SYRACUSE -- Local Yankees fans on Twitter seem to be upset and surprised, but radio insiders may not be so shocked to learn Clear Channel's Syracuse cluster is no longer offering radio coverage of certain weekday afternoon New York Yankees games. That's likely because FM Newsradio 106.9 and 570 WSYR, which carries the Yankees games, is also an affiliate of Rush Limbaugh.
One CNYRadio.com reader contacted us directly on Twitter this afternoon asking if we had heard about the games being pre-empted. He said he called the studio, and the person on the other end of the line told him the station will not pre-empt Limbaugh's program to carry the games.
When we called the cluster's main business line, a receptionist said today's 1:05pm home game against the Minnesota Twins was "one of the 13 games WSYR will not be carrying this season." When we asked why the game wasn't being aired, she nicely apologized, but said she didn't have an explanation.
Unless we missed something on the official Yankees schedule, there are 11 remaining weekday games this season slated for afternoon starts -- during Limbaugh's live noon-3pm show. There's a potential for 12, with "TBD" listed as the start time for one weekday game in September.
Clear Channel's Premiere Radio Networks, the syndicator of Limbaugh's program, has a reputation for being strict about affiliates carrying the show every day during its regular timeslot. Very rarely are exceptions made for individual stations to pre-empt or the show. Considering the long-running show's popularity (and the premium advertising rates the show commands), it's no surprise that Premiere strives for "perfect attendance" from every affiliate.
The majority of the Yankees' weekday games are set to begin later in the afternoon or in the evening. Although WSYR reportedly won't pre-empt Limbaugh, the station frequently abbreviates or pre-empts the timeslot of local afternoon drive host Jim Reith to accomodate the late-afternoon games. The same goes for the syndicated fare which fills the remaining hours of the evening following Reith's show.
In past years, WSYR was the "primary" station for Yankees broadcasts, while SportsRadio 620 (WHEN) would act as the "backup," carrying any weekday games which would have otherwise conflicted with Limbaugh's live noon-3pm timeslot. (Although it would seem to make sense to just put sports on "the sports station," WSYR wound up with the Yankees because WHEN used to carry live coverage of Syracuse Chiefs, the AAA minor league affiliate of the Washington Nationals.)
Late last year, things changed: Clear Channel replaced WHEN's all-sports format with a simulcast of urban AC Power 106.9 (formerly WPHR). A short time later, WHEN 620 became the lone source of the Power format, as the 106.9FM frequency became the new home for an FM/AM simulcast of WSYR's news/talk lineup.
Those changes mean Clear Channel no longer has an all-sports station. In February, the Chiefs announced a move to Citadel's The Score 1260 (WSKO). The AHL's Syracuse Crunch made the same move last May. The rest of WHEN's former local sports programming has since moved to either WSKO or to Galaxy Communications' ESPN Radio 97.7/100.1 (WTLA/WSGO/W249BC/W261AC).
When Clear Channel announced that WSYR would become an FM/AM simulcast, some wondered if the simulcast would be "split," with the AM side carrying Yankees games and the FM side keeping regular programming (or vice versa). It appears now that the "split" option isn't being employed.
We'll speculate that could be partly due to the technical workarounds required to make it happen, partly due to a desire to avoid listener confusion, and partly due to the fact that splitting a simulcast can cause complications for Arbitron ratings. When stations simulcast 100% of the time, their ratings are combined. But if there's a split, the ratings for the AM and FM would have to be counted as two separate stations, basically defeating the purpose of the simulcast.
As a result, it appears the Yankees will continue to pre-empt WSYR's regular programming on nights and weekends, while Rush Limbaugh takes precedence over the Bronx Bombers on weekday afternoons.
Our friend Scott Fybush at NorthEast Radio Watch once told us this is how it's been in Rochester for years. Clear Channel news/talker WHAM 1180 carries "weekend games and some night games, but they don't blow out Rush or the 5 PM newshour for day games." As a result, Yanks fans in Rochester must attempt to pull in the signal from WACK/Newark or WGR/Buffalo.