After a four-season run on 105.7 The Fan, Orioles radio broadcasts are returning to WBAL-AM 1090, the Hearst-owned station that has had a partnership with the club for much of the past six decades.
The three-year contract, which comes after the club shopped its radio rights for several months, is somewhat surprising considering the rocky parting between the Orioles and WBAL after the 2006 season as well as the trend among professional sports franchises to switch from high-wattage AM stations to multi-platform FM clusters.
"We are going back to a station that is familiar with Orioles baseball, having carried the broadcast for more than 40 of our seasons," Orioles director of communications Greg Bader said. "The signal strength, the coverage they provide, their news-reporting abilities are all exemplary. They were a great partner of ours for many years, and we are confident they will be a great partner of ours this year and for years to come."
WBAL had served as the club's flagship station for 19 consecutive years when the broadcasts moved to the CBS-owned WJZ-FM 105.7 for the start of the 2007 season. It was the first time in nearly 40 years the Orioles weren't heard on the AM dial in Baltimore.
"The team has been in operation for 57years, and we've had this thing for more than 40. It's always been part of the fabric of the station," said Ed Kiernan, WBAL's general manager. "The staff knows how to do this. We've always done a great baseball broadcast. Everybody is excited and pumped that the Orioles are back. We've always looked at it as a good-luck charm for us."
The switch will not affect play-by-play broadcasters Joe Angel and Fred Manfra, who are employed by the club and are expected to return for the 2011 season. Angel and Manfra have teamed in the booth for the past eight seasons.
"We're bringing back that broadcast team," Kiernan said. "That was very important to us. Those are people we've known for a long time, and to bring them back in the fold, it's exciting."
When the Orioles made the switch to FM for the start of the 2007 season, team officials cited the exposure the organization would receive on CBS' wide range of stations as a primary factor for the move. The club liked that 105.7's sister stations, which include WJZ-ESPN 1300AM, Mix 106.5 FM and WLIF 101.9 FM, crossed different demographics.
The prevailing thought was that the Orioles would remain with 105.7 when their four-year deal expired at the conclusion of the 2010 season. Orioles principal owner Peter G. Angelos and 105.7 representatives engaged in several rounds of negotiations but were unable to hammer out a deal.
"We felt like we did a great job; we moved them into FM. Obviously, it's what a lot of baseball teams are doing, putting their product on FM," said Bob Philips, senior vice president and general manager of 105.7. "We thought we did a great job of marketing the Orioles, of covering the Orioles. We thought it all went fine. Obviously, Mr. Angelos decided to take it in a different direction."
Angelos did not return calls seeking comment.
WBAL, which previously partnered with the Orioles from 1957 to 1978 and from 1988 to 2006, is now the flagship of both the Orioles and the Ravens. That could create conflict during September, when the baseball season is winding down and the NFL season is starting up. WBAL, however, does have a sister station in 98 Rock (97.9FM).
"The Ravens deal is a little different than the Orioles deal. We have a three-legged relationship with the Ravens," Kiernan said. "WBAL-TV is their official station, 98 Rock has been their flagship, and 1090 [WBAL Radio] does some stuff as well. We will certainly have every opportunity to deal with these things. We'll be able to deal with it. I'm not really that worried about that."
WBAL is slated to broadcast all 162 Orioles games in 2011 and at least 10 spring training games. It will be a quick turnaround for a station that hasn't aired live play-by-play baseball since 2006.
"It's going to be a challenge. I'm not going to deny that," Kiernan said. "The first [spring training] game is Feb. 28, and we expect to be on the air and ready to go. Everybody that has worked with Orioles baseball is still here, and we know how to do it. Our confidence level in that is supreme."
WBAL will also have pre- and post-game shows, but additional baseball programming has not been determined.
The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, the Orioles' TV arm, has worked with 105.7 in the past, and Philips said he believes that relationship will continue.
"I expect us continue to do stuff with MASN," Philips said. "They have a studio here and, as far as I know, they'll still be doing stuff in the studio."