In this week’s issue… Hockey on the Radio – Public radio leader exits – Silence for a venerable AM – NY translator, NJ AM sold – New lineup at the Fanatic
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*The NHL season is underway, and that means it’s time for our annual Hockey on the Radio update – a somewhat unusual one this year, since two teams in NERW-land are no longer “on the radio,” per se.
The New Jersey Devils had already been primarily depending on streaming to reach radio listeners, using their “One Jersey Network” they created with then-CBS Radio last season in conjunction with a partial on-air schedule over WFAN (660/101.9) when those stations weren’t in conflicts with other teams. The New York Islanders, of course, have struggled for years to find a radio voice, landing on Hofstra’s WRHU (88.7) and, out east, JVC’s WRCN (103.9 Riverhead).
For the 2018-2019 season, both teams will make Entercom’s Radio.com their flagship, joining a switch that started with the Los Angeles Kings’ decision to use iHeart’s streaming platform as their main audio source. The Devils and Islanders streams will be heard on radio.com’s app and website, as well as on the NHL and team website and apps; both teams will get at least occasional appearances on WFAN, and the Isles will continue to be heard on WRHU and WRCN this season as well.
We’re contractually obligated here in the lead space of this column to ask, “is this really a trend?” – and the answer is “yes, to some extent.” The NHL, of course, is a relatively minor major league when it comes to radio. Unlike bigger players (especially Major League Baseball), the NHL doesn’t charge for its radio streams, nor does it block broadcast affiliates from providing games on their own streams. That means passionate hockey fans may already be in the habit of getting their game coverage on streams. (And, honestly, as good as a radio hockey call can be, you simply don’t see many fans in the stands listening to broadcast coverage during the game…not that we see it that much these days even in baseball or football, either.)
And New York is something of a special case, too, since WFAN’s broadcast airwaves are already pretty full this time of year with Nets basketball, Yankees postseason baseball (sigh…), Giants football and college sports, leaving less room for two rival NHL teams’ games than you’d find in other markets. (And yes, logic would dictate that this season is an ideal opportunity for splitting WFAN’s AM and FM simulcast for game coverage, but logic and Nielsen Audio rules don’t always occupy the same zip code…)
So will other teams and other sports follow suit? It’s not likely to be a wholesale exodus, and there’s still a place for hockey on the radio (keep reading to the end of the column for our rundown on where the rest of the NHL finds itself on the NERW-land airwaves this season) – but we can easily imagine more of these streaming-first deals in the seasons to come. We’ll tackle the minor leagues of hockey (AHL and ECHL) next week, and as we track those radio rights deals from season to season, we expect to see more streaming-only deals at those levels of play, too.
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