Thursday, September 11, 2008

Are You Out There, Can You Hear Me?

I'm afraid that's what Steve Mears and Chris King may be asking this hockey season as the radio voices of the New York Islanders.

The Islanders today announced the formation of the New York Islanders Radio Network. The press release issued by the team describes the venture as a "Multi-Media Radio Network" whose purpose is to provide "Comprehensive Distribution" of Islanders radio broadcasts.

The cross-platform network includes terrestrial, satellite, and Internet radio delivery. It certainly sounds like comprehensive distribution. But consider that the satellite and Internet options are not new, and the terrestrial portion of the network is being carried by two stations from the Long Island Radio Group, the largest radio group on Long Island. Specifically, WMJC 94.3 FM will handle the night games and WHLI 1100 AM will take care of the afternoon affairs.

No offense to these stations—they know the strength of their signals—but this is a step back in the development of the organization's tri-state-area media presence. Below are maps of the approximate coverage areas for each of these stations, as charted by Radio-Locator. You can read more detailed definitions of the colored lines on their site, but here's a summary legend:

Red lines (Local Coverage) = good to very good reception on almost any radio
Purple lines (Distant Coverage) = weak reception without a good radio with a good antenna
Blue lines (Fringe Coverage) = very weak reception without a good radio, possibly no reception

WMJC 94.3 FM Coverage Map

WHLI 1100 AM Coverage Map

I tried to tune into both stations from Manhattan today. 94.3 FM was static and WMJC was nowhere to be found. The area around 1100 on the AM dial was dominated by the signal from 1130 AM Bloomberg Radio, the previous radio home of the Islanders. Below that, the most discernable signal was from 1050 ESPN Radio, another former home of Islanders radio broadcasts.

I understand that the Bloomberg signal was not strong for some on Long Island, and the team's presence on the station apart from the games was minimal at best. And if Bloomberg was unable to sell what it thought was sufficient advertising for the games, then that relationship was not ideal for either side.

I never feared that the Islanders wouldn't be on the radio this year, but I hoped they would remain on a powerful station, both for the good of the perception of the team and for those fans who live and/or travel in other parts of the tri-state area. Apparently finding such a partner was just not possible.

As it appears now, fans without satellite radios likely won't able to hear the Islanders anywhere in New York City or in most of Westchester and Connecticut when they drive. And the Islanders are the only major league franchise in the area that doesn't have a presence on one of the major AM stations.

On the plus side, the Long Island Radio Group encompasses six stations and will enable the Islanders to reach deeper into the demographics of Long Island with promotions and advertising.

We've been through this before. Hopefully the team's performance over the next several years will make it more marketable. Pushing out the geographic borders of the fan base is in the Islanders' best interest. Having their radio broadcasts limited to satellite and the Internet outside of portions of Long Island is not.

And thanks to Dar Williams for another lyrical reference.

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