Some Major League Baseball Teams Must Rethink Their Radio contracts

Today, many fans of Major League Baseball enjoy coverage of their team any place, any time thanks to various media efforts that come with a certain amount of fees. Baseball fans can here the home broadcast of every game by purchasing a package from Sirius XM, generally about $15 monthly. The satellite service offers the visiting feed via its online site for a slightly larger fee. My preferred way is to pay the $19.95 yearly fee for access via the mobile platform using the MLB Game Day technology and I also purchase the similar Game Day Audio package for use on my laptop. This is certainly cheaper and offers the choice of every feed home or away and it includes the Spanish broadcasts as well. IN general, if I’m going to use a device to listen to a game here at home in rural western Wyoming, my laptop is by far the preferred method. ON certain occasions if I am out on the road with my wife, I’ll use our satellite radio to tune in a game, but since I’m the only one who is a baseball fan, I reserve that for moments when something very significant is going on, the pennant chase at the end of the season or if I get wind of a potential accomplishment such as a no-hitter. But as a former Texan and with a future move back to Texas on the horizon for our family, I wish that the two ball clubs in Texas were on stations with large coverage areas. If we end up in a city that lacks either a Rangers or Astros affiliate, it would be nice to be able to get the games on a powerful AM signal, something which is not possible for either team given current radio contracts.

The Rangers were always on a powerful AM station from the time the franchise arrived in 1972 through 2008, 23 years on WBAP and another 14 from 1995-2008 on KRLD. But then the club moved to mostly FM coverage in 2009 on KRLD-FM, only weekend games remained on the AM signal. Then in 2011, the team moved to KESN-FM, a station with a large signal but one that is tilted to the northern side of the DFW metro and beyond into southern Oklahoma. The signal is much better in southern Oklahoma than it is in the southern suburbs of the DFW metroplex. This contract is in place for at least one more season in 2014.

The Astros first 23 seasons were on weaker AM stations in Houston, mostly on KPRC which has a 5000 watt limited night time signal that can’t be heard much past the limits of greater Houston. The team finally moved on to Houston’s powerful KTRH which has a 50,000 watt signal that covers all of south and central Texas at night, with an eastern reach into most of Louisiana, and Mississippi, though it is not a clear channel like KRLD and WBAP. This arrangement lasted from 1985-1990, before the team moved back to KPRC from 1991-1995 and the stronger but not significant signal of KILT from 1996-1998. KILT can be received up and down the Texas coast and at times you can get it at night as far west as Austin, but it’s a hit and miss signal. The team returned to KTRH from 1999-2012, before moving to another weaker signal of KBME, which is comparable to KPRC in terms of night time reception.

Both these teams chose to move to stations that focused on the all sports audience, which means they reach the more hard core sports fan. But many fans who may not care to listen to sports radio all the time, get left out in the cold by the decisions both teams made to leave the more powerful news/talk oriented stations like the Rangers former homes on WBAP and KRLD and the Astros former home on KTRH.

What the teams forget in today’s make a buck at all costs effort, is that many fans still would like to have the freedom both in terms of costs and accessibility to listen to the radio broadcasts at any location without the need for access to the internet or a wireless/satellite signal. When fans just 35 miles outside the home city of the team cannot receive the local broadcasts, it makes one wonder what guides the decisions certain teams are making as it relates to their radio broadcasts. While the Rangers and Astros both have a fair number of network affiliates, most are all weaker stations and thus a second option for receiving the broadcast is not available for fans who are outside the range of these weaker AM or FM signals. But the two Texas teams are far from being the only ones who have committed such a disservice to their listening audience. Now, a look at the teams who get it and those who could improve what they offer.

A total of 13 teams are on very powerful stations that truly provide the best possible coverage area.

Orioles, WBAL-AM 1090, 50,000 watt clear channel signal.

Mariners, KIRO-AM 710, 50,000 watt clear channel signal.

White Sox, WSCR-AM 670, 50,000 watt clear channel signal.

Indians, WTAM-AM 1100, 50,000 watt clear channel signal.

Yankees, WFAN-AM 660 starting in 2014, 50,000 watt clear channel signal.

Cubs, WGN-AM 720, 50,000 watt clear channel signal.

Reds, WLW-AM 700, 50,000 watt clear channel signal.

Rockies, KOA-AM 850, 50,000 watt clear channel signal.

Mets, WOR-AM 710 starting in 2014, 50,000 watt clear channel signal.

Phillies, WPHT-AM 1210, 50,000 watt clear channel signal.

Cardinals, KMOX-AM 1120, 50,000 watt clear channel signal.

Padres, XEPRS-am 1090, based across the Mexican border, 50,000 watt clear channel signal.

Giants, KNBR-AM 680, 50,000 watt clear channel signal.

Of these 13 teams, only the Padres, Giants, Yankees, Mariners, and White Sox are on stations that also primarily focus their programming in the all sports market.

A pair of AL East teams are on powerful stations but they are not clear channel and are limited in how far their signal is permitted to travel at night, despite being at 50,000 watts power.

Blue Jays, CJCL-AM 590.

Red Sox, WEEI-AM 850 and WEEI-FM 93.7.

Note that in Boston’s case, their AM 850 signal is not a clear channel because stations in Denver (the Rockies flagship) and Ixhuatlancillo, Mexico are given the clear channel allocations. Weaker stations on that frequency are also found in the eastern United States, including the Raleigh, North Carolina region.

Both teams are on all sports stations, both Boston and Toronto have more powerful stations that they could negotiate to serve as the flagship radio broadcaster. The best options for Toronto are either AM-740 CFFZM or AM-1010 CFRB, both clear channel signals. Boston’s clear channel option would be on AM-1030, WBZ.

A total of nine teams are on weaker AM stations or have moved to FM signals that have a smaller coverage area, though powerful AM clear channel frequencies are available. The Rangers as mentioned before are among these teams, with their FM KESN 103.3 broadcast on an all sports station, WBAP-AM 820 and KRLD-AM 1080 were both former flagships and both are clear channel frequencies with massive night time signals from the DFW region that would serve the club better. Below is information about the other eight clubs that could improve their local radio reach to a potential clear channel signal.

In 2013, the Twins moved to KTWN-FFM, previously the Twins were on either WCCO-AM 830 or KSTP-AM 1500, which just happen to both be clear channel stations in the twins cities.

The Tigers have spent more than a decade on WXYT which is a weaker AM signal on AM 1270, they are also on the sister station of WXYT at 93.7-FM. For a long time, the Tigers were on Detroit’s powerful WJR-AM 760 and if they moved back to that signal, fans around a huge part of the continent could hear their games at night.

The Athletics have historically never been on a powerful AM station, but they could try to move off of KGMZ at 95.7-FM, an all-sports station, to either the clear channel signal of KGO-AM 810 in San Francisco, or to the powerful though not clear channel coverage of KCBS-AM 740. KCBS signal is like that described of Houston’s KTRH on the same 740 frequency.

The Angels and Dodgers are both on weaker stations. The Angels are on both KSPN-AM 710 and KLAA-AM 830, both have 50,000 watt day signals but reduce power drastically at night to 20,000 on 830 and 10,000 on 710. The Dodgers flagship is on KLAC-AM 570, which broadcasts at just 5000 watts. Los Angeles has a pair of clear channel stations, the talk oriented KFI-AM 640 and the news oriented KNX-AM 1070.

The Pirates which were historically on the clear channel signal of KDKA-AM 1020 left that signal for FM coverage in 2006. Currently they are on the FM version of KDKA at 93.7.

The nationals made a similar move which took them off of the powerful 1500-AM signal in Washington which was at one time WTOP and now is home to WFED. Interestingly, WFED does broadcast some spring training games, but the Nat’s main station during the regular season is the 106.9 WJFK in Manassas, Virginia. The signal is not the best in metro Washington and coverage is not as strong outside DC to the north, in similar manner to what happens in the southern DFW suburbs with the Rangers FM broadcasts.

Then there are the Atlanta Braves, which boast a huge network but no significant night time signal. For a long time, WSB-AM 750 was the clear channel signal that carried Braves games until the end of 1991 and again starting in 1995 until the middle of the last decade. The Braves are on a pair of local FM stations and on the signal of WCNN which has a very weak night time signal on AM 680. A move to WSB would be very welcome news.

Of these nine teams, all but the Twins are on sports talk oriented stations, while the options for stations with powerful signals are in the news/talk arena.

Six teams are in markets that do not have a clear channel signal, those teams are the Astros as mentioned above, plus the Marlins, Rays, Diamondbacks, Royals, and Brewers. Houston has the option some day of returning to the 50,000 watt signal of KTRH, the Astros too are currently on a weaker all sports AM station. Such options do not exist for the other five teams on this list. Three, the Brewers, Rays, and Diamondbacks are all on very reliable stations that are all on the 620 frequency of the AM dial, WDAE Tampa, KTAR Phoenix, and WTMJ Milwaukee. The Rays and diamondbacks are on stations that are currently an all-sports format.

The Royals are on a similar station at KCSP just one slot down the dial at 610 AM. The Marlins are on one of Miami’s more powerful AM signals at AM 790 WAXY, WIOD-AM 610 while not quite as strong has a larger signal coverage area because of its frequency and transmitter configuration. The Marlins and royals are both on all sports stations. Interestingly, the Marlins are the only team which has a stronger signal for its Spanish flagship, as WAQI-AM 710 is much like KTRH and KCBS in its 50,000 watt coverage with a more limited night time directional coverage pattern. All other Spanish broadcasts are on weak local stations and a Spanish network does not exist on radio in most situations.

Another idea for teams to consider is to try and get network agreements on large AM night time signals in cities outside their local markets. The Astros in 1991-92 had most all of their night games on WOAI in San Antonio as an example. Stations like KOB Albuquerque, WHAS Louisville, WWL New Orleans, WOAI, WHO Des Moines, KFAB Omaha, WTB Charlotte, WTIC Hartford, KWKH Shreveport, WRVA Richmond, KSL Salt Lake City, KFAQ Tulsa, WLAC Nashville, KOKC Oklahoma City, WWKB Buffalo, KFBK Sacramento, and KXEL Waterloo could all be potential affiliates of Major League Baseball teams. The stations could even enter to agreements where only night time games were carried, which would maximize this potential coverage while giving those stations the ability to preserve their day time programming if they chose.

Above all else, baseball needs to be willing to maintain a connection with its broadcasting roots. Some teams are not available more than for a few games on free over the air TV and the current trend is taking even the radio broadcast and reducing the ability of fans in certain markets to have access to their favorite team over the airwaves. Fans should at least have the option to get these free broadcasts in the area designated as a team’s local broadcast zone. Otherwise, MLB should get rid of the broadcast territories all together.

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