At present, 98.9 is set to be the new radio home of U of M Athletics for the next five years.

University of Memphis Athletic Director Laird Veatch said the department’s staff still is trying to “figure out what happened” after the university faced severe criticism over the department’s partnership with a local radio that features right-wing talk show hosts.

Veatch said he still is still not sure how the school got hooked up in a media partnership with 98.9 WKIM Talk Radio.

But the outcry over the partnership continues to come fast and furious as news of the partnership spreads. 

“We want everyone to know that we are hearing you. We understand how this matter would be concerning for so many in the Memphis community. Please know that we are still getting to the bottom of this, and we are committed to doing right,” Veatch said.

Social media was inundated with criticism about the hookup with WKIM Talk Radio.

Howard Robertson, president and CEO of Trust Marketing, expressed disappointment in his alma mater for creating such a partnership on Facebook.

Paula Wade posted on the U of M Athletics Facebook page: “Who is responsible for having made this decision?”

Tom Jones of Smart City Memphis and a U of M alum, posted this on the “All News Is Local” Facebook group page:

“I’m stumped by the decision of University of Memphis athletics to partner with 98.9 FM – now branded as the ROAR OF MEMPHIS (complete with Tiger and UM blue). Today, in drive time, the talking head complained that Black people are always looking for a hand-out, he demeaned the landmark Harlem Cultural Festival, he said people should ignore the COVID vaccine, etc.

“For a university that prides itself on its African American enrollment and how its sports teams supported Black Lives Matter, it’s a strange affiliation. The station went to all talk with a far right bent after switching from pop music.”

And, on the Smart City Memphis website, Jones wrote, “… Partnering with an anti-science, vitriolic radio station like this would be questionable for any institution of higher learning, but that is particularly the case for University of Memphis which takes pride in a student body that is 32% African American.  That’s not to mention that it wants a positive brand in a city that is 64% Black and a county that is 54% Black. …”

The question remains whether the university knew the station was switching to its format from pop music to right-wing talk when the multiyear deal was signed?

Regardless, Veatch indicated that the Athletics Department was blind-sided by the strong, negative reaction from so many supporters. 

“Tiger Sports Properties handles all of the media for athletics,” said Veatch. 

Tiger Sports Properties is a division of Learfield, the multi-media rights holder for the University of Memphis.

Multiple calls by The New Tri-State Defender this week to speak with someone about the partnership went unanswered and calls were not returned.

Cumulus Media, Inc., owns WKIM and chose to switch the radio station’s format to talk radio. 

Multiple calls to Cumulus also went unanswered and unreturned.

A late-May announcement revealed that WKIM 98.9 FM would be switching its format from pop music to right-wing talk radio. It is now “News Talk 98.9, The Roar of Memphis.” The logo displays a menacing tiger baring its teeth inside the “O” of a giant, blue “ROAR.”

The partnership also was first announced in late May. 

Michael Schroeder, director of Athletics Communication, said the university always wants the best representatives.

“Already, there has been some response to what we’ve been hearing,” said Schroeder. “Some of the programming has already been taken down. We appreciate it when things are brought to our attention. We will continue to take action to make sure all concerns expressed are being heard.”

Veatch said the university’s Athletic Department is committed to diversity and equality for everyone.

“UMADE was created, which stands for University of Memphis Athletics for Diversity & Equality,” said Veatch. “And I feel there has been real progress made. We have meetings, and recommendations are made. We have implemented some things that promote diversity and equality. This includes diversity and inclusion in our department operations. We are committed to doing right.”

iHeart WREC was the former home of Tiger sports on radio. Although Veatch can’t say right now what “doing right” will look like, he said further changes may be coming. However, if the partnership stands as it is, 98.9 will be the new radio home of U of M Athletics for the next five years.

Starting in August, fans can tune to hear every football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball game. Broadcasts will include the weekly one-hour football and men’s basketball coaches shows, with Ryan Silverfield and Penny Hardaway, respectively.

“I don’t have all the answers,” said Veatch. “We don’t get it right all the time, but we are trying. We really are trying. 

“We hear what everyone is saying. We are listening. And I can assure you we want to do right. We are committed to making this right.”