Why WMGC 105.1 Won’t Beat 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit Sports Radio

WMGC 105.1 took on an “All Sports” format in August to give 97.1 The Ticket some sorely needed competition. So far, 105.1’s gameplan (or complete lack thereof) puts 97.1 The Ticket in an even better position to dominate Detroit sports radio for many PPM books to come.

It’s been an interesting battle for me to watch (listen to) from afar. I’ve worked in Detroit sports radio for 14 years. I’ve quit WDFN twice and 97.1 The Ticket once (I’m sort of proud I was actually never fired). I’m a former sports radio survivor. I haven’t worked in radio for four years now but the radio “game” still interests me.

I don’t have a dog in the 97.1 The Ticket vs Magic 105.1 sports radio fight, I have people I would consider friends in both buildings. I don’t talk too much to former radio friends unless it’s casual. Let’s just say I don’t have a rooting interest. But, enough about me…

Taking on The Ticket is a battle no one thought Magic would win (at least initially). The Ticket currently owns the rights to all four major Detroit sports teams (Lions, Tigers, Red Wings, Pistons) and their talent lineup runs live and local from 6a to way past midnight on most days. Magic is hampered by an ESPN contract preventing them from even running a local morning show but I’m not sure they even had any intentions of firing up a morning drive show anyways – Magic seems capped and restricted by a tight Greater Media (parenting company) budget. Whatever money Greater Media had for Magic likely went straight to former Drew & Mike host Drew Lane to take on PM Drive. As much as I love Lane (Seriously, Drew was a big influence on me early in my broadcasting career), hiring Drew Lane was the first mistake Magic 105.1 made.

I liken building a sports franchise around Lane, someone who has never hosted an all-sports radio format, to a baseball analogy. Picture the Tigers giving a 38-year-old outfielder with deteriorating skills a multi-year deal to play 2nd base. That’s what WMGC did with Lane. They put all of their eggs in one basket and it’s not a relationship that’s going to end well for them – at least from a sports radio perspective. Drew is going to do Drew’s show Drew’s way – it’s the only way he knows and you can’t really fault him for it. Unfortunately Drew’s way is not conducive to PPMs and Cume in sports radio. Instead of a Detroit FM radio institution, 105.1 would have been far better off to bring in someone from outside (for cheaper) and branded themselves “the little station that could” rather than give a huge chunk of their radio salary cap to someone new to the format and virtually uncoachable at this stage of his career. Magic, go find your Mike Valenti. If you can find one, grow one. It’s cheaper than your current situation.

Before I get to my next point (trust me, it’ll tie-in), I’m going to give you a Detroit sports radio history lesson. WXYT and WDFN used to battle tooth and nail for a piddly 2-share of the Detroit sports radio market. I mean, it was damn near bloodshed. WXYT, just before it went to 97.1 The Ticket on FM and crushed WDFN like a peanut, hired Tom Bigby to turn WXYT into a winner. Tom Bigby invented the sports radio format with WIP in Philly in 1988. Bigby took a bunch of rag-tag (but coachable) radio nerds on WXYT and showed us all the formula for success in sports talk radio. It was a grueling process. To this day people still think 97.1 The Ticket (then AM 1270 WXYT) won solely because they secured the Detroit sports teams and moved to a powerful signal. Bullshit. Bigby trained all the hosts at The Ticket to win the all-sports format with a proven formula. It’s a formula/system The Ticket started in 2007 and has yet to let go. You can hear it when you listen to 30 minutes of 105.1 and then listen to 30 minutes of 97.1 The Ticket. This leads me to Magic 105.1’s next (and possibly biggest) mistake…

WMGC 105.1 didn’t hire ONE host that worked under Tom Bigby about how to beat (or even remotely compete with) The Ticket. Not one. You could argue former Valenti and Foster producer Matt “The Diesel” Dery could help but Matt joined The Ticket after Bigby left. Still, not one host at 105.1 seems to have a clue about Bigby’s system. You could say “well, none of the hosts left 97.1 The Ticket to join Magic so how could they hire a Bigby prodigy?”. That’s my point. Why would anyone at The Ticket want to leave to go to 105.1? If WMGC blew all of their new formal roll-out money on Lane and couldn’t steal a Mike Valenti or Jamie Samuelsen or Doug Karsch, then they should have AT LEAST hired Tom Bigby himself as a consultant. What in the hell are they thinking?

Take host personalities and favorites out of the equation for a second. Listen to the two stations back to back. Listen to how SLOW Magic 105.1 sounds compared to The Ticket. It sounds like watered-down 2004 WDFN & WXYT AM all over again – painfully slow and too guest heavy. There’s a reason those two stations battled for a 2.0 share and it isn’t all the signal. Plus, WMGC 105.1 would kill for a 2.0 share at this point. Wake up, WMGC! It’s your system!

The semblance of hope Detroit Sports 105.1 fans (and fans that love the all-sports format) have is that 105.1 can somehow steal a Detroit sports teams’ broadcasting rights away from The Ticket in order to compete. I don’t see this happening unless it’s the Pistons (who don’t move the needle anyway). If Great Media / Magic 105.1 is as cash-strapped as they appear to be and sound like, the only dent they could make is to drive up the price slightly when contracts roll around for the Tigers/Pistons/Red Wings/Lions rights. Why would a Detroit Sports franchise that does pull significant ratings (Tigers & Lions) want to break a relationship with a ratings juggernaut to toil away on a station ranked 20th? If Drew Lane is going to drone on about breastfeeding and reality shows… how will the Lions react? Sure, money talks but does 105.1 have money left to compete?

So where does this leave 97.1 The Ticket? They have to secretly love how this “threat” is actually playing out. WMGC is barely making a dent in The Ticket’s ratings & and XYT has been able to retain all of their talent. Plus, the abysmal ratings of 105.1 in addition to WMGC taking the ESPN brand will make it less likely for any real ratings threat to approach The Ticket. IE – the water just became a lot muddier for someone like ClearChannel (or anyone else) to want to enter the Detroit sports radio fray. It’s hard to fathom but 105.1’s poor showing thus far has actually solidified 97.1 The Ticket’s position instead of weakening it.

Lastly… as a true sports radio geek and armchair PD, I sincerely enjoy competition and an alternative to The Ticket. Detroit Sports 105.1 is doing well at a few things. I enjoy listening to Matt Dery when I flip around. Also, I think Ryan & Rico’s show on the weekend is great. I just feel that Detroit sports fans deserve more than what we’ve received so far from Detroit Sports 105.1.

Next time, I’ll get into things Sports 105.1 WMGC can do to turn things around a bit and compete at least a little better with 97.1 The Ticket.

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