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ESPN Radio makes progress on FM

Stephen A. Smith is a commentator for ESPN.

Stephen A. Smith is a commentator for ESPN. Credit: KRT, 2004

ESPN Radio made some inroads with listeners in May, its first month at 98.7 FM after a ratings-challenged decade at 1050 AM.

General manager David Roberts was particularly encouraged by the cumulative audience, which measured more than 1.3 million people at least sampling the channel, up almost double from May 2011. (The deep playoff run by the Rangers, usually a ratings afterthought, helped the cause.)

“It’s just one month,’’ Roberts said. “It’s way too early to draw any conclusions. But the fact our total listeners are up gives us reason for optimism as we move forward.’’

WFAN’s ratings generally did not suffer, suggesting ESPN is finding new sports talk listeners on the FM dial.

Some of ESPN’s biggest gains came from 1 to 3 p.m., where Stephen A. Smith joined Ryan Ruocco on April 30. That show averaged 4.5 percent of men ages 25-54 in May, nearly double the figure for April in that slot and more than double the May 2011, figure.

(The numbers are combined totals for 98.7 and 1050 AM, which will simulcast the station until September.)

Long-time afternoon drive time host Michael Kay’s contract is due to expire this autumn. Roberts said Kay “isn’t going anywhere – at least the hope is he won’t.’’ But if he does, would Smith be an option in that time slot?

Roberts declined to comment. “We’re fortunate we have some pretty good talent on the station,’’ he said.

New York Sports