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A shift hits ‘the Fan’

Station still looking for Imus replacement

July was supposed to be a month of celebration for WFAN, the CBS-owned New York radio station that invented the all-sports format.

Twenty years ago on July 1, the station became the first in the nation to deliver sports talk 24 hours a day. Today, Arbitron counts 500-plus sports stations in the U.S., with some 14 million daily listeners.

As it marks the influential anni, “the Fan,” as it is known on-air, has been hobbled by not having a permanent replacement for Don Imus, whose morning show anchored the lineup since 1988. Since his April ouster, Disney’s ESPN Radio has registered strong gains in ad sales and ratings with its “Mike & Mike” show, which airs on Gotham’s WEPN.

WFAN has rotated more than a dozen people through the morning slot, favoring sports hosts such as Boomer Esiason, Mike North or its own afternoon duo, Mike & the Mad Dog.

“Sports make people crazy with emotion,” says Dan Mason, prexy and CEO of CBS Radio. He declined to address the Imus matter, as did station execs.

MSNBC, whose Imus simulcast was a profitable and ratings-boosting venture, has shifted evening host Joe Scarborough to its morning slot and hopes CBS will put him on the radio. Imus himself has been rumored to be a candidate to return to WFAN, but he needs to settle his legal feud with CBS before inking a new pact with anyone.

Despite the morning quandary and increased competition, WFAN general manager Mark Chernoff, believes the station will prevail by sticking to its original strategy.

“We keep it really local,” he says. “What do guys in New York do? They talk about sex and sports.”

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