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Will The Fan's Move Cause a Radio Ripple?

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The March 6 Message column concerns the many changes that have taken place of late at Denver radio stations -- and shortly after the physical copy of the issue hit racks, another alteration went into effect at a pair of signals owned by Lincoln Financial Media. On March 7, KKFN/The Fan, which has aired sports yap at 950 AM since the mid-'90s, will be moving to 104.3 FM, the most recent home of smooth-jazz oozing KJCD. As for the latter format, it's moving to an HD channel affiliated with another Lincoln Financial outlet, KYGO/98.5 FM -- yep, the high-rated country purveyor -- and can still be heard by computer users at SmoothJazzDenver.com.

At first blush, this switch doesn't make a lot of sense. Although talk radio can be found on FM in many places around the country, it's mighty rare in Denver -- meaning that even fans of the Fan may initially have difficulty finding. In addition, the audience shares at the two stations aren't terribly far apart. Indeed, according to the most recent numbers collected by Radio and Records, the industry's main ratings service, KJCD is the fifteenth most-listened-to station in the area among listeners age twelve and older, three slots ahead of KKFN.

Then again, twelve-plus, as this demo is known, doesn't really reflect the profitability of stations, which try to attract listeners in specific age ranges beloved by certain advertisers rather than going after a broad cross-section of the populace. Moreover, the smooth-jazz format is facing tough times nationwide. As noted by radio writer Tom Webster on The Infinite Dial site, stations focusing upon this sound in New York City and Washington, D.C. recently flipped, and others may be on the verge of doing so.

Meanwhile, questions remain for the two Denver properties. Among the most pressing: The Fan will be simulcast on 950 AM until March 31, at which point it leaps to FM permanently -- so what's going to wind up at its old dial position? At least one radio insider suspects that a second signal swap may be in the offing.

Right now, Lincoln Financial has another Denver sports-talk asset in its portfolio: KEPN/1600 AM, which airs ESPN Radio's syndicated feed. However, 1600 doesn't get great reception, particularly at night -- and 950 AM is a much better, more powerful station from a technical standpoint. Since sports lovers have already been trained to turn to 950 AM, why not move the ESPN stuff there?

Of course, by taking this tack, Lincoln Financial would need to do something with the 1600 frequency, and its value isn't mammoth, particularly given the current state of the radio business. The company may end up peddling it for a modest sum, programming it with the least-expensive fare it can find, or perhaps even donating it. That's what Jacor, a precursor to Clear Channel, did back in 1998, when it gave an unwanted station to the University of Colorado Boulder in exchange for a hefty tax deduction. Since then, Radio 1190, the broadcast entity that resulted, remains one of the true refuges on the local dial. Betcha the students at Metro State could do something great with 1600, too.

A guy can dream, can't he? -- Michael Roberts

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