ESPN Radio coming to East End

Yankee broadcaster and 1050 ESPN talk show host,

Yankee broadcaster and 1050 ESPN talk show host, Michael Kay, waves to crowd during the Yankee tickey day parade. (Nov. 6, 2009) (Credit: James Carbone)

Neil Best

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Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned

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Michael Kay, meet Hampton Bays.

The ESPN New York afternoon radio host and his colleagues are East End bound, effective next week in a deal the station plans to announce today for a noon-to-midnight simulcast on Hampton Bays-based WLIR (107.1 FM).

That is good news for a part of Long Island that always has had a complex relationship with radio signals, what with all those miles separating it from New York City and all that water separating it from everything else.

"This will ensure that we cover all of the Island, particularly Suffolk County," Dave Roberts, the station's vice president and general manager, told Newsday.

To further cover central Suffolk, WLIR also will be heard at 96.9 FM, a translator based in Selden that should fill in most gaps between the 107.1 signal and ESPN's primary outlet at 98.7 FM.

It's good news for fans of ESPN Radio talk shows and/or the Knicks, Rangers and Jets. It also is a return to an arrangement from 2008-11 during which ESPN used WLIR as a supplemental outlet for its notoriously finicky 1050 AM signal.

ESPN left in 2011 when WLIR turned to a Christian programming format, and moved to FM last year. Now it's back on 107.1 as part of a new-look WLIR, which is switching to an all-sports approach and will launch its own local morning drive-time talk show next Monday, the same day the ESPN simulcast begins.

On weekends, WLIR will carry mostly ESPN New York programming except when it conflicts with Stony Brook football games. The station, branded as "Champions Radio," also will cover local high school sports.

While ESPN has acted to resolve its East End issues, many sports radio listeners in that area remain concerned about CBS Radio's long-anticipated plan to put its national network on 660 AM, leaving WFAN as an FM-only channel at 101.9.

But that move, initially thought to be planned for this past spring, then for early next year, appears to be on hold. Many at the station are wary of giving up the powerful AM signal WFAN has occupied since Oct. 7, 1988.

The intriguing potential subplot to ESPN Radio's news is whether it acted to better serve central and eastern Suffolk as part of a push to land a local baseball team. Both the Yankees' and Mets' deals expire after this season. Hmm.

"We have been looking at options for quite some time to increase our reach in areas where we currently don't have that reach," Roberts said. "Getting a baseball team wasn't part of the decision-making process in this case."

Still, it couldn't hurt.

Clear Channel Communications, which owns WOR (710 AM) and several important FM stations in New York, has emerged as a serious bidder to wrest the Yankees from CBS Radio, according to a source familiar with the process. (Even if the Yankees change channels, they will retain primary say over announcers, and there have been no signs they are prepared to jettison oft-criticized play-by-play man John Sterling.)

If the Yankees do move, CBS and ESPN presumably will be left to battle for the Mets, a staple on WFAN since it launched in 1987 but in recent years a money-loser for the company.

Roberts declined to comment on ESPN's potential interest in the Mets beyond saying that the company will judge any potential agreement on its business merits. "If the right deal came along and everyone agreed it was the right deal, it would be considered," he said.

For now, the focus is on existing team rights and extras such as weekly appearances by Bill Parcells, whose return to the station for the coming season is to be announced Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the station's plans.

Tuna on the East End? That sounds fresh.

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