Fans of University of Michigan football in Metro Detroit will be headed back to the AM dial to catch the games starting next month as U-M and CBS Radio have agreed to a deal that puts both football and men's basketball broadcasts on WWJ AM 950 for the next 5 years. No financial details were released.
Prior to WJR AM 760 becoming the exclusive home for U-M games in 1996, WWJ also carried its own broadcast of football for decades - now the (mostly) all-newser has reclaimed the Wolverines. WWJ was actually the first Detroit station to carry Michigan football during the station's early years in the 1920s.
For the past five years, Michigan football was heard on CBS Radio's WOMC-FM 104.3 in Detroit after WJR decided to change it's affiliation from Michigan to Michigan State during the 2005 football season. WJR had previously aired MSU sports through 1975 when they switched to U-M coverage for the 1976 season featuring legendary Michigan alum and cheerleader Bob Ufer handling play-by-play. Ufer passed away in 1981 and was succeeded by Frank Beckmann.
Although not mentioned in the release it's expected that Beckmann, who is also current midday host at WJR, will be continuing in his role as play-by-play announcer for football on WWJ - despite the two stations' similar formats and call signs that are often confused by casual radio listeners. Jim Brandstatter will return in his long time role as analyst.
U-M's switch to AM 950 from FM 104.3 will no doubt receive mixed reviews from Michigan fans - WWJ's coverage area to the north is better than WOMC's, but the fidelity of FM will be missed by Detroit-area listeners. WWJ also has signal strength challenges to the west of metro Detroit, especially after dark.
When Michigan was searching for a new radio home in Detroit for the 2006 season, Art Vuolo, Michiguide.com contributor and 'Radio's Best Friend', was called upon to assist. "I told the Michigan athletic department boys it's time to take the games to FM. That way there is no concern about the difference between day and nighttime coverage area and fans will get to enjoy hearing games on a huge FM signal."
Vuolo continued, "My biggest concern about this move is what happens to radio listeners that don't care about sports? If there is a news story that breaks when both Michigan and Michigan State are playing football or basketball, where will these listeners tune to in Detroit?"
When asked about potential conflicts between breaking news and sports coverage WWJ program director Rob Davidek indicated that the station will be able to break in to games locally to provide necessary information while continuing to feed sports coverage to other stations carrying the game in the region.
Keeping the University of Michigan in the fold, even on WWJ, might serve as an insurance package of sorts for CBS Radio's WXYT-FM 97.1. Market competitors Clear Channel or Greater Media would have a much tougher time being successful on FM with a sports format without a big play-by-play partner on board - and today's announcement ensures that CBS Radio keeps the rights to 5 of the 6 high profile teams in the area (Tigers, Lions, Red Wings, Pistons, and U-M) for at least the near future.
The official press release:
The University of Michigan Athletic Department and IMG College have reached a five-year contract extension with CBS Radio, announced jointly by the three parties today (Monday, Aug. 8). WWJ Newsradio 950 AM will serve as the flagship station for football and men's basketball starting this season.
"The move to WWJ Radio for football and men's basketball provides a consistent signal for our two largest radio properties," said director of athletics Dave Brandon. "Staying with the CBS Radio family is a win-win for our fans. We are looking to add additional radio affiliates to cover the state of Michigan and the Midwest."
All football and men's basketball games will air on WWJ (950 AM). There will be a two-and-half-hour network pregame show and a one-hour postgame show for all home football games. For men's basketball, there will be 30-minute pregame and 30-minute postgame shows.
In addition to carrying all football and men's basketball games, CBS Radio will broadcast 15 ice hockey games and six women's basketball games. Those games will air on WXYT (1270 AM).
A total of 40 radio shows will air on WXYT during the year (14 football, 16 men's basketball and 10 Olympic sports). Beginning on Aug. 31, the Inside Michigan Football Coach's Show with Brady Hoke will air throughout the fall on Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m. The Michigan Basketball Radio Show with John Beilein and 10 Olympic Sports Radio Shows will also air on Monday evenings. All 40 radio shows will be live at Pizza House on 618 Church Street on the U-M campus.
IMG College will continue to concentrate on adding affiliates throughout the state of Michigan and surrounding states. Currently, the Michigan Football Radio Network consists of 35 affiliates in addition to Armed Services Radio and a national radio deal with Sirius/XM.
U-M release, including 2011 affiliate listing, is here.