The urban radio landscape in New York had a major shakeup Thursday (April 26) when Emmis Communications announced that Urban AC WRKS (98.7 Kiss FM) was going to become the FM home for ESPN all-sports WEPN-AM (ESPN New York) as part of a long-term local programming and marketing agreement (LMA) between the two companies.
Emmis also announced plans to sell the intellectual property of the station to YMF media, which is in the process of purchasing Inner City's Urban AC outlet WBLS -- WRKS' most direct competitor -- leading to what being called a "merging" the two properties.
A statement on both station's websites quotes WBLS VP/GM Deon Levingston as saying, "WBLS and WRKS have been the voice of the tri-state black community for 30 years and we plan to merge the best of both stations to create a stronger voice to deliver the best in R&B music while also super serving our community."
The "merge" began with a celebration of the more than 30-year legacy of Kiss that will run throughout the weekend. On Monday, WRKS midday host Shaila and evening host Lenny Green will join the lineup at WBLS taking over the 10am-3pm and 7pm-12am shifts, respectively.
Apparently displaced in the merge will be current WBLS midday host Déjà vu and "The Quiet Storm with Keith Sweat" as well as syndicated hosts Tom Joyner and Michael Baisden, who have been airing on WKRS in morning and afternoon drive.
In a statement about the sale Emmis chairman/CEO Jeff Smulyan said: "Recent changes in the way radio ratings are measured made it very difficult for us to find success with Kiss FM despite the great work of our Emmis New York team."
That seems somewhat at odds with the most recent Arbitron results, where WKRS ranked seventh in the market for total audience in the March Arbitron ratings with a 3.7 share, while Emmis' other New York property rhythmic top 40 WQHT (Hot 97) had a 3.2 share.
The decision to enter the LMA agreement with WRKS instead of WQHT was most likely driven by the stiff sales challenges facing a 25-54 focused station with multiple competitors like WRKS, and the fact that Emmis also owns rhythmic top 40 KPWR (Power 106) in Los Angeles, giving the company two of the most powerful brands in hip-hop.