*The only surprising thing about Radio Disney’s Wednesday announcement that it’s selling off 23 of its 24 remaining over-the-air signals is that it took as long as it did.
When Disney entered the kids’ radio business almost twenty years ago, it made a certain amount of sense that it did so by purchasing AM radio signals: this was, after all, at the very dawn of streaming audio, long before any of us had connectivity to our cars or to our mobile devices. (Indeed, it was before mobile devices, period.)
So if the goal was to find an economical way to deliver a stream of audio to as many listeners as possible, inexpensively, radio was it – and at a point when the value of FM signals was skyrocketing, the AM dial was the affordable way for Disney to go about extending its brand to radio. And so Disney bought and bought, putting Radio Disney outlets on the AM dial in most of the top hundred or so markets around the country.
Then the world changed: within the last decade or so, Disney’s mission – which was never to “run radio stations,” just to deliver audio to consumers – became more easily accomplished by streaming audio to tablets and connected dashboards and all the other places today’s digital natives hang out. And so Disney began to sell, first shedding its very smallest stations, then the medium markets (including recent sales in Providence, Hartford and Albany), and now the top 25 markets, save only for Los Angeles, where it’s keeping network flagship KDIS (1110).
It’s a given now that Disney won’t recoup anything close to what it paid for most of these stations: not only has the overall value of AM signals tumbled in recent years, but Disney in particular had paid top prices for many of them, buying when the market was near its peak.
Here’s what will hit the market in NERW-land:
In New York City, Disney paid $40 million for WQEW (1560) after LMA’ing the station for years from the New York Times. The 50,000-watt signal operates from four towers on a big piece of land on the Brooklyn/Queens line, with big gaps in its in-market coverage, especially at night, though it has phenomenal skywave coverage of the Northeast.
In Boston, Disney came to WMKI (1260) when then-owner Hibernia paid $5 million to Salem for what was then WPZE in 1997. The 5,000-watt signal covers the core of the market decently, but suburban growth outstripped its reach decades ago.
In Philadelphia, Disney comes from across the river at WWJZ (640 Mount Holly NJ), with a big 50 kW daytime signal and almost no coverage after dark.
In Pittsburgh, Disney parked its format on WDDZ (1250) after sending another Disney-owned service, ESPN, down the dial to Clear Channel’s WBGG (970). The 5 kW signal is one of the better AMs in an AM-challenged market.
Who’ll be in the hunt when these signals hit the market? We’ll have complete analysis coming up in NorthEast Radio Watch. (If you’re not already a subscriber, what are you waiting for? Click here to make sure you don’t miss out!) And join us Thursday at 2 PM ET as we discuss this, and much more, on This Week in Radio Tech, on the GFQ Network!)