The Cleveland “Free FM”/Stern Departure Fallout – Big Rover News

(UPDATED – 2:35 PM ET)

There’s been a lot of speculation on what happens after Howard Stern leaves over-air radio, and now we have an official answer from Infinity itself…and at least in part, it involves a local morning star here in Northeast Ohio.

A week after basically denying rumors it was flipping a number of FM stations to younger-skewing talk, the company is doing exactly that.

And the Stern plans are as expected, with regional replacements including former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth, comedian/TV/”Loveline” late night radio host Adam Carolla and…as originally announced months ago, Cleveland’s own “Rover”, who holds forth at alt-rock WXTM/92.3 and is currently syndicated to two other stations.

Under the plans announced today by Infinity, “Rover” (er, Shane French when he’s not barking into a microphone) will stay on WXTM…but will physically move to Infinity talker WCKG/105.9 in Chicago, which is one of Infinity’s FM talk stations now being rebranded as “Free FM”. He’ll add not only WCKG to his list, but will also be heard on WKRK/Detroit, WAQZ/Cincinnati, WZNE/Rochester and WMFS/Memphis.

But…Cleveland’s morning radio dog (soon to be Chicago’s) will also be competing here with the New York-based Roth, who will slide into the Stern morning slot on WNCX/98.5. Roth will also be heard on Stern’s big market east coast affiliates in Boston, Philadelphia and a couple of other markets, including the current Stern affiliate in Pittsburgh. (Roth won’t get Washington DC or Baltimore, which will air WJFK/Washington’s “Junkies” in morning drive.)

We’ve read and re-read the announcement, and it appears Cleveland is the only market which will see two of the Stern Replacements going head to head – Rover and Roth.

The Infinity news, which we first spotted thanks to our friend Perry Michael Simon’s item on, is also found in this company press release. It indicates that WNCX will keep its current classic rock format after Roth’s show, and there is NO indication that WXTM will drop its alt-rock format after Rover. In an Infinity press conference call monitored by AllAccess, company brass indicated that adding him to WKRK/Detroit – instead of Roth – was a “last minute decision” aimed at giving Rover a shot at some larger markets. They noted that Rover skews younger in the ratings, which they were looking for at some stations, and that he’s “definitely less edgy” than Stern.

We’ll have to echo one thought already expressed by some others – it’s sad that Infinity feels the need to move Rover out of Cleveland to front his new syndication in the Windy City. We suppose it makes sense, because Roth is in NYC and Carolla is in Los Angeles, but Mr. French’s show built up its following here.

And Infinity needs only to look at its own Westwood One-syndicated afternoon drive show in Washington DC, hosted by WJFK’s Don Geronimo and Mike O’Meara, to see how bad moving a show to a larger market can torpedo momentum. The show adopted New York City as a second home, after being syndicated to WNEW/102.7 in that market.

Here’s hoping Rover doesn’t imitate that move – which saw the veteran DC radio team basically try to plant themselves in the nostrils of the Big Apple, while basically shunning the audience which built their empire in the Nation’s Capital. We’ll see…

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