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WDVE-FM secures rights as Steelers flagship station

Thursday, February 18, 1999

By Chuck Finder, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

At 8:37 a.m. yesterday, the morning team of Scott Paulsen and Jim Krenn announced that the Steelers' broadcasts were coming to their WDVE-FM, and they weren't joking. After playing a flashy promotion touting the station as the new flagship, Paulsen calmly turned to his sidekick. "Jim, does this mean we're co-workers with Myron Cope?"

Yoi, double yoi and triple yoi.

Radio ga-ga meets hmm-hah.

Or, in the words of one North Side grandfather, Steelers president Dan Rooney: "We're going rock 'n roll."

After more than a quarter-century on WTAE-AM, the Steelers yesterday officially jumped to the FM, a move completed by nearly half of the league already. They become the 14th NFL team to use the stronger, stereo side of the dial as a flagship. The bulk of those broadcast rights are held by WDVE's parent Chancellor Media Corporation, which carries, among others, AFC-Central rival Cincinnati and the NBA's Chicago Bulls.

For WDVE, this move is a bit of a jump to the right, toward more sports programming. In the station's 30th year of existence and second season as the Penguins' flagship through radio rights-holder Fox Sports Pittsburgh, 102.5 FM officials fulfilled their long-held ambition to embrace the most prestigious sports property in Western Pennsylvania. The Steelers' rights bring with them a mostly 21-to-54-year-old male market, high ratings and an even higher identity, if not money.

The three-year agreement comes at a price tag approaching $1.5 million per season. Yet such packages are known as a "loss leader:" They often don't break even on their own merit, but they resonate positives in other ways - enhancing programming as a whole, marketing, promotion, and so on.

Chancellor and WDVE know this well, having handled the broadcast package this past season at its WDRV-FM and the former WTAE-AM, which was traded to Jacor Communications and renamed WEAE-AM long after the 1998 Steelers wheels were put in motion.

"It really helps continue the process that, at 'DVE, we've been looking to brand the station with the city," said program director Garrett Hart, whose station is admired nationally for its market-topping saturation among male and younger audiences. "No matter where you think you are on the scale, or how you're doing, there's always the possibility of doing something better, or doing something more. For us, the Steelers have been a goal for some time. The timing was right."

The announcing team of Cope, Bill Hillgrove and Tunch Ilkin will remain in place - a Steelers priority in the prolonged negotiations. "This is a team that the town loves. We'll dance with the gang that brung us," Hart added.

Left unanswered remain three points: Will the pregame and postgame lineup receive much tinkering; what will be the AM outlet; and how much of a role will the announcers play the other six days of the WDVE week?

There was one sizable question that the rights sweepstakes runner-up, KDKA-AM, couldn't answer to Rooney's satisfaction: What would've happened on conflicting Pirates-Steelers game days on that station?

Even though KDKA offered more rights money than WDVE, the Steelers didn't want to leave their fans searching the dial for their broadcasts.

"Our problem with KDKA was, they have the baseball," Rooney said. "We sort of knew what we were doing for some time, and we gave KDKA a real chance to work everything out. But we've been in that position before; we didn't want to be farmed out."

Added KDKA general manager Michael Young: "We put together with what we thought was a good plan and a workable plan ... for KDKA and the Steelers. We've lived without the Steelers for a long time [since the team jumped to WTAE in 1970. We have a strong sports franchise with the Pirates. In one aspect, [the Steelers are] something you'd like to do business on, but it's not terribly disappointing that we're not."

Broadcast-rights deals usually transpire in November or December, giving the station a chance to sell off the current season's excitement and sell into an advertiser's next fiscal-year budget. However, these negotiations lagged because of that aspect of a potential Pirates conflicts, plus the fact Steelers officials were slightly preoccupied with something about a new stadium.

WDVE and Chancellor officials have yet to decide if their lone AM station in the market, WWSW 970, will be their Steelers' alternative on that side of the dial. Yet, in a historical sidelight that intrigues the Steelers' president, WWSW was where Art Rooney first placed his Steelers in 1936, paying from his own pocket to put games on the air.

From there to FM rock 'n roll is a long radio way, indeed.

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