CBS Radio will bring the Tampa Bay market its first FM sports talk station in August, flipping WSJT-FM from its contemporary hits format as Play 98.7 into a new station, dubbed Sportsradio 98.7 The Fan.
The change had been rumored for weeks, as executives at CBS Radio talked to prospective hosts throughout the local radio scene and other media outlets about hosting opportunities.
But it was tough to know when the company might pull the trigger, because the change had been a longstanding rumor for years.
The new station will face significant challenges. Success in the sports talk space hinges on rebroadcast rights for important sports franchises, so this move to FM also likely signals the company intention to open up its pocketbook and bid on rights for Tampa Bay Rays, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tampa Bay Lightning broadcast rights.
They also need a compelling lineup of on air talent to compete with the new all-talk format launched by rival Cox Radio's WHPT-FM (The Bone 102.5) anchored by shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. The new 98.7 The Fan will be targeting the same young men with a different product.
But CBS Radio already has FM sports talk stations in markets such as Boston, Dallas, Washington D.C. and Pittsburgh. so, presumably, they know the drill.
Radio executives have privately fretted over the future of talk radio and the industry in general, concerned that the costs of rebroadcasting music and changing ratings systems might cloud economic prospects. Last month, Clear Channel Radio activated translators so its AM talk station WFLA (970) could be heard on FM in Tampa.
But sports talk offers the possibility of drawing younger ears to a format which might encourage long term listening without the conflict and old fashioned feel of political talk.
This move was previewed weeks ago, fueled by a story in a radio trade journal website noting that the web addresses 987TheFan.com, Fan987.com, Fan1010.com and 1010TheFan.com were all transferred in mid-May to CBS Radio servers (CBS owns WQYK-AM, known as 1010 Sports).
The change will be announced on 1010 soon, and I expect a press release with some details to follow shortly. will update as details come in.
(UPDATE: Just got the press release, so here it is)
TAMPA BAY GETS ITS FIRST FM SPORTS TALK RADIO STATION
CBS RADIO To Launch SPORTSRADIO 98.7 The Fan Beginning In August
CBS RADIO Tampa Bay announced today it will debut an all-sports radio station in August, marking the first time the market will feature the format on FM. Listeners will be able to hear SPORTSRADIO 98.7 The Fan on-air at 98.7 FM and 1010 AM, online at www.987thefan.com, and via a variety of mobile applications. The station will provide Tampa Bay's ardent sports fan base with locally programmed content including in-depth news, scores, headlines, and full coverage of area professional and college teams.
"Never before has there been a station for Tampa Bay's passionate sports fans with such reach and ties to the community as SPORTSRADIO 98.7 The Fan," said Ben Hill, Senior Vice President/Market Manager, CBS RADIO Tampa Bay. "Locally based on-air personalities, and a programming team with years of experience in Tampa will help shape the station as a place listeners can trust for the most honest, engaging and interactive sports talk."
CBS RADIO has more than 15 sports stations among its portfolio and is the leading broadcaster of the format on FM. The division of CBS is home to top-rated stations in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit, among others, including the nation's first all-sports station WFAN-AM.
In a related announcement, Mike Pepper will serve as the program director of SPORTSRADIO 98.7 The Fan. Pepper, who is responsible for developing the on-air lineup and voice of the station, has been with the company for close to two decades, six of those years as the assistant PD of 1010 Sports (WQYK-AM). Assisting Pepper is longtime local sports producer, Jerry Petuck.
Said Pepper, "Being this closely involved in a radio first for Tampa listeners has been one of the most exciting opportunities in my career. Our sports landscape has changed dramatically over the last 10 years highlighted by a Super Bowl Championship for the Buccaneers, a Stanley Cup for the Lightning, and an American League title for the Rays, as well as the rise of USF football. The timing couldn't be better for the launch of SPORTSRADIO 98.7 The Fan."
Hosts and reporters will be announced at a later date. Applications are still being accepted as the line-up is being finalized.
Additional opportunities to interact with the station will be available at www.987thefan.com where fans can check out the most up to date sports news, read blogs from station personalities, watch sports videos, hear audio clips, and review scores, polls, team schedules, and message boards.
CBS RADIO, one of the largest major-market radio operators in the United States is a division of CBS Corporation. CBS RADIO operates 127 radio stations, the majority of which are in the nation's top 50 markets.