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Smulyan: Kiss FM Decision Was ‘Extraordinarily Difficult’

Joyner saddened by ‘loss of an important black voice’

“Thanks for an amazing 30-year run.”

That’s the message to fans of Kiss FM in New York from Emmis head Jeff Smulyan, as the company detailed its part in notable changes that bring sports content to WRKS(FM), a “merger” of two urban music rivals and the addition of Spanish-language sports on AM.

Also in the announcement is word that Emmis will sell a signal in Los Angeles too.

Smulyan described the Kiss FM move as “an extraordinarily difficult decision for me, however the benefits to the financial health of Emmis as a whole are significant.”

The company announced an LMA with ESPN Radio, which will air sports programming and sell ads on 98.7 MHz. It said its intention is that the arrangement will be long-term, rather than a move prior to selling the station.

But Emmis is selling the intellectual property rights of “Kiss FM,” the format long heard on that frequency, to YMF Media. YMF in turn is reportedly has been in the process of acquiring WBLS(FM) and WLIB(AM) from Inner City. According to the New York Times (which called the announcement a “stunning change”), WBLS and Kiss FM began simulcasting Thursday. The website today bears an image with the two stations’ logos and the phrase, “One Station, One Family, Our Voice.”

Meantime, in moving English-language sports to the FM dial, Disney/ESPN frees up 1050 kHz to carry Spanish-language ESPN content, starting in September. The organization said its ESPN Deportes Radio format has been taking “big leaps” and that moving into New York rounds its reach in the top 10 U.S. Hispanic markets.

Emmis meanwhile also took out a loan “with a large insurance company” and said total proceeds of this week’s business transactions is $96 million; it will use that money to repay debt and other costs.

Smulyan thanked fans and noted that Kiss had been the top-ranked station in the city at times. “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. We hope the best parts of Kiss will continue to live on. With enhanced financial flexibility we look forward to enhancing our service to New York’s urban community at our award-winning Hot97 brand.”

He said that Emmis is improving its balance sheet with this move plus the sale of controlling interest in three of its radio stations to Merlin Media and a planned sale of KXOS(FM) in Los Angeles. The company said Emmis employees who will lose jobs will receive “generous” severance packages. Emmis bought the station in 1994.

Following on that news, morning host Tom Joyner also put out an email blast urging listeners to “to take advantage of the growing mobile and online access to tune in to the Party with a Purpose for the displaced New York area listener” via his phone app and online presence at

Joyner also put out a statement saying he was “proud of our progress in NYC” but “I understand the economic difficulties of operating multiple urban radio stations in the PPM audience measurement world.” But he said he was “saddened that an important black voice is going silent in New York City, especially during this important election year. … Nothing can replace the role black radio plays in empowering, informing and entertaining black people.”