Lions heading to WJR in 2016
Detroit — WJR is getting back into the game.
WJR-AM (760), the "Great Voice of the Great Lakes," announced Friday morning that starting in 2016, it will be the flagship station for the Detroit Lion for five years. WXYT-FM — first 1270 AM, now 97.1 FM — has been the team's flagship for the past 18 seasons.
"We’re announcing that WJR this morning is our new partner," said Rod Wood, the Lions' new team president who is overseeing the business decisions for the franchise after transitioning from his job as chief executive of Ford Estates.
Paul W. Smith, WJR's morning host, told Wood that "I can’t tell you how excited we are here at WJR."
According to a statement from CBS Detroit’s Senior Vice President and Market Manager Debbie Kenyon read on air on WWJ-AM (950) Friday, it appears CBS Radio and the Lions were at odds over commentary, with CBS accusing the team of requesting censorship.
“CBS Radio and the Detroit Lions are parting ways. 97.1 The Ticket has served as the flagship station for the Lions for more than a decade," the statement read. "CBS Radio says it has been negotiating with the Lions a long time. It is sad to say goodbye, but in the end it came down to the integrity of CBS — the refusal to be censored in talking about the team and making honest assessments on the air about this team.”
Meanwhile, WJR has been looking to dive back into professional sports for at least the past year, and made at least some push for the Tigers when negotiations were ongoing this past summer.
It's not clear if WJR made a bid for the Tigers, which will remain with 97.1 after it narrowly beat out 105.1 to retain the rights.
WJR lost the Tigers after the 2000 season.
WJR has been the home of Michigan State football and basketball since 2006.
For 97.1, this is the second departure in the past two years — the station at one point held the rights for all four of Detroit's pro sports teams, but last year lost the Pistons to 105.1, and now the Lions to WJR.
That said, 97.1, the top-rated sports station in Michigan and one of the tops in the nation, still has the Tigers, who are a ratings bonanza and pure gold for the station when it comes to advertising dollars.
The Pistons and Lions were believed to be the two teams 97.1 was willing to part with, giving the Pistons are in a down era and the Lions only play 16 regular-season games a year, limiting the advertising opportunities.
WJR is believed to be planning to simulcast Lions games on an FM station.
Play-by-play man Dan Miller and analyst Jim Brandstatter have been told they will remain on the call, according to a source.
WJR owned the Lions' rights prior to 1989.