Friday, December 15, 2006

Columbus Clear Channel AM Changes?

It's kind of tough not to notice that Clear Channel Columbus talker WTVN/610, and liberal talk sister WTPG/1230, are signaling "Changes are coming" on both stations' web pages.

The banners are identical, except for color and logo/name changes.

Hmm.

Clear Channel Cincinnati's WSAI/1360 just dumped its moved-from-WCKY/1530 liberal talk format in favor of "1360TheSource.com", a radio station named after its Internet site, which features various advice and consumer-oriented shows.

Clearly, the liberal talk format is in trouble - or has been pulled - in many places.

One of those places is New Orleans, where Entercom pulled the plug on recently resurrected liberal talk WSMB/1350 in favor of...turning it into a time-shifted repeater of the company's big AM/FM news/talk combo, WWL.

We have not heard what Clear Channel is planning between 610 and 1230 in Columbus. Not even a rumor. (And we also remind you that the company put up that infamous "We're taking over a station!" banner ad a ways back...which turned out to be, as we guessed, a gas station promotion.)

But...assuming all of the above...wouldn't it be interesting if Clear Channel in Columbus copied Entercom's move in New Orleans? "WTVN-2", anyone?

OK, we mean interesting as in "a radio move", not necessarily as far as programming is concerned. We're generally against using a full-power in-market radio transmitter to emulate a radio time shifting device, to rebroadcast shows from a sister station out of pattern.

We have not heard anything, as we said. We're just throwing it out there, and maybe we'll look like Radio Geniuses(tm) if it actually happens! The odds, based on educated guesses, would actually seem to prefer a "1360thesource.com" clone.

Oh, and for those just waiting to leap to the keyboard to proclaim how awful a certain format is, and why it deserves to be burned into tiny ashes, and those who believe that such a format should be guaranteed in the Constitution...both sides sure to clash here:

There are probably, in our opinion, three major factors to what's happening to liberal talk radio right now.

1) Air America. While many liberal talk outlets are weaning away from the iconic libtalk syndicator, and run hours of programming by Jones Radio and others, the future of Air America is in flux. AAR's big star host is either on his way out, running for the U.S. Senate or otherwise not expected to return to the airwaves...even if the financial situation straightens out.

2) The election. Those who listen to Air America and other liberal shows - aside from those who listen for the entertainment, like your Primary Editorial Voice(tm) - got what they wished for... Democrats are taking over Capitol Hill. The "throw the bums out" heat has been removed from liberal talk radio, and even the better hosts are trying to figure out what to do next.

Election seasons always, no matter what the viewpoint, heat up talk radio ratings...and it's almost like cleaning up the confetti from the Acceptance Speech Ballroom right now in talk radio. (If you've watched C-SPAN, you know no one watches the guy pushing the broom after everyone's gone home.)

Even the established conservative talk hosts see downturns after white-hot election-fueled ratings. Liberal talk as a full-fledged format hasn't been around long enough to weather a lot of downward change.

3) The format's Dirty Little Secret. Though some stations in the format may see ratings success, liberal talk - especially of the Air America variety - is not really advertiser friendly.

Oh, sure, even the soon-to-be-dark liberal talk outlet in stronghold Madison WI has had advertisers lining up protesting the change. But the list is basically "socially conscious" smaller advertisers (with a few exceptions).

Large companies may not be very likely to buy ads on programming where large companies are excoriated for their actions.

This sort of thing is not a Big Issue, for example, for the more commercially-friendly Jones Radio stable of talkers. We've checked in with Stephanie Miller, for example, and you don't hear a lot of yelling about how bad Major Multiglobal Corporation is...the same Major Multiglobal Corporation that owns potential advertiser car company A, or oil company/gas station chain B, etc.

The Madison situation should be quite indicative.

The station, "92.1 The Mic", has built up pretty decent ratings...nearly double what the former AC format did on the rimshot frequency. But if it can't be sold to advertisers with decent amounts of money to spend...they look to a format which can be sold.

We don't know how liberal talk WARF/1350 "Radio Free Ohio" in Akron is doing. We haven't heard any rumblings that the format is going away here.

But WARF does one thing some of the other liberal talk outlets won't do (for fear of scaring away diehard format listeners) - it runs Akron Zips football and basketball, and Akron Aeros baseball, just like it would in any other format...

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

1230 AM already did the variety type talk programming with Don Imus, Boortz (I believe) and some sports programming. They had lower ratings and revenues as that station (WFYI) and cannot imagine them going back to that.

I will argue your point #3 above about the advertising. Yes they have a list of major advertisers who won't buy the format based on the talk content. But the fact is that most of the progressive talk stations wouldn't be getting much bought by these comapanies anyway based on their rankings. However, and I know this first hand, many of these stations have a long list of local advertisers who do pay the bills.

In all fairness local advertisers are much better then the large national advertisers for two main reasons. First you can usually get higher rates for local advertisers as the national rep firms really pound down rate to "get the buy."

Second, the local advertisers are usually less volatile and less likely to just pull an ad campaign in the middle of first quarter. If they are thinking of pulling the plug on a campaign a good sales person can find out what is going on and work with the client to try to ressurect the deal. If an agency or national campaign gets cancelled it is simply gone.

Bob said...

Interesting times for radio, indeed. These various station and format swaps done by Clear Channel have made me wonder, at times, if they are running out of things to do with all these stations they've bought.

Mind you - that is not a criticism necessarily of Clear Channel. They have some great stations out there and have done what they've done because they can (the result of FCC deregulation and the relaxation of ownership rules).

In any event, it will be interesting to see what they do with 1230 in Columbus. 610 WTVN is one of my favorite stations and I'd like to see them duplicate their success in some way.

That said, Clear Channel is doing a lot of layoffs, mandated, I am sure, by the new private ownership group, who undoubtedly wants to run a tighter ship. My fear is it will further destroy local radio. Syndicated talk shows are fine and have their place, but good locally-based programming is what can separate broadcast radio from satellite radio. My belief is there's still very much a place for local radio to be done well and profitably.

Then again - that's just the opinion of a former radio broadcaster who still watches the industry with great interest!

Anonymous said...

CC is doing a good job of creating chatter, well at least among us folks who follow radio.

My guess is they may keep a Jones, a Shultz or a Lionel on 1230 if they dump the rest of lib talk. I've got a gut that they will do something similar to 1230 as what they did in Cincy or Atlanta.

As for 610, who knows. BC retires (he's 70ish now)? I know he loves what he does, but he's doing it on autopilot and not creative juices.

Would CC chance putting Rush back on 1230 where he had great ratings in the early 90's and do local talk in that time period? Does Rush still have what it takes to pull great numbers on an inferior signal like he did in the early 90's?

Beck out? Has he run his course in Columbus? Or more syndication in the evening to knock off another live host and producter?

Or is this just another "taking over another station" promotion?

We'll have to see.

Aaron said...

"Oh, sure, even the soon-to-be-dark liberal talk outlet in stronghold Madison WI has had advertisers lining up protesting the change. But the list is basically 'socially conscious' smaller advertisers (with a few exceptions)."

I for the life of me will never be able to figure out why AAR didn't make a more vigorous attempt to GO AFTER such advertisers. AAR listeners don't want to hear ads from McDonald's and Jeep (which AAR didn't get, of course), but we don't want to hear ads for get-rich-quick schemes, either. For the life of me, it doesn't seem to make sense to develop programming specifically for a niche audience if you're not going to chase advertisers who will speak to that audience. If I were an ad rep for AAR or an affiliate, I'd flip through the back pages of The Nation and walk through my local Whole Foods with a pad and pen for ideers. If AAR falters, it will be for severe lack of imagination, in advertising and other areas as well, IMHO.

Anonymous said...

That's really a great point. I have been in both programming and sales and when either don't do their job the revenue falters.

One major problem was that the people who originally funded AAR knew nothing about the sales end of the business. Their thoughts were to program it and "they" will come.

Their programming at first was not good, the press was very negative, and that is tough for sales. They didn't do a good job marketing the product and selling the concept.

You are correct about the audience not wanting to hear big biz ads. But I cannot imagine a Honda or Toyota wouldn't want to market their Hybrids on the programs. How about affordable health care companies, more unions and labor party dollars (which they have millions), more broadbased products like all the organic foods and drinks you now see in nearly all grocery stores, etc.

Schultz and Jones have it right by good programming with sales from Jones backing them up.

Anonymous said...

One other thought came to mind. Wonder what if CC planning to place the programming of 1230 and 610 on their new FM digital signals to shore up deficits in their AM signals. I'm about two miles away from 610's towers, yet am in a terrible null during nighttime. The signal in much of Picktown is terrible at night. That's a fast growing suburb that's not listening due to signal constraints. For 1230, anything on the north end outside of the outbelt is pretty much unlistenable at night.

Anonymous said...

I can't buy the fact that the election is causing liberal radio to falter.

While the Dems won Congress, they would still be banging the drum for getting one of their own to win the big job at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Let's be honest, people don't remember congresses, they remember presidents. And AAR would be screaming from the rooftops to get Hillary/Obama elected.

It is much more a financial concern than it is politics.

Liberal shows are just not entertaining as a whole because most are all about pushing the message, and not on entertaining the audience as a whole.

When people aren't listening, they aren't hearing the pitches of the advertisers, and that is what it's all about.

Most conservatives know this and while they make their views known, they also try to put on the most entertaining show possible.

Schultz and Miller are 2 liberal hosts who get this.

The Springer/Franken/Garafolo/Rhodes of the world didn't.

Don't be surprised if 1230 becomes a Fox Sports affiliate to give Jim Rome a home in "C-Bus".

Anonymous said...

The major problem with Air America and it's imitators... it has been bad radio. Nothing to do with the political slant... it's just that guys like Franken and Springer were gawdaful boring on the air. Get Rush-sized ratings with a liberal talker and the advertising dollars will follow.

Anonymous said...

"Don't be surprised if 1230 becomes a Fox Sports affiliate to give Jim Rome a home in "C-Bus". "

Been there, done that. After WFII, AM 1230 was WZNW "The Zone" from 2001 to 2003. It was even imaged like "Homer," with FSR and Jim Rome as virtually their entire lineup.

In fact, the WZNW change actually took Romey OFF of WBNS/1460 in the process.

- Nathan Obral

VODood said...

What's the skinny on Dan Mason exiting Y100/Miami??? He just got the gig a few months ago!

Anonymous said...

Too many cooks in the kitchen down there, VODood. Suspect some political problems.

Anonymous said...

OMW's been kind of bland as of lately. Come on, you can be more interesting.

Anonymous said...

"Oh, sure, even the soon-to-be-dark liberal talk outlet in stronghold Madison WI has had advertisers lining up protesting the change. But the list is basically 'socially conscious' smaller advertisers (with a few exceptions)."

Consider me a radio business novice (which I am), but it just seems to me that CC and other large group owners--or at least the sales teams at the local levels--want to just concentrate on the department stores, auto dealers, and other large-pocket advertisers (national or local). If these buyers buy time on the group as a whole, then the sales team's job would be a whole lot easier. ("Dude, I just got Home Depot to buy ad time on every station! That's so frickin awesome!")

However, if these big buyers don't want to advertise on a format they don't like (for whatever reason), then the sales team's job is made harder. As a result, the station's owners will keep flipping formats until they find one that these large advertisers will like (i.e., buy time on). That's why you see a station like The Mic (though it's done fine in the ratings) flip to a "safer" format... "safer" in that the large-pocket buyers will like it and buy time on it.

As for the "'socially consious' small advertisers," the ownership groups likely frown upon them not because of the "socially conscious" part of that term but the "small" part. Such ad buyers may choose to buy on only one or two stations (for personal preference, shallow pockets, etc.), and as noted above, the sales team's job is made all the harder.

Simply put, yes, it's a shame whan a format as unique as progressive talk vanishes from a station. But once the big-pocket advertisers get skittish about it, then the ownership group gets skittish about it... paying no mind to the fans of the format and those who did advertise on it.

Anonymous said...

To the last poster:

If the progressive talk format was so huge, why are stations left and right dumping it?

Because most of their shows suck.

Ed Schultz and Stephanie Miller put on entertaining shows.

Air America didn't.

If you ran a station would you rather have a handful of devoted listeners, or a multitude of casual listeners?

To put it another way...

Would you rather have a handful of customers buying your product or a multitude of customers buying your product?

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be surprised if WARF changed their format, the ratings are horrid. From a 0.9 last winter to a high of 1.1 and now down to 0.8 puts them in the 25th spot out of 28 rated stations in the Akron market.

VODood said...

"Progressive Talk" or "liberal talk" is a poor business model. They tried to be the rant style of the conservative radio, and it didn't work. Not to mention conservative radio has a 20 year head start in the Business of radio.

Progressive radio will never take hold. It's not a political issue... ok it is.. but its more a business issue. If barking dogs would earn $$$, it would be on the air. Progressive radio didn't make $$$. Ratings can suck, but as long as the $$$ is there all is ok.

Anonymous said...

Plenty of national advertisers have stayed away from Rush, Stern, Imus, and others for years..

Others have prospered..1-800 Mattress was one of the original Stern clients who made the move with him to Sirius..hell I started drinking Snapple beacause Howard pitched it on his WOR TV show years ago..

Rush has also been a pitchman for years..but he weaves it in seemlessly in his show--borrowing from the Paul Harvey playbook..

I agree with the poster who noted that Air America could have gone after national dollars from Whole Foods, Olivia Cruise Lines, Showtime, HBO--you name it..but the people running it never learned how to play the game..