M it received from Colorado Public Radio for the 102.3 signal, could make a play to purchase the Fan.”

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Another day another local sports talk radio station has been sold.

This time it’s 102.3 FM also known as “ESPN Denver”. The signal was purchased by Colorado Public Radio for $5.75M from Front Range Sports, an investment group which includes Tom “Lou from Littleton” Mannogian, “Dealin'” Doug Moreland, John Elway and Adam Schefter. The sale leaves Front Range Sports with 105.5 FM at which to broadcast its mix of local and syndicated sports programming.  

It was but a few shorts weeks ago that I reported here at South Stands Denver that 104.3 the Fan, along with a number of other stations owned by Lincoln Financial Media, had been purchased by a big national radio conglomerate called Entercom. Entercom, since it now then owned more than the legal number of FM signals in the Denver market, was forced to select one station to divest. The company decided to place 104.3 the Fan in trust to be divested since the Fan costs more money to operate than music stations and than other voice-tracked outlets like Comedy 103.1.

The Fan is basically in a holding pattern waiting for a buyer to come along. That buyer may or may not decide to keep the Fan’s format. Since local talk radio stations have the highest overhead of any format it’s likely that the next owner of the signal will opt for a different format which would mean Denver listeners would lose some of their favorite shows – shows like the Drive with Big Al and Dmac, the Fan Morning Show and the mid-day show with Sandy Clough.

It is possible, however, that Front Range Sports, now flush with the $5.75M it received from Colorado Public Radio for the 102.3 signal, could make a play to purchase the Fan. In fact, some in radio circles believe that the company is already putting an offer together.

If Front Range Sports purchased 104.3 the Fan from the Entercom trust it’s very doubtful that the company would continue to operate both 105.5 ESPN and 104.3 the Fan as separate entities. It’s far more likely that the stations would be consolidated and that a great number of jobs would be eliminated. Furthermore, it’s likely that the new “super station” that would result from combining the two stations would run as much as 50% syndicated programming, meaning even more job losses and even less locally produced shows for Denver fans.

Front Range Sports currently employs only two “live and local” hosts – Nate Kreckman and Cecil Lammey. The rest of the programming they run is piped in via feed from ESPN. The company, which is reputed to have been losing money for several years, has developed a “leaner is meaner” strategy. For that tact to be applied to the operations of 104.3 the Fan would doubtlessly result in fewer choices for Denver radio consumers.

Colorado Public Radio’s “Open Air” takes over the 102.3 signal on January 24. Meanwhile, ESPN Denver will continue to air on 105.5 FM and the Fan will plod along at 104.3 FM waiting to learn its own fate. It’s going to be an interesting next several weeks for sports talk radio in the Denver market. There’s lots left to be shaken out.

Whatever ends up happening it’s unlikely to be good news for Denver sports fans. The radio business is in bad shape and it looks like the era of three Denver sports radio stations is about to dry up. It looks as though the “pay to play” or “brokered” model incorporated by Mile High Sports Radio may be the wave of the future. Sadly, talent is less of a consideration in that model than is the ability to pay the rent. Successful hosts of brokered shows spend more time selling and collecting than they do prepping for their shows in most cases.

The Denver Post may also continue to fill the void left by dwindling sports talk radio offerings. The Post currently streams “the Press Box” with Mark Kiszla  and “Sports Show” with Woody Paige and Les Shapiro over the internet each day. Perhaps the paper will continue to morph into a multi-media company and snatch up some of the talent that may soon hit the streets when 104.3 the Fan is sold.

Written by Colin D.

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