UPDATE 3/28/07 1:45 PM: "Radio Free Ohio" has confirmed the end of the liberal talk format on an item titled "The End is near", on the station's website:
The End is coming.
The end of the progressive format on 1350 is coming on Friday March 30th at 8:59am.
Watch this space for more information.
The item does not announce the new format at this time, but we're reminded that change from sports to liberal talk was also made at about the same time of day, around 9 AM.
Our original item is below...
When the rumors started filtering onto our comments, we took a drive by the Clear Channel World Domination HQ/Southern Command on Freedom Avenue, and put our ears to the windows.
And before we were shooed off by a security guard, we confirmed the rumors.
Liberal talk WARF/1350 Akron is about to dump that format, following sister stations in Cincinnati and Columbus.
Starting Friday, the station will drop the progressive talk format and the "Radio Free Ohio" moniker for sports, with the on-air positioner "SportsRadio 1350". (No word what they'll do with the WARF calls.)
And sure enough, the domain "SportsRadio1350.com" is registered to Clear Channel's online identity division, and was first registered Monday. At the moment, any website behind that URL is behind a Clear Channel password-protected firewall.
Though some of the details are still in flux, we are hearing that 1350 will carry its primary sports talk network programming from the Sporting News Radio folks.
It's basically the only choice available to them.
Clear Channel arm Premiere's FOX Sports Radio is spoken for - at the moment on both Media-Com daytimer WJMP/1520 Kent-Akron-Mars-Jupiter, and a new clearance on WHBC/1480 Canton in its talk format.
And ESPN Radio is now booming into Akron via Good Karma's WKNR/850 Cleveland.
We haven't yet heard if "SportsRadio 1350" will launch any local non-play-by-play programming to add to its existing stable of team coverage deals, like the Eastern League's Akron Aeros and the University of Akron Zips' football and basketball teams.
But we noted in This Space a few days ago that the station is already carrying the entire NCAA "March Madness" basketball tournament via Westwood One's feed...which perked up our ears earlier.
And a birdie whispering out of the back door at Freedom Avenue also tells OMW that more play-by-play will be added.
On 1350's list is not only the available Westwood One packages (we know competitor WNIR/100.1 has some of them, like NFL's Sunday and Monday Night Football packages), but the new sports station is slated to become the Akron affiliate of the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets.
The team is currently carried in the Canton market on Massillon sports outlet WTIG/990 "ESPN 990". (And we checked with their official website this time - it's "Blue Jackets" as two words. Last time, we printed "Bluejackets", and got mercilessly lashed by Ohio's hockey fans.)
Interesting twists in this format change:
* The move returns Tony Bruno to the 1350 airwaves. He had not been at FOX Sports Radio long, when the station changed to liberal talk. Since then, Bruno landed in SNR's late-morning (ET) slot. And as far as we know, Bruno was also heard on 1350 before FSR, which brings us to...
* By adding SNR, 1350 has now officially run through all three major 24/7 sports talk radio networks. The station launched sports before Clear Channel took it over as "ESPN 1350". CC kept the network for a time, then went to FOX Sports Radio, which was carried until the change to progressive talk.
The format change is no surprise to us.
While some individual hosts are still doing well, the liberal talk format as a whole reached its peak well over a year ago.
The format has basically become the "Jammin' Oldies" of the 2004-2006 time period - the experimental, "new" format used by Clear Channel and other companies to prop up second and third-tier AM stations that used to run sports, standards or oldies.
Akron isn't the only market where the libtalker has gone back to sports.
It's not that they can burn up the ratings with the format - 1350 certainly didn't in its FSR days - but you can sell sports well beyond the format's ratings.
It's a truism that has been solid wisdom since they first put a local team's play-by-play on the radio.
Add to the fact that sports is a "male magnet", and it's an easy sell for people wanting to sell products to men. It's practically the raison d'etre for the format, particularly in a day where radio stations sell to fragmented parts of the population.
Over on the liberal talk side, many of the hosts aren't commercially friendly. Even with former SNL star Al Franken headed off to run for the U.S. Senate, much of what's left of Air America Radio sounds like "preaching to the choir", and Air America is still a component of many stations in the format.
If the folks fronting liberal talk radio would only take Jones Radio's Stephanie Miller and clone her, the format may work as a whole. OK, so some of the clones would be male. Some of them would tell less fart jokes. There might be a Kim Jong-Il impression or two replaced with something else.
But overall, Ms. Miller gets what nearly every other nationally syndicated liberal talk show host does not get...it's about the entertainment, stupid.
Others are close, like Jones stablemate Ed Schultz, the "gun-toting, meat-eating lefty". But even Big Eddie veers into more activism at times.
And liberal talk hasn't been strong enough to overcome what the more-establishment conservative talkers had to endure after the 2000 election, when George W. Bush came into power and Republicans took over Congress.
The "heat" of politics hasn't been enough to draw people into the tent for the liberal talk format in recent months, with Democrats in control on Capitol Hill.
The "future of liberal talk" may lie with hosts like Stephanie Miller and Envision Radio Networks' Leslie Marshall making their way on general market talk stations. It'll be an interesting ride, as one reason the folks at Air America Radio launched 24/7 liberal talk was that they didn't believe liberal talk would fit in on conservative talk radio schedules.
Just our commentary, as it were.
In the day or so we'll keep this open for comments, please refrain from direct political attacks on groups you oppose. We'd like to keep the discussion to RADIO, and related issues...not the usual back-and-forth between left and right you see on roughly 50 million other Internet sites...
UPDATE 12:19 AM 3/29/07: This item, per our usual policy, has been closed for comments. You may continue to comment on the newly posted item, which contains more about WARF's format change...