WJR to Bid for Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings Radio Broadcast Rights


Oct 17, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; General view of Comerica Park as Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez (19) throws against the Boston Red Sox during the third inning in game five of the American League Championship Series baseball game. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

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According to Lynn Henning of the Detroit News, Detroit radio behemoth WJR is in discussions to bid for the radio broadcast rights of the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings. The Mike Ilitch-owned teams have a long history with WJR, who carried coverage for both teams for nearly 40 years from the 1960’s through 2000. From Henning’s Detroit News article:

"No officials at WJR would comment, nor would executives at Atlanta-based Cumulus Media, which owns WJR. But industry and team sources have verified WJR, which carried the Tigers from 1964-2000, is making its pitch during discussions that have formally begun. In addition to Greater Media’s push, CBS Radio will be involved in potential renewal talks and is considered a favorite to retain those rights."

There are apparently three radio entities involved here: WJR, Greater Media (who has the rights to Pistons games), and CBS Radio (who owns the current rights for the Tigers and Red Wings with WXYT 1270 AM and The Ticket 97.1 FM).

There’s certainly a lot of nostalgia associated with WJR and the Tigers, even for a relative youngster like me who was born in the mid 1980’s. Late plate-by-play legend Ernie Harwell could be heard all across the state of Michigan (including the Upper Peninsula), through much of Ohio, northern Indiana, and western Pennsylvania with regularity. On clear nights, the signal can reach nearly half the country (according to Wikipedia it has been known to travel as far as Dallas, Texas).

According to Henning and his industry sources, CBS Radio is expected to win the bid and retain the rights. They’ve grown the broadcast network to include 39 partners which makes listening to either the Tigers or Wings easy for most in the state of Michigan via a local affiliate. WJR would provide much of the state the ability to listen to games on a single station — it would mean the end of frantically switching networks three times as the signal fades on drives between Grand Rapids and metro Detroit. Henning seems to indicate that WJR would aim to be the lone carrier, without an affiliate network:

"WJR is believed to be discussing a single-station deal akin to its earlier agreements. Sources say WJR would benefit not only by the advertising revenue a return to the Tigers and Wings games would promise, but by a relationship natural to many listeners who regularly listen to play-by-play broadcasts."

If that’s truly what that passage means — that listeners would be forced to tune to 760 AM to hear the games — it would make life difficult on fans who live on the fringes of WJR’s broadcast range. Just because the 50,000-watt station reaches most parts of the state doesn’t mean it always comes in with crystal clarity, especially during daytime hours.

The new broadcast rights will be awarded for the 2016 season, so we’ll have to stay tuned to this story to find out if we need to change the radio presets in our cars.

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