Wednesday, March 30, 2016

UNO Extends Learfield Radio Contract; New Station in Fall?

UNO has extended their multimedia agreement with Learfield Sports for ten seasons, building on the previous three year deal that originated with Nelligan Sports Marketing, which was later acquired by Learfield. Learfield works with 120 division 1 schools across the country, including Iowa, Iowa State, Missouri, Alabama and Texas A&M. Besides advertising signage and digital marketing, Learfield also produces the radio broadcasts of UNO hockey and basketball.

While Learfield will remain, I suspect that UNO broadcasts will need to find a new radio home next season, moving on from KZOT (1180 AM), aka "The Zone Two" or "The Deuce".  The 1180 signal is perhaps the weakest radio signal in the Omaha area, barely reaching the western edge of the city at night. The online stream could be an alternative, but more than once, I've found syndicated programming on the stream instead of the UNO game.  (Most recently during UNO's final hockey game of the season.)
But a recent FCC rule change may require 1180 AM to go off the air. When the AM radio bands were expanded above 1600  a few years ago, NRG Radio was granted a license to broadcast on 1620 AM in exchange for their license to operate on 1180 AM. Some legal maneuvering has allowed NRG to operate both frequencies, but that appears to be coming to an end with the FCC's AM Revitalization Act. In as soon as a year, NRG will need to shut down one of the their two AM stations, and based on signal strength and branding, you have to figure that 1180 will be shut down.

So who would pick up the rights to UNO sports? KFAB (1110 AM) might be a possibility; they originally carried UNO hockey when the program started. But I suspect sports programming doesn't fit with their political talk focus.  KXSP (590 AM) has a full commitment to Husker broadcasts, so that would not be an option either.  NRG's KOZN (1620 AM) has a full commitment to Creighton sports, while KOIL (1290 AM) has been the home of the Omaha Lancers and overflow Creighton broadcasts.  Boomer 1490 (KOMJ) hasn't had any sports programming in the winter, and could be an option.

Would UNO find an FM station to carry UNO games?  I liked it when the Mav broadcasts were on KVNO (90.7) and 96.1 FM a few years back; the signals were very strong. (Also strong was the jolt of hearing classical music before and after the hockey games...but that was workable.)

If I had to predict, I'd put KOIL (1290 AM) as the most likely home for UNO hockey broadcasts moving forward, with some broadcasts potentially moving to an FM station in the NRG family when multiple UNO or Creighton games are happening simultaneously.  I'd prefer to have UNO hockey move full-time to a FM station, but I suspect that might be a pipe dream.  (A good fit IMHO would be 101.9 FM - aka The Keg.)

Don't sleep on Boomer 1490, though.  1490 has shown a willingness to take a chance on sports programming, and will be getting an FM simulcast at 106.5 FM later this summer. (Sadly, this won't cover most of the Omaha area, though.)

No comments: