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Why is ESPN radio gone from Midlands airwaves?
[July 31, 2012]

Why is ESPN radio gone from Midlands airwaves?

Jul 31, 2012 (The State - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The local radio landscape changed dramatically over the weekend when, just before 3 a.m. Saturday morning, Lake Murray Communications rebranded WZMJ-FM 93.1 as Z93 The Lake, a variety hits station.

The move knocked ESPN Radio out of the market, and it is the result of a complex maze of radio deals.

ICBC Broadcast Holdings, Inc., commonly referred to as Inner City Broadcasting, previously owned WZMJ, the local broadcast home of popular ESPN Radio shows such as "Mike & Mike in the Morning" and "The Herd with Colin Cowherd." But WZMJ was one of the several Inner City stations that were in Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization last year. YMF Media LLC, which is part-owned by former NBA great Magic Johnson, purchased WZMJ from Inner City.

YMF Media then sold WZMJ to Lake Murray Communications, reportedly for $450,000, in a deal that closed Friday. The million-dollar question is what happens to ESPN Radio. Right now, ESPN doesn't have an answer.

"The station was sold to an operator who decided to move to a music format," an ESPN Communications representative said. "We are looking at all options in the market." ESPN Radio was the broadcast home for Clemson University sports and the NFL's Carolina Panthers. Lake Murray Communications will continue to carry Clemson on WZMJ, according to Mike Willis, the president and CEO. Earlier this month, Hometown Columbia, owner of two stations in the market, announced that WWNU-FM 92.1 would be the new local affiliate of the Carolina Panthers Radio Network. Hometown Columbia also broadcasts NASCAR on WWNQ-FM 94.3.

Lady Antebellum, The Four Tops, Jason Mraz and Bob Seger will be heard on the same station, as The Lake will play classic hits, classic rock, Motown, top 40 hits of the past and crossover country. Regional beach bands such as The Catalinas and The Fantastic Shakers will also be heard on The Lake, as well as Lexington High School football.

"It really is a little bit of everything," Willis said. "It's unlike anything (listeners) have heard before. We've redefined music variety." Before Saturday, The Lake's format was broadcast on WLXM-FM 107.9, a frequency managed by Lake Murray Broadcasting. WLXM is now playing contemporary Christian music. Willis sat on Lake Murray Broadcasting's board before forming a similar sounding company. The two have been working together.

"We're collaborating in order to provide a radio service to Lexington County and Lake Murray that they don't get from Columbia's stations," Willis said.

WZMJ's transmitter is in Summit, a small town in Lexington County.

Local afternoon program "The Zone," formerly on ESPN, moved to WOIC-AM 1230, a station currently owned by Inner City. The fate of "Sports Hotline FM" and hosts Bobby Gist and Ernest Robinson is unknown.

Steve Patterson, Inner City's general manager, did not return a request for comment.

Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.

___ (c)2012 The State (Columbia, S.C.) Visit The State (Columbia, S.C.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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