95.7 the gameThe June Arbitron ratings will not be released for another week. But today we got the opportunity to learn a little more about the Bay Area’s sports talk “radio wars,” as Jeff Faraudo of the Mercury News talked to several industry people about the future of 95.7 “The Game.”

One of the more interesting parts of the story came in the form of quotes from vice president/market manager Dwight Walker and program directior Jason Barrett on how 95.7 plans to make up ground on KNBR.

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,” Gary Fiset, [whose San Francisco-based company specializes in broadcast promotion for TV and radio] 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.”

Fiset’s comment about the younger audience not knowing about AM seems a bit crazy and outlandish. I just celebrated my 27th birthday — putting me on the younger end of the key demographic they are looking for — and I haven’t met anyone who didn’t know about this old fashioned technology. Perhaps the sample of “my friends” is not representative of all young people who listen to the radio. This is where it would be great if we had access to the demographic information instead of just the overall Arbitron ratings information, but we don’t, so we will have to take their word for it when it comes to kids loving that FM signal.

Regardless of whether young people can actually find the AM dial or not, the strategy of going after the younger audience is probably a good idea. Generally it seems like the hosts on KNBR target an older demographic, so there is definitely an opening to try to lure away listeners who aren’t a part of the baby boom generation.

The problem, in my amateur opinion, is that for the most part the attempts by 95.7 have missed the mark. The hosts and shows feel like they are trying to skew younger, but the content doesn’t feel like that much of a departure from what KNBR does on a regular basis. The one host that, to me, seems like he does the best job of at least making a genuine effort to engage with the younger audience is Damon Bruce — perhaps that’s also the reason why he seems to have gained such a strong following with BASG readers.

The strategy of going after the younger listener makes sense. However, it hasn’t made a huge difference in the ratings (though it’s impossible to know for sure if they have created that “beachhead” in the younger demographic), with 95.7 trailing by sizable margins over the last year in terms of overall listeners. With KNBR such a dominant force, lesser stations would have folded after not carving out much market share, but all the signals point to Entercom sticking with “The Game” for a while. There have been positive signs of late and having the Raiders games won’t hurt, so it will be interesting to follow how Walker and Barrett execute on beating out KNBR for those younger listeners.

(h/t to A.J. Strong for passing along the link.)