Friday, August 25, 2006

FM News/Talk Watch: Phoenix

This is the latest in our ongoing watch of news/talk stations moving to FM in other markets.

Though Bonneville news/talk KTAR/620 Phoenix was already readying an FM broadcast on 92.3 there, as it turns out, the station is actually MOVING to the FM dial...leaving its long-time AM home at 620 behind.

The station announced this week that it'll create an all-sports station on the AM frequency KTAR will open up. KTAR's sports rights, which include most of the Phoenix market's major league and major college properties, will stay at 620 surrounded by the new sports format.

KTAR will simulcast on 620 AM and 92.3 FM starting next month, and will solely air on FM starting in January 2007.

Bonneville is by far the largest proponent of FM news/talk and news formats in the country. It moved Washington DC all-news outlet WTOP to 103.5 FM, and simulcasts its 50,000 watt news/talk KSL/1160 Salt Lake City on an FM frequency in its home market.

Does this mean we'll one day see Clear Channel talk powerhouse WTAM/1100 on the FM dial, either as a simulcast or alone?

We're not saying that's even in the near future. The four Clear Channel FM outlets in Cleveland are established, popular and basically not going anywhere.

But one day...mark our words. All major news and talk outlets will migrate to FM. The AM band is basically being held up by the presence of these stations, and popular sports talk stations. Without stations like WTAM on the AM band, the band may as well blow away and die.

And the biggest reason? Aging demos. And the fact that more and more, younger demos, even as they "grow up" into the time in their lives where news/talk stations become more important to them, are barely aware of the AM band.

Ask any 25 year-old. We did...asking our niece who is about that age. They don't even know the AM band exists. Heck, at this point, with the iPod, MP3 downloads and the like, they aren't tuning into the FM band as much as their, say, older uncles were at that age.

If you're a news/talk station hoping to catch people as they age into their 30's, tooling around on the AM band may be like driving an aging Oldsmobile trying to give them a ride.

Will it be in the next couple of years or the next 10 years? We suppose at least a part of it depends on how successful the existing FM news/talk stations are - especially in lowering demos. Clear Channel is no stranger to this concept, with FM news/talkers in Pittsburgh and Minneapolis.

The Pittsburgh station was basically an instant success, taking a large chunk out of dominant CBS Radio AM news/talker KDKA/1020 - and helping out sister Clear Channel FM rocker WDVE/102.5. The jury's still out in Minneapolis...


Anonymous said...

While the public isn't privy to the demos of Clear Channels Pittsburg station, in the beauty contest of 12+, they still only have about half the audience of KDKA. Clearly, the use a pun, in Pittsburg, young people aren't embracing their fathers talks shows on WPGB.

And, it's even worse in Minneapolis, where the CC FM talkers in the beauty contest is ranked third behind two heritage AM stations.

At one time, simply having Limbaugh in your lineup made you a competitor, even if you were on a station with a severe signal limitation. In St. Louis, Rush was carried on a station out of East St. Louis (Belleville) that had spotty St. Louis coverage. Yet, because of Rush, that station had competitive ratings. Same holds for many cities before Rush leveraged himself to the heritage AM in the market.

But as CC migrates him to their own signals that aren't the heritage signals in the market or to FM, that once powerful personality is no longer carrying the stations he has moved to, even when surrounded by the balance of the top conservative talkers.

The sucessful FM talkers aren't Rush and Hannity.

Ohio Media Watch said...

You make a very, very valid point.

It would appear that much of what fuels WPGB, from what we've seen, is morning host Jim Quinn...who had been doing conservative talk on an FM classic rock outlet for years. He brought his audience with him when he moved to 104.7.

Bonneville, the company most noted for its FM news/talk initiative, is surely aware of this.

In addition to the moves it's made in Phoenix, Washington DC and SLC, Bonneville is making a major effort to target younger people with FM talk and news/talk.

Will it work? Who knows.

But the problems we mentioned remain. AM would basically be a wasteland if not for the major heritage big-signal news/talk and sports outlets...and the younger demos have no history with the band.

It'll be an interesting ride. But... you're right. You can't just show up with Rush and Hannity on FM and expect instant success.


Johnny Morgan said...

But in Pittsburgh, there aren't many young people (as we know--the media mentions it in every story about that wonderful city).

What WPGB did was took KDKA's younger audience (relative) with Rush and Ellis Cannon's sports from ESPN 1250, and took an already existing morning show from WRRK and planted them.

The older guys come for Quinn, stay through Rush and Hannity; the younger guys (let's not kid, that's who listens) come for Rush or Hannity and stay through Cannon.

And now, people will be coming for sports (Pitt football/basketball, and maybe Pirates--we'll see).

In the hours they face-off, Cannon's beating Mark Madden on ESPN 1250.

Anonymous said...

did you forget about AKRON fm talker wnir 100.1 fm. consistently number one or two in the ratings for several years. who cares about pittsburgh!!

Ohio Media Watch said...

Well, since we've been listening to WNIR midday host Howie Chizek since, oh, 1974...when he was the first talk show on what was then WKNT "AM & FM"... of course we haven't forgotten WNIR.

The item is more along the lines of our general series about the trend of AM news/talk stations going to FM, particularly those owned by the major operators in large markets.

WNIR is an entity to itself, and we're also a bit surprised its long-time success hasn't prompted more station owners to move talk to FM...particularly in markets similar to Akron.


Neil said...

Salem in Sacramento added an FM simulcast to its AM talk station.

And IIRC it moved its talk format from AM to FM in Honolulu.

Before the great frequency swap of 2001 Salem was simulcasting WHK on AM and FM. Could it happen again?

Scott Fybush said...

The jury's very much IN where Minneapolis is concerned - news/talk on FM is a raging success.

Not on CC's KTLK, mind you...the jury's still out on that one. But look at ALL the numbers, not just the commercial ones, and Minnesota Public Radio's KNOW is a giant-killer in the Twin Cities.

(Some would argue that MPR is every bit as commercial as CC, of course, but I'm not opening that can of worms here.)

KQED in San Francisco and WBUR in Boston (where I'm parked this weekend) are similarly huge in their markets, and don't think the move to FM news/talk isn't (at least in part) an attempt to recapture some of that audience on the (overtly) commercial side of the dial.

Anonymous said...

Simply putting the tired, same-old combinations of Rush and whomever else your grandmother listens to on FM won't work. The FM talkers that do well, do well because someone wants to hear market exclusive content and they find it there. If Hannity were on KDKA, he'd have similar ratings. This claptrap that people like myself in their 20s are flipping through looking for a hip-hop station and stumble upon Sean Hannity is ridiculous. In Pittsburgh and Minneapolis, the list of competitive AM signals doesn't exceed 1 and 3, respectively. CC wants to expand its talk holdings and the only way to do that in some places is by blowing out an FM music format, which, when you own 8 stations and 6 FMs, isn't hard to find. Bottom line: if Sean Hannity were broadcast on a network of tin cans in Pittsburgh, there'd be a certain number of people in their nursing home listening. Because keep in mind that in Phoenix, KTAR and their average 82-year-old listener is moving to FM, but KFYI is still the one billed as "talk for a new generation." And they're right. While KFYI's 65+ numbers are nearly double that of KTAR's, they do skew younger. How much younger? Well, let's say that if KTAR's audience is in their 80s, their kids, ie the "new generation", is in their 50s and 60s. Huge improvement.