The worst kept secret in Denver sports radio circles is finally out of the bag! A fifth sports radio station is entering the mix.
KSE Media Ventures, which is owned by Rams, Nuggets and Avalanche Owner Stan Kroenke, is diving in, and doing so with an impressive array of local talent and play-by-play.
Before we get into the specifics of the lineup which were first reported by BSN Denver, let’s take a look back at what’s transpired over the past year to bring us to where we are.
In 2015, the Denver market featured a number of sports talk stations. 104.3 The Fan led the pack, but 105.5 ESPN and Mile High Sports Radio 1340AM were also operating the format with local talent, and 1600AM was on the air and carrying national programming from Fox Sports Radio.
By years end, 105.5 ESPN ceased operations, leaving 104.3 The Fan, Mile High, and 1600 as the market’s remaining sports radio brands.
The Fan which consistently led the ratings race, was then sold by its owner Lincoln Financial to Entercom Communications who then spun it off to Bonneville as part of an exchange which helped them gain entry into the Los Angeles market. Entercom also acquired 950AM (KRWZ), which previously served as home to The Fan before the brand moved on to the FM dial in 2008, and sold the AM radio station to KSE Media Ventures, a group owned by Rams, Nuggets and Avalanche Owner Stan Kroenke.
Still with me?
After seizing control of 104.3 The Fan’s day to day operations, Bonneville made a number of big changes. They parted ways with Program Director Nate Lundy and cut ties with on-air hosts Vic Lombardi, Scott Hastings, and Joel Dreesen. The station replaced Lundy with Armen Williams, and ESPN NFL Analyst and former Bronco Mark Schlereth joined Mike Evans in mornings, filling the void left behind from Lombardi and Dreesen’s departures.
The Fan also acquired the ESPN Radio affiliation after 105.5 folded, and turned KEPN 1600AM into ESPN Denver. They’ve since made a few additional weekday lineup changes but we’ll touch on that later in this story.
As 2016 began, iHeart made the decision to flip 760AM to sports. Broncos play by play man Dave Logan, Susan Wargin, Andy Lindahl, and Ed McCaffrey were hired as local talent, market veteran Brandon Krisztal joined the station as Executive Producer, and the remainder of the lineup was filled by Fox Sports Radio’s programs. It appeared that 760 would become The Fan’s main competition.
But then news of a potential fifth sports station began to trickle out. KSE which had purchased a few music stations from Wilks Broadcasting and the 950AM signal from Entercom, was rumored to be exploring a move into the sports format. The only questions were, when would they launch and would there be an AM/FM simulcast or would it strictly be built on the AM dial.
KSE, which also owns and operates the television company Altitude Sports, started having discussions with talent inside and outside of the market about potential on-air opportunities. Job postings went up on All Access and every source I spoke with said the company was targeting a late-March or early-April launch.
Now we’ve learned today through BSN’s report, that the station plans to go LIVE on Friday April 8th, which is the day of the Colorado Rockies home opener.
The move into the sports format for Altitude makes sense on a number of fronts.
First, KSE controls the radio rights of the Avalanche and Nuggets and can use those two brands to drive listening to the radio station’s programming. That should help with attracting advertisers and marketing the new station inside the Pepsi Center. The company also has the option of promoting the sports talker on their other three local radio stations should they choose to do so.
Secondly, to launch a station you need good local on-air talent. Given that there were a ton of radio free agents available due to changes at The Fan and the termination of 105.5 ESPN, plus popular local television personalities were also out there for consideration, that presented an opportunity for KSE to come out of the gate with a strong local lineup.
Weeks ago I was told that Ryan Spilborghs, who spent 7 seasons with the Rockies, and works as a television analyst for Root Sports, was going to be a part of the morning show. That plan though has since changed.
Per BSN’s report, Spilborghs is out of the picture, and the morning show will launch with Tom Helmer, formerly of CBS 4 and Root Sports. No word yet on who his co-host will be. Middays will feature former Fan personality and current Altitude TV host, Vic Lombardi alongside Kyle Keefe, also of Altitude’s TV channel. Wrapping things up in afternoons will be Nate Kreckman and Tom Nalen. The two men previously teamed up on 105.5 ESPN, and also worked part time at The Fan.
If other needs exist, the station still has other local options they can explore. Scott Hastings and Joel Dreesen remain available, plus with The Fan stabilizing their midday shows recently with the additions of Cecil Lammey, and Brandon Stokley, personalities such as Shawn Drotar, Ryan Edwards, James Gomez, and Josh Dover could also be explored, assuming The Fan doesn’t find a way to utilize them in the future.
To program the radio station, Altitude has called upon James Merilatt, who has been involved with running Mile High Sports Radio AM 1340. In addition to assembling the weekday lineup and offering Avalanche and Nuggets games, Merilatt is expected to add some brokered programs to help the company’s bottom line.
What will be interesting to watch in the future is whether or not KSE looks to bring in Nate Lundy, the Fan’s former Program Director, in some capacity. Lundy still lives in Denver, maintains relationships with a number of local talent, and has had success in the market, both as a programmer and on-air talent. That would seem to make him an attractive candidate for a company that is brand new to the space and looking to make a splash.
Meanwhile, the brand is expected to be positioned as “Altitude Radio AM950”. Numerous sources have told me that CBS Sports Radio will be the network affiliate. That fits since ESPN airs 24/7 on 1600AM and overnight on The Fan, 760 partners with Fox Sports Radio, and Yahoo Sports Radio runs overnights on Mile High’s 1340AM.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past twelve months, it’s that when it comes to Denver sports radio, there’s never a dull moment. The Fan remains the market’s top rated brand and with their recent additions they’re well positioned to handle a competitive battle. However, based on the news, it’s clear that Altitude is ready to take their shot and give The Fan a run for their money.
Let the games begin and may the best sports station emerge victorious.