Thursday, January 22, 2009

WDFN's Death Sealed With Poor Signal, Sassy Disposition

Metro Detroit's appetite for sports might have eyes bigger than its' stomach.

WDFN's abrupt, noon-time decapitation of all local programming on Tuesday, save for 90-second updates every 30 minutes and Pistons' play-by-play, reveals a lot about the local economy, the teams we zealously root for and a time-tested adage WDFN largely ignored in the station's 15 years of local programming.

Obviously the amount of advertising revenue and ratings' share, both procured and projected, didn't justify 1130AM's parent company, Clear Channel, keeping the majority of local sales and on-air talent on the company's payroll. The nationwide media malaise and local depression was too much to bear.

Another key component in the demise of WDFN was signal strength, already weak when 97.1 The Ticket went to a resounding dual AM/FM signal a year ago that combined 1270AM's WXYT with 97.1FM. Before that, it had been WXYT that looked like the fly-by-night competition for much of the time the two stations battled each other for sports supremacy. The station had gone through a handful of platform changes and renamed the station's handle two different times before finally settling on 'The Ticket'.

But the FM stereo upgrade at WXYT changed the tenor of the two-station sports fight. The Ticket gained an all-encompassing signal found nearly everywhere in the three-county metro area and beyond -- at all hours of the day -- while 'Da Fan was tough to find in Southfield after dark when the station powered down the signal. Once WXYT went to FM, the Tigers and Red Wings became crystal clear on FM in the car and WDFN lost a key arrow from the quiver when fighting WXYT for advertising dollars.

Finally, while it made for great radio at times, Detroit's downtown professional teams repeatedly snubbed WDFN when play-by-play contract rights were available for bid. Already leery of WDFN's truculent approach to on-air criticism of both in-game performance and administrative decision-making, the city's sports-minded Big Three tired of the station's oft-juvenile approach to culling fan reaction in promotion and programming and WDFN subsequently never made the breakthrough needed to secure radio rights. That allowed WXYT to remain a potential competitor for advertising dollars when the station was turning over multiple contracts for on-air talent and drawing abysmal ratings.

The Fan was brought to Detroit in 1994 as a mirror image of popular New York City sports radio station WFAN, and Detroit's Fan had the jump on any future competition had it been able to lock up any one of Detroit's three downtown teams. But instead of getting along before going along, WDFN implemented an adversarial approach to sports talk, pitting fans versus the teams without a major play-by-play contract to sustain it. That ultimately cost The Fan's staff of talent when Detroit's economy could no longer sustain two sports talkers.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries from Arcadia Publishing. Cameron's 2nd title, Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries, is due August 2009.

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