Detroit Lions returning to 97.1 The Ticket after five years on WJR

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

After a five-year run partnering with WJR-AM for their radio broadcasts, the Detroit Lions are returning to the FM airwaves next season, agreeing to a new, multi-year partnership with 97.1 The Ticket to be their flagship station.

“As we enter a new era of Detroit Lions football, we’re excited to establish a strategic partnership with Entercom, whose Detroit family of stations are market leaders in radio and multimedia,” Kelly Kozole, Detroit Lions senior vice president for business development, said in a statement. “With growing opportunities to deliver informed and entertaining broadcast programming, together we have a great opportunity to engage our fans who are their listeners.”

The Lions have been on WJR for the past five years.

All Lions Radio Network programming, including live game broadcasts, pregame and postgame shows, regular-season weekly shows and additional offseason programming will air exclusively on 97.1.

Entercom will also manage the Lions Radio Network — an extensive radio network with more than 30 stations across Michigan and in northern Ohio.

This is a return to the network the Lions departed in 2015 after reported conflicts with the station over on-air criticism. There were accusations the franchise demanded the firing of on-air show afternoon drive-time host Mike Valenti as part of their negotiations to stay with the station, which the Lions publicly denied. 

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"I can categorically deny that we requested, or there were any conversations, around Mike Valenti's dismissal," former Lions vice president of marketing Elizabeth Parkinson said in an interview. "It's just not something that was discussed, nor was his agent involved in any of the negotiations. I truly don't know where that's coming from.

"We know there's a clear separation between business and editorial," she said. "Do we wish everyone was always saying good things about the Detroit Lions? Absolutely. But we also realize that's not pure reporting and that's not what people are paid to do."

The disdain for Valenti was part of the negotiations, but money was the main factor. WJR gave the Lions significantly more, as much as $1 million, more than The Ticket.

The Lions hired Rod Wood as team president later than month, and Parkinson, who played a key role in the broadcast partner switch, was fired by the franchise in January. 

Wood, in a Friday morning interview on 97.1, was jokingly asked if the team had developed thicker skin in recent years. 

"I know what you're referring to and I'm not going to comment on that," Wood said. "Whatever is past is past and we're talking about the future and looking forward to it."

The team first partnered with CBS Radio (which merged with Entercom in 2017) when sister station WWJ 950 became the flagship station in 1989. The Lions return means 97.1 again has all four Detroit pro teams, including the Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers