Bay Area sports radio station 95.7 The Game has leaned on its FM sound quality and edgy approach its first two years to try wrestling some of the young audience from local heavyweight KNBR.
Beginning this fall, The Game will add a Silver and Black twist to win listeners. But can Raiders play-by-play provide 95.7 the same kind of lift KNBR gets from the Giants?
The Game, which signed a multiyear deal with the Raiders in April, hopes that bookending an NFL franchise with the A's will provide the station year-round muscle in a tough market.
"They've been walking with just one shoe on with only baseball," said Gary Fiset, whose San Francisco-based company specializes in broadcast promotion for TV and radio. "For me, this dresses them for success."
Two years into its all-sports format, The Game's big-picture plan to carve out a niche in the market doesn't rely solely on game broadcasts. The differences start with 95.7's FM signal.
Dwight Walker, vice president/market manager for Entercom San Francisco, which operates four local stations, said 82 percent of Bay Area radio listeners tune in to FM.
"A lot of the younger audience, they don't even know the AM dial exists," Fiset said.
Moving sports programming to FM is a nationwide trend, according to Jason Barrett, program director for The Game.
"It just sounds better," he said. "For a lot of listeners 25 to 54 -- the world we're in -- quality is a big deal."
The Game also tries to counter KNBR's powerful signal and quarter-century of momentum with a fast-paced, energetic approach.
"KNBR has grown older, its audience has gotten older," Walker said. "The younger end of the audience is ripe for something new. That's where we see our beachhead. That doesn't mean KNBR goes away."
Even putting a dent in KNBR won't be easy.
KNBR's Arbitron ratings numbers for May were the highest of any Bay Area station -- AM or FM -- and nearly five times what The Game (KGMZ) attracted. The Game ranked 25th in the local market for May. June ratings do not come out until the middle of this month.
Clearly, the World Series champion Giants are the source of the spike in KNBR's numbers. KNBR was tied for 12th in the Bay Area Arbitron ratings as recently as March. Then the baseball season arrived and KNBR's April figures doubled, pushing it past even all-news KCBS.
The Game got a 50-percent ratings boost from the start of the A's season and expects an even more significant lift from the Raiders, with its devoted fan base.
"This is a baseball market," Walker said. "But there's no question the NFL is king in terms of content. This cements us as a play-by-play destination for both baseball and football."
Former KNBR program director Bob Agnew, who helped popularize sports radio in the Bay Area, said having both the A's and Raiders will be crucial to The Game's survival.
"To be a successful sports station, you absolutely have to have play-by-play," said Agnew, now program director for Orange County-based KLAA AM-830, flagship station of the Los Angeles Angels. "The success of KNBR was built around some huge personalities Monday through Friday, but you can never undervalue the importance of having the Giants and the 49ers."
Through its first two years, there has been no panic within the offices of The Game or its parent company, Entercom, which owns 101 radio stations in 24 U.S. markets, many featuring all-sports formats.
"We knew this was a long-term strategic play," Walker said. "With the A's and the Raiders and our fantastic (programming) lineup, we feel really good about where we are. We know there is still future potential growth."
Certainly The Game has been good for the A's, who previously had bounced around among 11 stations since arriving in Oakland in 1968.
"It's fantastic," said Ken Pries, head of communications and broadcasting for the A's and a lifelong Bay Area resident. "It gives people an alternative to KNBR. It's no secret A's fans never have been serviced very well by KNBR."
The Raiders' radio situation has been even less stable, their games carried on eight stations since the franchise returned to Oakland in 1995. Games were heard a year ago on KITS Live 105.3 FM and KFRC 1550.
The Raiders' relationship with The Game began last season, when coach Dennis Allen and players were featured on "Raiders Friday." Game broadcasts were the next logical step, said Mike Taylor, the Raiders' director of public affairs.
"The opportunity to be on an all-sports station is great for the Raiders and our fans," Taylor said. "Now our fans have a place where they can talk about the Raiders and hear about the Raiders 24/7."
And this fall, when Raiders and A's broadcasts conflict, the Raiders will be moved to sister station KFOX, which could reel in a new audience, Barrett said.
Progress is slow but steady. "The Wheelhouse," the station's noon-3 p.m. show featuring John Lund and Raiders play-by-play man Greg Papa, got a No. 9 rating in May, the station's first program to earn a top-10 spot.
In its target demographic of 25-54, The Game recently earned a No. 17 ranking in the market.
It's progress, but Barrett conceded, "Nobody in the company is going to tell you we're satisfied with being 17th."
Follow Jeff Faraudo on Twitter at Twitter.com/CalBearsBANG.