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On-air roster changes afoot at Emmis stations

March 12, 2010

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On-air roster changes afoot at Emmis stations

Emmis Communications Corp. is shuffling several prominent on-air personalities at its Indianapolis radio stations' beginning Monday, a move the company says will maximize their talents.

Affected by the moves are "Big Joe" Staysniak and Steve Simpson of WIBC-FM 93.1, Ed Wenck of WLHK-FM 97.1 and Dan Dakich of WFNI-AM 1070.

Simpson, who occupies an afternoon time slot on WIBC, will replace Staysniak as co-host of the WIBC morning show with Terri Stacy as he transitions into a sports role. Staysniak, who played in two Super Bowls as a Buffalo Bills before finishing his pro career with the Indianapolis Colts, will provide sports updates on the morning show while hosting his own program from 10 a.m. to noon  beginning in early April on WFNI, a sports talk station known as The Fan.

His arrival shuffles former Indiana University basketball star and coach Dakich to The Fan's noon-to-3 p.m. timeslot, which now is mostly occupied by the syndicated "The Herd With Colin Cowherd."    

Meanwhile, Simpson’s afternoon shift on WIBC will be filled by Ed Wenck, who is leaving the "Wank & O'Brien" morning show he has hosted with Dave O’Brien on WLHK, a country station also known as Hank. Wenck and O'Brien have been on-air partners for 14 years. O’Brien will continue hosting the morning show.

Charlie Morgan, local market manager for Emmis, said those involved are “excited” about the transition that better reflects the strengths they bring to their new stations.

“Our motivation here is that we’ve got a lot of really talented on-air personalities with specific areas of experience and expertise,” he said. “Instead of boxing them into just one shift and one station, what’s the best way we can maximize their talents?”

Staysniak’s expanded role is the best example of the new philosophy, Morgan said, but Wenck and O’Brien may collaborate on each other’s shows as well. The duo began their on-air partnership at WRZX-FM 103.3 and moved to the former WNOU  before landing at light rock station WENS, which changed to the Hank format in 2005.

Staysniak’s arrival on The Fan also allows Emmis to feature more local sports programming on the station, Morgan said. The only syndicated programming that will remain is ESPN’s "Mike and Mike in the Morning."

The 3-to-6 p.m. timeslot on The Fan is occupied by a show hosted by Indianapolis Star sports columnist Bob Kravitz and former Reebok executive Eddie White. Morgan said no changes are planned for the duo. But Kravitz’s contract expires April 7, and it’s widely thought in the local radio industry that he, or both, will be replaced by John Vincent, better known as JMV, the former host of "The Drive with JMV" on WNDE 1260 AM.

Format and on-air personality changes are common in radio, particularly now as stations attempt to stem revenue losses attributable in part to increasing competition, said Robert Unmacht a partner at the Nashville, Tenn.-based IN3 Partners consulting firm.

Unmacht declined to speculate on what triggered the Emmis moves. He said radio stations remain profitable, but less so than they historically have been, because of the large amounts of debt larger stations have accumulated from a spree of acquisitions.

“Consequently, they’re making a lot of money, but it’s all going to the bank and they’re not left with enough to run the stations,” Unmacht said.

The changes at Emmis are its first in about three years. In 2007, Emmis ditched its news/talk format on WIBC-AM 1070 in favor of sports, rebranding the station The Fan. WIBC, meanwhile, jumped to WNOU’s former 93.1 FM frequency.
 
WIBC is Emmis’ flagship radio station. Among listeners 12 and older, WIBC ranked fourth in the market with a 6.4 summer rating, according to New York-based Arbitron Inc. Hank and The Fan posted ratings of 4.5 and 1.5, respectively, among the same age group.

For the fiscal third-quarter period ended Nov. 30, Emmis' revenue fell 18 percent to $64.6 million compared with the same period in 2008. And revenue for the first nine months of the fiscal year declined 23 percent from the previous year, to $188.6 million.

Even so, the media company reported a $1.7 million profit in the fiscal third quarter compared with a $125.7 million loss during the same time in 2008. The loss was due primarily to a $210.2 million impairment charge related to Federal Communications Commission licenses during the third quarter.

Emmis’ fiscal year began March 1, which might have helped prompt the latest moves, said Chris Wheat, market manager of Atlanta-based Cumulus Media’s local cluster, which includes WJJK-FM 104.5 and WFMS-FM 95.5.

“So I’m sure they’re looking at their budget lines and their products to make changes that they feel will be in the best interest of their products,” Wheat said.

Emmis owns 22 radio stations in seven U.S. markets along with radio operations in Bulgaria and Slovakia, as well as seven U.S. magazines.

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