Sunday, January 14, 2007

The WKNR Change Watch

Note that the following item is filled with speculation, rumor and not really a lot of facts. Still, we'll helpfully identify what is fact, and what isn't, for you...

The Cleveland sports radio community and listeners are in a holding pattern wondering what'll happen to Good Karma-run sports talk WKNR/850. Changes of some sort would appear to be in the offing, but what?

Let's run through some stuff we found in a recent Google search. Most of this stuff has been written in the past month or so, but we just haven't gotten around to sharing it...

THE SCENE FROM SCENE: First up is a recent item from the entertainment section of the blog "C-Notes" on the website of alt-weekly Cleveland Scene.

Scene's Erich Burnett, in an item called "The New King of Sports Talk", weighs in on the topic with an interview with Good Karma boss Craig Karmazin. And we thought WE had the corner on local media snark:

Karmazin insists no shakeups are planned with WKNR’s on-air talent, which is kinda like invading North Korea to go for beers with Kim Jong-Il.

C’mon, even Greg Brinda? The Radio Version of Sam Fulwood hasn’t uttered a compelling phrase since 1982.

“We love all our on-air guys, and all the on-air guys that were here when we got here still have jobs,” he says. “We’re extremely excited about what they’re doing.”

Yes, WKNR's airstaff still has jobs, even as of this writing.

And Mr. Karmazin's quote above is actually consistent with at least some of what we've heard bouncing around the local rumor mill.

At least one set of changes we've heard rumored would move Mr. Brinda, the existing mid-morning host, into morning drive, making room for long-rumored WKNR full-time addition Tony Rizzo in middays.

Premiere's Jim Rome stays, no question. And everything we've heard rumor-wise from day one of the Good Karma era at WKNR would seem to suggest that afternoon driver Kenny Roda is staying not only on the station, but in his time slot.

There. No "major shakeup" there...just adding one more local show, with the existing hosts still employed. (Again, we caution that these rumblings are not being reported here as fact. Call it "quasi-informed speculation.")

WKNR's biggest problem has not necessarily been its local air personalities, though many would pipe in that neither Brinda nor Roda excites them.

WKNR's biggest problem has been that it's been operated by an owner of religious and conservative talk radio stations, which had absolutely no desire to take the necessary steps to market the station and beef up its on-air sound.

Our guess as to upcoming near-term changes, and it's only a guess, in four parts:

BYE, BYE, THE VOICE OF LUCZAK: WKNR's on-air sound undergoes an overhaul, with a new, professional imaging voice and other such niceities ignored by the previous ownership.

TWEAK, NOT SHAKE: The immediate lineup changes are no more significant than what we reprinted from RumorLand(tm) above, with the addition of Tony Rizzo and other minor tweaks.

We also aren't ruling out rumored pairings of hosts - WKNR is one of the few stations that does not have a single weekday show with two hosts, a sports talk radio staple in other markets. Even WKNR's new owner is actually part of one of these shows, "The Steve and Craig Show", which should start airing on sister WWGK/1540 "Cleveland's ESPN Radio 1540" in the Spring.

BENCH PLAYERS: The station finds and identifies a solid "second-tier" of hosts and other on-air personalities, and begins to build its bench. Our earlier item noting the pairing of WKNR promotions director Jason Gibbs with ex-Browns draft pick Jim Pyne could have been the first step in this direction.

INVOLVED: Good Karma does what it can to dramatically improve WKNR's visibility, and its relationship with local sports organizations (not just the major professional and college teams).

Does this mean there are no lineup changes in the next week or two, i.e. Mr. Rizzo's rumored full-time gig and perhaps something like a live, local weekday evening show? (That's just a guess, folks...again, we are not reporting this as fact.)


But the foundation has to go in first, and the items above are that foundation, in our humble opinion.

Other Good Karma/WKNR-related stuff we found of recent vintage:

GALLERIA: Crain Cleveland Business' John Booth, who was the first print reporter to break the sale of WKNR to Good Karma, has more details on the company's planned move to the Galleria at Erieview, a shopping center/office complex a reasonable walk from Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Booth says the WKNR/WWGK move will be to a 4,000 square foot first-floor space at the Galleria's eastern end by "late 2007". Mr. Karmazin tells Booth that the move will increase the stations' visibility and proximity to the local sports teams, and calls himself a "believer" in downtown he's not only moving his stations there, he now lives there.

And while the Crain's article doesn't address the on-air lineup at WKNR, Karmazin does say there will be "no jobs lost" as a result of the merger...noting that WWGK only has two employees (that would refer to update anchors/reporters Aaron Goldhammer and Bernard Bokenyi).

He also channels his famous father, Sirius Satellite Radio boss Mel Karmazin, noting that there will be "continued growth" of the stations' sales force...

RODA PROFILE: And we also found a Lake County News-Herald profile of WKNR's afternoon drive host, which ran a couple of weeks after the Good Karma acquisition announcement.

Aside from some interesting comments about being the most infamous Pittsburgh Steelers fan in a city which hates that team even drawing air, Kenny Roda name checks his new boss:

WKNR was recently purchased by Good Karma Broadcasting from Salem Communications, but Roda said he is excited about the new ownership team and is looking forward to working for Craig Karmazin and Good Karma.

KARMAZIN PROFILE: And we're not sure we ever linked this profile from April, on the website

It's a fascinating Q&A session with the WKNR/WWGK owner that might be worth a read for folks, say, working out of a certain building on Broadview Road...


Anonymous said...

This whole thing has obviously been a big "yawn" then. Thanks for getting everyone excited Karmazin. You essentially are bringing back the same crew of a failing station. That would be like the Browns bringing back all the same players and expecting new results (oh yeah, they already did that!). Get ready for some more radio done by high school kids with no experience and no ratings.

Looks like he didn't feel like taking those suggestions he was getting from EVERYONE. All those lunch meetings were a waste.

Ohio Media Watch said...

We can't speak for Mr. Karmazin, as he's only written us twice.

But we can clarify the item a little.

It's our general thought/guess/speculation that major lineup changes won't happen "right away".

Could there be changes or different personalities in the future? Certainly. We'd almost consider it likely.

But what should one expect in the next couple of weeks?

Probably not much more than we put up here. Again, mostly our own speculation, which could be off. Once again, we could be wrong - though the quote on the Scene blog would appear to be clear.

The difference between Good Karma and Salem is that we believe Mr. Karmazin WOULD be willing to make major changes if what's there now doesn't work in the long-term, even after other changes are made.

Salem, of course, would not.

Let's take the Browns, for example. Who would you bring in for 2007? Not everyone's sold on Charlie Frye, for example, and there's not much to suggest Derek Anderson is anything more than 2007's version of Kelly Holcomb.

What do you do?

And taking it back to WKNR - to our 12:36 AM commenter, what would YOU do? What's your dream WKNR lineup, and how would you make it happen?

One thing we believe will happen sooner or later - the "high school kids with no experience" will gradually be supplanted on off-prime hours with more experienced or better personalities. That's just speculation on our part, not based on anything we've heard.

Anonymous said...

Brinda worked morning drive in the past and it didn't go well. The traffic lady and update guy were ten times funnier and entertaining than he was.

A local morning drive program for KNR would be great, but they need to find someone who knows how to pull it off.

Anonymous said...

i spoke to a current workmate( no names please) of the RIZ the other day, and he seemed to think that KNR would come up with the cash to make it worth rizzo's time. we all know that being an on air talent on tv pays well enough to make a great living, and having a full time morning show along with his slots on tv might be too much hassle for the time involved...

btw, what is the going rate for a radio personality for lets say a 15 hour a week show on knr 40-50 k? or is it worse than that? how about a regular music jock?

Anonymous said...

Well, if you have a show on saturday morning on WKNR, you make roughly $5 per hour (and let me tell you, that is not money well spent!)

Anonymous said...

Here is an idea get rid of Greg Brinda already. How long has he been on the air in Cleveland? 25 years now? Enough of him! We need a fresh perspective Craig!

Anonymous said...

I'd cite this quote from the ONMilwaukee interview with Craig, on the rising success of WAUK/1510:

"CK: Our research has shown that Milwaukeeans like to listen to people who have a heritage and who are from here. When it came time to setting our Monday through Friday lineup, we were able to have some really powerful national names from ESPN Radio like Mike and Mike and Dan Patrick, and we've been able to supplement that with Steve "The Homer" True (who was successfully swiped away from crosstown WISN/1130, a CC station), Bill Johnson, Dan Needles, Steve Haywood and ( senior editor) Drew Olson."

My guess: Craig's appearance on WKNR last month - joking that it saved him thousands in "research" - may have been a smokescreen. If not to show his visability as the new owner, and to emphasize the end of the Salem regime.

I don't know just the exact science of HOW station owners/PDs handle market reseach, but it very well couldn't have ended with Roda's show that night.

It's probably only fair to both Brinda and Roda just to give them a chance, obviously due to the fact that both have been on the air for many years. Any changes to the lineup could be too hasty, especially given that after the Super Bowl, there's not much to talk about. (Except for the #3 pick in the NFL draft. Whoopee.)

But, think about this: ramping up the sales force, restoring the air sound, getting good weekend/bench talent, and marketing the station is quite a bit of rehab in itselt. That's not a "yawn" at all.

I'd usually suggest this: if Brinda went back into mornings, it probably wouldn't (and shouldn't) be a permanent move. It would be only done to restore a local presence in morning drive, and since WWGK will have "Mike & Mike" (unless it's simlucast on WKNR, which is lightly plausible), a local show would be much better than a lesser-tier network show, no?

Now, an ideal morning show for WKNR would have to consist of a paring of some sort. It would have to be a show that is immediantly compelling and grabs all of the headlines. I just wouldn't know yet, and that's a project that should be taken up by Craig very, very soon.

- Nathan Obral

Anonymous said...

I can tell you that I have exchanged emails with Mr. Karmazin's associate Mr. Goldhammer, and while they were nothing too deep, I will tell you that they are planning changes.

I don't think they will be drastic at first, but there will be additions to the on air staff and maybe some shifting of people within the station. It doesn't sound like people will be losing their jobs - at least that is the impression I got. It seems like Mr. K is going to try and add some experience to KNR to boost the staff back to pre Salem levels.

If I were a betting man, I would guess that not much more will change until the station gets through a book or two AND they get moved into the new studios. Then I think you will see a complete relaunch.

Just my 2 cents.


Anonymous said...

Greg Brinda in morning drive sounds about as exciting as watching paint dry on a 80 degree day in the summer. In other words there are other things to do. Leave Czaban in the morning he is better than Mike/Mike on ESPN. The one thing that WKNR has going for it and everyone wants to dump Czaban. Why not dump Rome? Listening to Rome reminds you of what happened to the kids that dropped out of high school.

Anonymous said...

If Czaban goes...I'm off KNR also. For myself (and I can speak for a few friends), the only thing worse than Cleveland sports is talking about Cleveland sports. Love the Road Man, can't stand Brinda and Rome, and the Czaban show is the best morning radio in C town.