Journal Keeps 104.9 After All—for the New ESPN Tucson

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The Journal Broadcast Group, which owns and operates the only FM news/talk station in the market, is now hoping the success of that model will carry over to sports: Journal is simulcasting its sports station KFFN AM 1490 on 104.9 FM.

Furthermore, it has changed its image from The Fan to ESPN Tucson.

"We’re very excited to be on 1490 AM and 104.9 FM," said program director Ryan McCredden in a press release. "This additional signal gives us the ability to reach more people across Tucson and that’s what it's all about — bringing everyone in Tucson the best in sports/talk and play-by-play."

In a Media Watch column two weeks ago, I reported that Journal was likely going to give up the signal for 104.9 FM. The scenario involved a transfer of ownership from Willcox radio station KWCX to Tanque Verde. KWCX broadcasts on 104.9 in Willcox, and its closer proximity would occupy that frequency here. Behind the scenes at KZLZ, LLC, the company that owns KWCX and also operates KZLZ, an FM station in Tucson, they believed that to be true at one point. Well, that didn't happen.

While the 104.9 FM signal—which had been simulcasting the Mega 106.3 signal—is relatively weak, it's still an improvement over the 1490 signal, which is inaccessible in many of the outlying Tucson areas. It seems safe to suggest the company is so pleased with the performance of its other FM talk offering, conservative news/talker 104.1 KQTH, that it hopes the FM success carries over to sports talk.

KFFN 1490 AM and KCUB 1290 AM (which employs me for UA football and men's basketball pregame and postgame shows) have languished near the bottom of the Arbitron ratings for some time, so Journal likely figures the move to FM can give KFFN a distinct ratings advantage. And it probably will. Furthermore, even if the ratings aren't stellar—sports talk in this market has never performed as well from a numbers standpoint as many observers believe it should—it will still be an improvement over dedicating two signals for a Mega 106.3 station that ranks among the lowest-rated FMs in the market.

KQTH 104.1 FM has dramatically cut into KNST AM 790's news/talk dominance in the market, and while it doesn't rate ahead of KNST in overall Arbitron numbers, that's largely due to KNST's stranglehold among its 55-and-older demographic. KQTH delivers stronger numbers than KNST in many of the key advertising demos.

Ken Kowalcek, the GM at Citadel- (soon-to-be-Cumulus-) owned KCUB 1290, declined comment on the Journal move.

KCUB is the flagship for UA football and men's basketball broadcasts and simulcasts games on 1290 and 100,000 watt FM station KHYT 107.5.

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