105.1 FM dumps sports talk format after 3 years

Tony Paul, The Detroit News
The Pistons plan to remain on 105.1 FM.

It’s game over for Detroit Sports 105.1 (WMGC).

Employees at the Greater Media compound in Ferndale were told at a staff meeting around 6 p.m. Wednesday the sports station is flipping formats this morning.

Around 6 p.m., oldies started to play on WMGC and the station’s website, app and Facebook page were deactivated or replaced with other content.

The news comes after Detroit Sports 105.1 failed to take any significant chunk of WXYT-FM 97.1 The Ticket’s audience since launching in August 2013.

Greater Media officials have said the sports format would be a long-term play of at least five years, but decided to change in recent weeks after firing their second program director, Dave Shore, in May, and, after some initial replacement feelers halting the search.

“Quite honestly, what changed is that we didn’t see the growth coming,” said Steve Chessare, vice president/market manager for Greater Media Detroit. “It’s a business, obviously, and my job is to deliver revenue to the bottom line, and we think we gave it a good shot and I’m proud of every single person at that radio station.

“I thought we did a great job as far as delivering content. ... It didn’t take hold in Detroit.”

The Pistons, who completed their second season on WMGC after switching from 97.1, can opt out of the final guaranteed year of the contract and the two option years because of the change in formats.

The Pistons have no immediate plans to change stations, and Jake Chapman will continue to host "Pistons Weekly" during the offseason. Mark Champion and Rick Mahorn will continue to host the Pistons' weekly "Courtside Show."

“While we are disappointed the format is changing, we believe in the power of Greater Media, its popularity across multiple demographics, and we intend to honor the remaining year of our contract,” PS&E said in a statement to The News. “We entered the rights agreement with Greater Media knowing its multiple radio stations would support a layered business strategy of cross-promotion between our sports and entertainment assets.

“We will blend Pistons game coverage and independently produced content throughout the new format at 105.1 while continuing to utilize WCSX (94.7) and WRIF (101.) to promote all areas of our sports and entertainment business.”

Greater Media wanted more than the Pistons to build around, and went after the Tigers rights after last season.

But in the end, the Tigers and Red Wings, a package deal under the Ilitches, stuck with 97.1.

The sports-talk station was built on the back of longtime Detroit radio star Drew Lane, who was given the drive-time spot on WMGC after Lane and Mike Clark were let go at WRIF. Given the initial freedom to keep mixing his pop-culture discussion with his other love of sports, Lane had some decent ratings success, even if a big portion of his morning audience never traveled with him down the dial.

Lane eventually started getting more pressure from his bosses, including then-program director Jason Dixon, Shore and Chessare, to do more sports and add a third voice to the booth, along with Marc Fellhauer. Lane resisted and left the station in October 2015.

“The station died when Drew Lane left, and they just never recovered,” said Fox 2’s Ryan Ermanni, who had been at WMGC since its inception. “There was no promotion, there was no marketing, there was no nothing.”

After Lane departed, midday host Matt Dery was moved to afternoon drive, working alongside Drew Sharp, also of the Detroit Free Press, but that was a ratings flop, and they were let go in March.

Shore took over on air, working with former Piston Lindsey Hunter, until Shore was let go in May.

Still, three weeks ago, employees were gathered in Ferndale to celebrate some modest ratings success. The morning show was trending upward, and Ermanni and Beard were about to be in the top 10 among male listeners, ages 25-54, for the fifth straight month.

But while Greater Media’s Buzz Knight had started the process of replacing Shore, eventually that search was scrapped and no interviews were held recently, foreshadowing Wednesday’s news.

Among the biggest mistakes several employees at 105.1 cited: An unwillingness to go all local on weeknights and on weekdays, and hiring out-of-towners as PDs, in Dixon and Shore.

Not everyone on the air was under contract, but all employees received some severance Wednesday.

“You know how this business is,” said Sean Bailigian, who was working mornings with Marc Fellhauer and Tom Mazawey, after joining the station in October from 96.1 in Grand Rapids (WMAX-FM).

“A long time ago, we figured that out, and you just roll with the punches.”


Twitter: @tonypaul1984