The A’s continuing struggle to find a home on Bay Area airwaves reached a new extreme today. This morning the team announced they will not be broadcasting games on local radio in the Bay Area.
Instead, the local audio broadcasts of games will only be available through the team’s web streaming service, A’s Cast. This service, which began last year and is provided through the streaming platform TuneIn, will be made available for free to fans in most of Northern California. The press release did not mention whether out-of-market fans will be able to access A’s Cast streams. A’s cast can be accessed here.
This announcement does not affect the radio affiliates outside the Bay Area. Notably, there will still be broadcasts on 1140 AM Sacramento. A full list of radio A’s affiliates is included below.
Despite the change in format, the broadcast team remains stable. Ken Korach will return for his 25th season with the A’s and his 15th as the team’s lead radio announcer, pairing with Vince Cotroneo, who will begin his 15th season with the Club. Ray Fosse will also make special appearances in the booth throughout the season. The A’s daily live sports talk show, A’s Cast Live, hosted by Chris Townsend, will air before or after every weekday A’s game, including live shows from the field.
In addition to broadcasts of Spring Training and regular season games, there will be an expanded lineup of special programming on A’s Cast. The will regular shows covering topics including daily A’s news, franchise history, the minor league system, interviews with management, and interviews with operations and scouting teams, and more. The full programming list can be viewed here.
Two Years of Radio Uncertainty
This news comes just one year after the dramatic break-up with former radio partner 95.7 The Game, a station the A’s had partnered with from 2011-2018. Memorably, the team announced their departure over Twitter:
That departure had directly followed a summer announcement from Dave Kaval that he was seeking public input on the A’s radio future, a story covered by AN here: Should the Oakland A’s renew their radio contract with 95.7 The Game? (May 1, 2018)
Eventually, the A’s found a new home on KTRB AM 860 (more AN coverage here and here). The A’s radio strategy has been a source of continual debate on AN and I’m sure fans will be of varying minds again in the wake of this new development.
In interviews, Dave Kaval has declined to state the reason for not renewing with KTRB. Some have pointed to the station’s primary programming, conservative talk radio, as a potential source of tension, but that was not cited as a factor in this decision.
Public statements from A’s management about the new direction of audio broadcasts have been future-focused. Kaval noted that “The primary motivation for this endeavor is around fan development, marketing, and really understanding how a deeper understanding of that can acquire new fans… I think this is the direction of the future, we’ve always been an innovative organization.”
He went on to mention that “We’ve been looking to fans last year and the response to A’s Cast has been so positive. Everything is to podcasts and ability to consume content in a more tailored way. And a lot of people are younger, we’re seeing more new fans. We felt it was really important this year that we continued to amplify the partnership with TuneIn.”
And in typical Kaval fashion, he continued to encourage fan engagement with team management...
“We always listen to the feedback of our fans and partnerships, we’re always listening and trying to make the decisions that are best.”
My Initial Take
This is a historic moment for MLB, representing the first time since the widespread adoption of radio that a pro sports teams will not be be broadcast on a local radio station in their primary market.
Before we get into the negatives, it’s worth celebrating a positive. In 2019, A’s Cast eclipsed all other MLB teams to become the No. 1 MLB team podcast, marking the first time the A’s have had the league’s most popular and downloaded property. Streaming is the next frontier of media consumption. YouTube and Netflix/Hulu are disrupting television. Pandora/Spotify are disrupting the music industry. It’s great to see the A’s innovating and being pro-active in response to a shifting media landscape. As Brad Pitt once famously said, “Adapt or die.”
That said, on the face of it, there seems to be no reason for removing local radio broadcast from a fan’s list of options for tuning into the game. I have never understood why the A’s find it so hard to stay on-air over the years. Keep in mind, this issue pre-dates the A’s-Giants territorial rights feud. The Giants signed on with KNBR in 1979. Over that same time frame the A’s have jumped between twelve different stations.
I don’t know the radio business. But sports teams, even the A’s, seem like they’d be a marketing draw. Like something you’d want on a radio station? Would love to hear the reason this has been a ongoing issue for over half a century (51 seasons and not one steady station, wow). I wonder how common this struggle is? Is this something common to sports teams or a unique challenge facing the A’s?
Regarding the impact on the fanbase, this feels like another example of death by a thousand cuts. It hurts the die-hard fans the most, being another annoyance that we’ll put up with because we’re already hooked and refuse to leave. And it’s more than an annoyance...
I don’t accept any argument that radio isn’t relevant in the present moment. 65.4 of Bay Area residents commute alone, by car, to work. Until we invent free wireless internet in cars, the radio will still be a meaningful source of entertainment. And it’s not just the commuting hours. Fans still drive to games and would presumably like to listen to the post-game show on the way home. And I’m sure a non-zero portion of the fan base still uses a radio around the house.
As a sports fan, you come to have certain expectations for your sports team. access to a free radio broadcast has long been a staple on that list. And even though it’s a less important feature in the post-internet world, it’s still a bad look that the A’s have become the only major sports team without that feature for their fan base.
For all the P.R. hype we’ll going to hear this season about A’s Cast (and it is a nifty new toy), remember that losing your radio broadcast is a failure, not an innovation.
History of Oakland A’s Radio Stations
1968-70: KNBR 680
1971-75: KEEN 1370
1976-77: KNBR 680
1978: KALX 90.7 and KNEW 910
1979: KKIS 990
1980: KDIA 1340
1981-92: KSFO 560
1993: KNEW 910
1994-98: KFRC 610
1999-2001: KABL 960
2002-05: KFRC 610
2006: KYCY 1550
2007-08: KFRC 106.9 and KYCY 1550
2009-10: KTRB 860
2011-2018: KGMZ 95.7
2019: KTRB 860
Current Oakland A’s Radio Stations Outside the Bay Area
KAHI 104.5 FM/950 AM Auburn
KATA 1340 AM Eureka
KBLF 1490 AM Red Bluff
KDAC 1230 AM Ft. Bragg
KESP 970 AM Modesto
KFPT 790 AM Fresno
KHTK 1140 AM Sacramento
KMYC 1410 AM Marysville
KNRO 1400 AM/103.9 FM Redding
KPOD 1240 AM/106.7 FM Crescent City
KRKC 1490 AM King City
KXBX 1270 AM Lakeport
KIQI 1010 AM San Francisco
KATD 990 AM Pittsburg/Antioch