After 51 years, KDKA out as Pirates flagship station

PITTSBURGH -- The first radio station to broadcast a major-league baseball game is losing the rights to Pittsburgh Pirates games after 51 years.

KDKA will cease to be the Pirates' flagship station in 2007 as the team's radio rights shift for the first time to FM news-talk station WPGB. KDKA has carried Pirates games since 1955 and, in 1921, carried the first live broadcast of a major-league game -- about a year after becoming the nation's first licensed commercial radio station.

KDKA, a 50,000-watt station that can be heard throughout the East Coast and in Canada during the evenings, also aired Pirates games at times before WWSW gained the team's broadcast rights for a period in the 1940s and early 1950s.

By changing radio flagship stations, the Pirates will trade the mass audience KDKA reaches in surrounding states for one with strong ratings in more desirable age brackets for a pro sports team. KDKA remains one of Pittsburgh's top-rated stations, but a large chunk of its audience is older than the 25-to-54 age group that advertisers covet.

WPGB (104.7) is owned by Clear Channel, which already holds the rights to Pittsburgh Steelers, Penguins and University of Pittsburgh football and basketball games and distributes them among its six stations in the Pittsburgh market. The move to FM had long been expected by the Pirates since the city's other major sports properties had previously moved to Clear Channel.

"Our mission is to continue to improve in all aspects of our organization, including in the way we reach our fans," Pirates managing general partner Kevin McClatchy said in a statement issued by the team.

McClatchy said all six Clear Channel stations will work with the Pirates in promoting the team.

KDKA also once carried Steelers and Penguins games but has had no other major pro sports property other than the Pirates since 1993. The Pirates' poor performance since last winning a division championship in 1992 -- they have had 14 consecutive losing seasons -- has led to a falloff in the team's ratings since the early 1990s.

"KDKA has been synonymous with the Pirates for more than 50 years. We are extremely thankful to everyone at KDKA, both past and present, for the impact they have had on our organization and the many generations of our fans," McClatchy said. "We have a lot of good friends at KDKA, therefore this was not an easy decision."

The Pirates' contract with Clear Channel is for five years and calls for WPGB to air all 162 regular-season games and 12 spring training games next year.

"This is a significant milestone in Clear Channel Communications' history in the Pittsburgh market. The Pirates and Major League Baseball are valuable properties in this region that we will leverage to the fullest extent through WPGB and our five other stations," John Rohm, senior regional vice president of Clear Channel, said in a statement. "It is exciting for us to partner with the team to bring Pirates baseball to their loyal fans and our loyal listeners."

KDKA becomes the second well-known AM station in as many years to lose its baseball rights. St. Louis Cardinals games switched this season from AM powerhouse KMOX to KTRS, a lower-powered station in which the Cardinals acquired a majority stake last year.

Because KDKA will no longer carry games, out-of-state Pirates fans who do not have a local radio affiliate of the team must subscribe to Major League Baseball's online service or XM radio to keep hearing Pirates games. XM carries all Pirates games, but the team's broadcasters are heard only during home games. The team's radio network currently includes 37 stations, mostly in Pennsylvania but also in Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland.

Those announcers -- Lanny Frattare, Greg Brown, Bob Walk, Steve Blass and John Wehner -- will continue to be Pirates employees. All of their contracts expire after this season, but they are expected to return. Frattare has been a Pirates announcer since 1975.

Harold Arlin broadcast the first major-league baseball game on KDKA in 1921. His grandson, Steve Arlin, later was a Padres pitcher.