It was in May of 2006 when the University of Michigan reached a five year deal with CBS Radio in Detroit that would land U-M football on WOMC FM 104.3 and most of the school's men's basketball games on WWJ AM 950. That agreement has since expired and there has been no word of where the broadcasts might end up, or indeed who the announcers might be, with only 40 days to go until kickoff of a new sports season.
Let the speculation begin in earnest!
The University of Michigan may now face an ever bigger challenge for clearance of its broadcasts in Detroit than it did in 2006 when Big Ten rival school Michigan State scored a touchdown by partnering with WJR AM 760, punting U-M off the 'Great Voice of the Great Lakes'. Getting coverage for 12 or 13 high profile football games a year is one thing -- but adding a full slate of men's basketball games to a radio station in the fall and winter can be quite another.
The landscape at CBS Radio/Detroit has changed dramatically in the five years since 2006: Hot Talk was replaced by sports on FM 97.1 (The Ticket, WXYT-FM), and Dick Purtan has retired from WOMC. WXYT-FM/AM are now the flagship stations for all 4 of Detroit's professional sports teams, having added the Pistons to play-by-play coverage of the Lions, Tigers, and Red Wings. Listening to games on 97.1 is much more popular than trying to tune in on AM 1270 - but when there are two or more teams playing the same time, it often requires some searching and static to find the team you want to hear.
CBS Radio/Detroit is likely interested in adding University of Michigan sports to its lineup on 97.1 -- but questions would likely come up about which team would have priority on what station. It would be in U-M's best interest to have all of its games found consistently in one spot; Michigan games being pushed off to AM 1270, especially on September 10th when the Tigers play the Twins in the afternoon and the Wolverines play their first ever 8 p.m. home game against Notre Dame, can't look too attractive to Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon.
Would CBS Radio consider offering one of its music FM's up for football again, as it did with WOMC the past five years? Michigan sports probably wouldn't be considered a good fit for either Top 40 WDZH-FM 98.7 (Amp Radio) or Country WYCD-FM 99.5 and it's not clear if WOMC would be made available again. Would Michigan be satisfied going back to an AM-only solution on WWJ?
What might be in the best interest of U-M would be a partnership with a different radio group. Most likely suitors for Michigan sports outside of CBS include Clear Channel, Greater Media, and what will soon be Cumulus as it takes over Citadel's stations.
Perhaps the most logical fit would be with Clear Channel which already has a sports-formatted station in its WDFN AM 1130 - a station that no longer has play-by-play ties with any high profile Detroit-area team. The biggest holdback with WDFN is the lack of an FM signal and abysmal nighttime coverage area. Any deal with Clear Channel and U-M would undoubtedly have to include FM coverage for every football game, at a minimum. Clear Channel's Detroit FM stations include adult urban WMXD-FM 92.3, contemporary hits WKQI-FM 95.5, urban WJLB-FM 97.9, pop WNIC-FM 100.3 and contemporary WDTW-FM 106.7; none of which currently carry formats that would be considered a good fit with sports play-by-play.
There have been cries from sports fans for years about changing 106.7 to a simulcast of WDFN - but unless a deal with U-M is viewed as more profitable than what the current format on 106.7 is, a wholesale change remains a questionable possibility at best.
Cumulus owns Ann Arbor's WTKA AM 1050, a station that heavily features Michigan sports, and will soon take control of Citadel's three Detroit stations including WJR, Adult Hits WDRQ-FM 93.1 (Doug FM), and WDVD-FM 96.3. Could there be a scenario where Doug-FM carries the broadcasts of the games and adds an HD sidechannel that simulcasts WTKA to provide the Detroit market more coverage of U-M sports? One issue that a Cumulus/Citadel deal could ease would be the return of WJR's Frank Beckmann as football play-by-play announcer.
Greater Media might be a bit of a dark horse, but still a possibility; you wouldn't think of U-M sports on stations like Classic Rock WCSX-FM 94.7, Rock WRIF-FM 101.1 or Pop WMGC-FM 105.1 at first. But the company launched an FM sports station in Philadelphia in 2009 and has experience in FM talk radio as well. At one time WRIF was speculated as a possible landing spot for Detroit Lions broadcasts; perhaps there is still a desire for a sports-oriented direction within that group.
The other large commercial U.S. radio groups in the market include Radio One (FM 102.7, 105.9, and AM 1200) and Crawford Broadcasting (FM 103.5, AM 560 and 1340) - neither of which is likely to be a factor.
U-M's Brandon is facing one of his biggest challenges in terms of protecting and enhancing the Michigan brand, something he has emphasized as being one of the most important responsibilities he has as athletic director. Securing a high-profile (and stable) radio partner in the Detroit market has to be high on the list of priorities as the summer rapidly fades into autumn. One of the biggest tests of your brand has to be how well you can sell it in what's essentially your home market.
Take all of this as pure speculation. There are no comments being made publicly about the situation by the University of Michigan athletic department, its media partner IMG College, or any of the area's broadcast companies.
To paraphrase legendary Wolverines' former coach Bo Schembechler, "Toe meets leather" at 3:30pm on September 3rd. Ready or not, but on 'W---which station'!