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(AUDIO) WFAN Lost $4 Million in Year One


It's a station that could have easily never survived, and probably wouldn't today. But thanks to the persistence of Jeff Smulyan, and against the advice of his best advisors, WFAN in New York did more than survive. It became a huge success and a signal Mel Karmazin had to have, for a purchase price of about $75 Million. It would go on to become the highest billing radio station in America for several years. A far cry from the days when not a single advertiser wanted to be part of this experiment. These days, Smulyan, Emmis Programming President Rick Cummings and former Emmis Radio President Doyle Rose laugh about the early days. Back then, however, it was bleeding cash. In July, WFAN will celebrate its 25th birthday.


Former President of Emmis Radio Doyle Rose says he and Cummings thought Jeff was nuts when he came up with the idea of an all sports network. And, for the entire first year they believed changing from Country to sports was a mistake. "First, Rick and I always thought Jeff was  a little nuts.  Seriously, we doubted the original idea which was to make all –sports like all-news….repeating the scores, previews and wraps every 20 minutes with a few sports talk shows.  Secondly, it was very expensive to run and advertisers had indicated that they were not confident in the idea and not eager to come on board."

Rose says the station turned the corner following a a brainstorming session with marketing guru Jack Trout. "The result of the session was that we needed to think of sports more as entertainment and personality than just news.  We realized that we needed to make the station more interactive, opinionated and lively….the way most people talk and argue sports in the office and in bars. The other factor was buying the NBC stations including WNBC and moving the format to the big signal 66 and of course the addition of the big personality Don Imus in the Morning,  Although not fully sports oriented, Imus set the tone for personality for the rest of the day as we added more personality oriented hosts and show.  Between the move to the big signal and the addition of more personalities and interactive entertaining debate on the air, the audience and advertisers really began to embrace the station."

Rose says his fondest memory of WFAN is "watching the station finally succeed in ratings and revenue and seeing the format being copied all over the country.  (And seeing Jeff be right about something for once)." He says watching the station celebrate 25 years makes him feel old but proud. "Proud to have been even a small part of the creation and development of a such a successful new format for radio. Third, my hats off to CBS for expanding and continuing to exploit the all-sports concept so brilliantly. If you had asked me 25 years ago when Jeff came up with idea this would be the result, I never would have believed it.  It is a tribute to the creative, free-wheeling and risk-taking atmosphere we created at Emmis at the time which allowed us to come up all-sports and numerous other format and sales innovations that helped the company succeed."


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