In recent years, the southern New Jersey radio market has seen sports talk and programming making its move onto the FM dial.
WENJ-AM 1450, commonly known as ESPN, took over the WXKM-FM 97.3 radio frequency in 2009. The switch to FM allowed ESPN to be heard throughout area, including "The Sports Bash with Mike Gill," hosted by Margate's Mike Gill from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays.
In the latest development, the broadcast of all Philadelphia Phillies regular season baseball games starts April 1 on Equity Communication's classic rock station WZXL-FM 100.7. In years past, the station's sister stations, WEZW-FM 93.1, in Cape May County, and WMID-AM 1230 and WMID-1340 AM have aired the games and will continue to do so, including the preseason, which starts Feb. 25. The agreement between the Phillies and WZXL lasts for the next five years.
The expansion of talk and sports programming from AM to FM is a transition that has been going on under the radar for the past five years and as only recently reached a tipping point, said Gary Fisher, president of Equity Communications.
The switch is being driven by three issues - signal strength, audience response and revenue, Fisher said. Radio executives are putting their sports programming where their audience is - 85 percent of all radio listening these days is done on the FM band.
"This is due to the superior fidelity of FM stereo, combined with the increasing interference and annoying static on AM, particularly with small signal AMs like the ones in Atlantic City," Fisher said.
Next month, WZXL begins giving away free Phillies tickets every Thursday and Friday, and it will continue throughout the season. Twenty pairs of tickets will be given away weekly, which comes to about 500 pairs of tickets and a $30,000 investment by Equity.
Fisher doesn't believe classic rock music fans will turn the dial when the Phillies game comes on and not return.
"Since there is no other classic rock station in South Jersey, we're confident we'll keep all or most of our listeners. We know from our research, internal focus groups and the response we've gotten to putting the games on ZXL that most classic rock fans are Phillies fans, so we don't anticipate any slippage," said Fisher.
The move by WZXL to air Phillies games is part of a larger national trend that also has seen sports talk radio WIP-AM 610 take over the signal WYSP-FM 94.1 It was announced last month that active rock station WMMS-FM 100.7 in Cleveland would simulcast a majority of Cleveland Indians baseball games for the next five seasons.
Gill was on WENJ-AM 1450 before it started to be broadcast on WXKM-FM 97.3. He said he picked up younger listeners when the FM broadcasts started.
"We went from 1,000 watts on AM to 50,000 watts, which means our reach was so much more significant. Being on the FM band lended us to get a younger audience. The young people still don't really have a concept of what AM even was or is. I think sports fans know to look for sports on the AM, but you are not getting the casual sports fan as much. Now, you are seeing the change to FM because the passion and the ability to get advertising is so much greater because sports is just so high profile," said, Gill, 36, whose WENJ-FM show is heard through Townsquare Media.
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