In one of the biggest local radio station format shake-ups in recent years, Emmis Communications Corp. announced today that WIBC-AM 1070 will become an all-sports station. The station will be an affiliate of ESPN Radio.
Meanwhile, the company’s rock and hip-hop station, WNOU-FM 93.1, will change to a news-talk format, a rarity on the local FM dial.
WNOU now will be called WIBC-FM. It essentially will air the same news and talk programming that had been on WIBC-AM 1070.
The move was launched at noon today with WNOU becoming all-Christmas through December. Emmis officials said they launched “93 Days of Christmas” as a transition period.
The move appears to be a major risk for Emmis, as WIBC and WNOU are in the upper half of the market’s rankings.
“Our research shows that we can best grow and serve our audience by splitting and extending our programming,” Tom Severino, Emmis vice president and market manager said in a statement. “WIBC is still going to have the biggest radio news team in the state and the best talk lineup. And as we prepare for the expansion, listeners will have 24-hour holiday music to enjoy, as well as some fun promotions leading up to the spilt Jan. 7.”
The move will allow WIBC to provide the market’s first “local” news and talk station on FM radio. The AM station will have one of the strongest ESPN Radio signals in the nation, Severino said.
WIBC and WNOU won’t be without competition with their new formats. WXLW-FM 950 is also an ESPN affiliate. It is unclear how Emmis’ announcement will affect that deal.
Atlanta-based Cumulus Media Inc. this year changed its 93.9-FM frequency to news/talk-a first on the local FM dial-to try to wrestle audience from the AM talk stations and build a new younger news-talk audience.
Cumulus’ WWFT-FM 93.9, dubbed “The New Generation of Talk,” has since signed some of the nation’s most popular nationally syndicated radio talk show hosts.
A week ago, Jeff Pigeon, the long-time voice of WIBC-AM 1070’s morning show, signed off after nearly two decades. Pigeon, 57, joined WIBC in 1982 and took over the morning show from Gary Todd in 1988.
Pigeon’s abrupt exit came two months after the departure of long-time traffic reporter Big John Gillis.