The Atlanta Braves are saying goodbye to WGST-AM and Project 9-6-1 after this season and moving its radio home to 680/The Fan and Rock 100.5 in 2010.
This change won’t affect current Braves announcers Jim Powell and Don Sutton. Both are in long-term contracts and will be back in 2010.
“What appeals to us is the fact the Fan is the city’s leading sports station,” said Derek Schiller, Braves executive vice president for marketing and sales. “It gives us a partner who can talk about the Braves 24/7.”
The financial details of the five-year deal were not released, but it’s clear Dickey Broadcasting, which owns the Fan, will be spending far less than Clear Channel did in 2004. Clear Channel owns WGST and Project.
“I think it’s a good move for the Braves,” said Chuck Dowdle, veteran WSB-TV sports reporter. “But it was probably their only option. I know the Cox radio group [including WSB-AM] was no longer interested in them. They were a big money loser for Clear Channel.”
Dan Kearney, vice president and general manager, confirmed that the station did not pursue a deal with the Braves this go around, saying it simply didn’t fit in its current objectives.
Scott Lindy, operations manager at Clear Channel. had not returned a call seeking comment as of 2:50 p.m.
“We’re excited,” said David Dickey, Dickey Broadcasting president who runs 680/The Fan. “We plan to increase the amount of Braves content and add to our lineup of Braves experts.”
The Fan has former Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone on its morning show and the station uses ESPN’s syndicated baseball expertise extensively. Much of its current on-air talent is better suited for football.
790/The Zone, the Fan’s primary sports rival, talked to the Braves, but the station is inherently limited by its weak night-time AM signal and the fact it didn’t have a natural FM partner.
“You can’t have everything,” said Zone general manager Neil Maziar. “We wish the Braves nothing but great success.”
The Zone, he added, “will continue to cover them with the best baseball guy in Chris Dimino. And [Braves catcher] Brian McCann has been with us for four years,” providing regular updates.
Dickey said the Fan will air pre-game coverage, the game itself and post-game coverage. Rock 100.5 will air the game itself and post-game coverage but not the pre-game show.
Clear Channel’s Project/GST combo doesn’t do nearly as much post-game coverage as its predecessor, WSB-AM, which aired the Braves for about a decade. Expect the Fan to bring more post-game analysis and reaction.
Over the years, Clear Channel moved the Braves around on the FM dial, first on 96rock, then 94.9/The Bull, then back to the 96.1 signal, now known as Project. From a ratings standpoint, the Braves gives both stations a night-time boost but doesn’t provide a significant positive halo effect for the rest of the day.
Clear Channel’s pick-up of the Braves in 2005 was not auspicious timing. The Braves’ 14-year playoff run was just about to end, followed by a three-year streak of no playoffs at all. And now, the economy has tanked.
In past deals, the Braves allowed the radio station to sell ads and simply take in a set amount of money. But given how little money radio stations have to pay for rights, the Braves will share the ad sales and sponsorship responsibilities with 680/The Fan. Radio stations are increasingly ceding these duties to reduce risk.
For instance, the Falcons are now doing in-house sales (with help from Big League Broadcasting, which owns 790/The Zone) while it airs on Dave FM, which simply brokers the time. UGA has outsourced its sales to a third party instead of having WSB-AM do it.
The Dickeys have expressed interest in the past to buy the Braves but it’s unclear if they are in any financial position to do so in the near future.
This announcement comes a day after the Fan said it would pick up the Florida Gators games, replacing the Auburn Tigers.