In news that surprised numerous media observers Wednesday, Milwaukee area-based Good Karma Brands announced it is taking over The Walt Disney Co’s. ESPN 1000, aka WMVP-AM in a long-term local marketing agreement beginning September 29.
The move means Disney/ESPN would continue to own the station but is ceding day-to-day operations to Good Karma, formed in 1997 and is headquarted in the Milwaukee suburb of Beaver Dam, Wis. Good Karma was founded by Craig Karmazin, who is CEO of the company and is the son of former Infinity Radio CEO Mel Karmazin (hence the “Karma” name.)
Good Karma owns Milwaukee’s WTMJ-AM and WKTI-FM – both once part of Journal Communications, who also owned WTMJ-TV and The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel as the company was bought by Scripps in 2015 and sold off piece by piece with Good Karma buying the radio properties last year. In addition to flipping the former top 40 powerhouse WKTI to ESPN Radio, the company owns other ESPN-branded radio stations in Cleveland; West Palm Beach; and Madison, Wis.
“Our Midwest roots have afforded us the opportunity to see the passion of Chicago sports fans up close for over two decades”, said Karmazin. “We are so excited to extend our commitment to being ESPN’s best in class local operator into what will now be our largest market.”
The announcement coincides with the upcoming retirement of station manager Jim Pastor, who ESPN 1000 since 2014 and also did so between 2004 and 2009. Pastor had been with ABC since 1993 in a variety of roles and continued after Disney bought the network in 1996. Disney retained the few ESPN stations it owned after selling the rest of the chain to Citadel Broadcasting in 2007.
No immediate on-air changes are planned with Tom Waddle and Marc Silverman’s afternoon show (known as Waddle and Silvy) locked up for several years to come.
This is not the first local marketing agreement, or LMAs as they’re commonly known of in the Chicago market. In 2014, Merlin Media entered into an LMA with Cumulus Media for the company to run classic rock WLUP-FM and alternative rock WKQX-FM with an option for Cumulus to buy. But Cumulus filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and declined, forcing Merlin to sell WLUP to Educational Media Foundation (ending The Loop’s run after 41 years). After careful consideration, Cumulus decided to buy WKQX after all, but at a dirt cheap price.
There was no indication in the agreement if Good Karma has an option to buy ESPN 1000 outright.
The decision to exit Chicago means Disney is further stepping away further from radio, leaving KSPN-AM in Los Angeles as its only owned-and-operated station through ESPN Radio. ESPN Radio operates WEPN-AM (ESPN 1050) in New York City – who leases the station from Emmis while ESPN’s Dallas station is run by Cumulus.
In the latest Nielsen PPM ratings report, ESPN 1000 is tied in 25th place overall.