TAMPA — The flagship FM radio home of USF sports launched a format change Thursday, kicking off with Burl Ives' 1965 holiday classic, Holly Jolly Christmas.
But that fluffy Yuletide tune doesn't represent a funeral dirge for Bulls broadcasts.
In the wake of an ownership change, WHFS-FM 98.7 — also known as 98.7 The Fan — ceased its all-sports programming Thursday at 3 p.m., with several on-air personalities being let go.
Previously owned by CBS Radio, WHFS and its local counterpart, 1010-AM, were among 13 stations in Tampa; Charlotte, N.C.; and Philadelphia dealt by CBS in a swap with Beasley Broadcast Group Inc. In exchange, CBS got five total stations in Philadelphia and Miami.
Bulls football and men's basketball games were carried on 98.7, with 1010 simulcasting football and most basketball games.
Kent Dunn, Beasley's vice president and market manager for its Tampa-St. Petersburg cluster, said in an email that USF sports will continue being broadcast on 1010, which also carries Bulls baseball, women's basketball and softball.
The final USF football radio show of the year was broadcast on 1010 Thursday evening, the Coach Willie Taggart Show.
USF spokesman Brian Siegrist said the school had been aware of the station swap. The contract between CBS and IMG College Multimedia, which owns broadcast rights to USF sporting events, extends 2½ more years.
Siegrist said school officials are trying to determine whether a short-term or permanent switch to 1010 fulfills the contract obligations. John O'Connell, program director for 98.7, declined comment when reached Thursday, referring all inquiries to Beasley representatives.
"To those who listened and laughed with us everyday, thank you!" Justin Pawlowski, co-host of the Fan Interference 98.7 morning show, tweeted Thursday afternoon. Pawlowski declined comment when reached a couple of hours later.
One of the station's original voices, national and local sports-talk radio veteran Todd Wright, attributed the demise of 98.7 to misguided leadership. Wright opted out of his afternoon co-host gig with former Bucs defensive tackle Booger McFarland after seven weeks in 2012, and he was fired after only six months.
He said CBS tried to model 98.7 after WFAN in New York, with on-air hosts encouraged to put listeners "into a panic" by putting a controversial slant on sports news of the day.
"I always thought that was an insult to most of the audience and simply makes a host and a station sound ridiculous," said Wright, who cut his local sports-radio teeth roughly a quarter-century ago on the now-defunct WFNS-AM 910.
"Today was a day that was unfortunately inevitable. I wish they would've let me do something about it while I had the power to."
The change prompted speculation in radio circles and social media that it paved the way for radio personality Bubba "The Love Sponge" Clem to return to the Tampa Bay market.
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The station promised a new format to launch Jan. 5, which coincides with a date Clem has cited on his Twitter account for a return. Clem last broadcast in the bay area for Cox Media Group's WHPT-FM 102.5.
On his Twitter account Thursday, Clem thanked RoadSafe Traffic Systems, citing pictures of an electronic sign that read "Bubba Show Tampa" and "1/5/15." Clem added, "With the right date also."