Wednesday, March 28, 2007

EXCLUSIVE: Liberal Talk WARF/1350 Akron Flipping To Sports

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...

36 comments:

74WIXYgrad said...

Even so, I still cannot get 1350 in Rittman, so unless I'm on my way to or from work in Cleveland, I won't be able to hear the offerings. That really stinks when I want hear Aeros games.

ExpertMessagePoster said...

why would you want to listen to aeros games?

note to self: excellent question

Mr. Faust said...

I'm not surprised at this flip - Prog Talk is a format that failed to produce in liberal enclaves like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles. What did surprise me was the original flip to Progressive Talk in this market, when it was already evident that it was in trouble (along with Air America's woes).

Still, bringing back Joe Finan was a brilliant move on their part. If anyone could have made the format work in this market, it was him. He was irreplaceable.

Anonymous said...

Thanks OMW for a nice post. Regarding 1350 and all the 1480 talk my response is "who really cares?"

Radio has become so insignificant it doesn't matter what they put on 1350. Yes I know people will quote that something like 92% of people tune in each week to radio. But the time spent using radio has been slowly declining now for years.

I believe every show on 1350's liberal talk format right now is available either on satellite radio (XM mostly) or online for free. Most shows you can even download as a podcast for playback later.

I liked many of the shows on 1350 and have found myself the past two years listening more to the same shows on sat radio and online. Why? No play by play interruptions, it was more convenient, no dead air or two programs overlapping, no signal problems.

So 1350 will go from one insignificant station to another. So now I can get sports on 1480, 990, 850, 1350, 1100, online, sat radio and cell phone.

This is why radio is a medium that is not growing. There is no uniqueness in the programs being offered to listeners. Wait until Wi-Fi gets here. Never heard of it? Basically you will be able to stream online audio in your cars. Your in-car options if you don't have sat radio will go from about 40 stations to millions of stations. Type in the URL and away you go to China for that Chinese polka dance country music.

So before everyone gets nuts on here about Clear Channel killing radio and suppressing the left's viewpoint, etc. It doesn't matter. We live in an easily accessable content world. Traditionalists may not like this post, but the reality is you can easily get what you want from audio entertainment and bypass over the air radio quite easily.

Good luck with sports on 1350.

Anonymous said...

Not to twist the knife or anything, but could 1350 buy the broadcast rights from the Browns, Tribe and Buckeyes and lock 1480 out of that programming? It is that kind of "lynchpin" programming that would give 1350 the credibility it needs (like Fox picking up the NFL TV rights 10 or so years ago) and increase the speed at which HBC-AM goes away.

Anonymous said...

What every liberal host not named Miller or Schultz has failed to realize is that you have to put on an entertaining show to get people to listen.

Even the most die-hard of conservatives would not listen to Rush Limbaugh if all he did was drone on and on over the same old talking points.

People like Jerry Springer, Jeneane Garofolo, and Al Franken were brutal on the air.

All they did was hit you in the head with a sledgehammer pushing their message.

Your good hosts slip the message in around putting together an entertaining show.

Limbaugh, Beck, Ingraham, O'Reilly, and Savage (right), and Miller and Schultz (left) get it.

It's like giving your dog his medicine by mixing in the pill with his dog treat.

If Dennis Miller were smart, he'd go with that approach.

Anonymous said...

Re the "brutality" of certain talk hosts, you gotta be kidding about Michael Savage and Bill O'Reilly, both of whom can be very brutal, both in their on-air statements and how they treat callers.

That said, several of Air America's hosts took "boring" to a new level, which I'm sure didn't help the format's numbers. I would,however, also add Randi to the left-side folks who can be entertaining along with the politics.

Tim Lones said...

As far as The Tribe, Cavs, and Browns, they are all on WAKR 1590 in the Akron Market..So WHBC could not be "shut out" as it were, evem if they moved over to 1350. With the Buckeyes, I am not sure if they are on an Akron station now.Interesting move though..But unless they can get a compelling local host or 2 I cant see it being successful long-term

Anonymous said...

So much for diverse political viewpoints, and, yes, I know radio is a business. Of course, the 0.7 share for 1350 will stay 0.7, just with different demos. Of course, with all the other sports-talkers around, the per-minute rate of a spot will likely only go from $10 to $15.

Of course, like another poster has stated, that makes things easier for me. Lots more XM radio listening, not to mention being one of the "early adopters" when streaming does become available in cars.

At the rate radio is going, AM radio in this instance, does it really matter if IBOC wrecks a lot of AM reception? The only formats left on AM will be religion, right-wing talk, and sports-talk.

Then again, maybe WHBC can pick up Stephanie, Randi, or Ed instead of some of those second-level they have.

Tim Lones said...

According to OSU sources, apparently WAKR also carries Buckeye Sports..

Anonymous said...

I'm just happy Tony Bruno is back.

Anonymous said...

Randi Rhodes, entertaining?!

Come on.

Randi is the personification of fingernails on a chalkboard.

O'Reilly and Savage are entertaining. Yes, they are "In your face" and confrontational, but they are not boring. That is the point I was trying to make.

To be fair and balanced (I think I heard that somewhere) most of the WHK conservatalkers (Bennett, Prager, Medved) put me to sleep.

So not all righties are automatic radio successes.

Salem is to the right what AAR is to the left...it's all about pushing the message.

The difference is that Salem owns their stations so those shows go nowhere, while AAR was at the mercy of the station owners.

Hast Thou Slain the Jabberwock said...

(quote) >The difference is that Salem owns their stations so those shows go nowhere, while AAR was at the mercy of the station owners. (end quote)

Salem stations don't always favor Salem talk hosts.

Many Salem stations including 14K pre-empt or delay Salem's Mike Gallagher in favor of Laura Ingraham.

Several Salem stations do the same to Hugh Hewitt in favor of Michael Savage.

In Chicago, Salem-owned WIND replaced Bill Bennett with a local AMD show awhile back, and more recently replaced Dennis Prager with Dennis Miller.

Anonymous said...

You mentioned WNIR having the rights to Westwood's Sunday and Monday night NFL games.
They haven't carried those games for years, and are an ABC affiliate. CBS news is still carried on WJMP.

Hast Thou Slain the Jabberwock said...

I wish CC would move WHLO to 1350 and put the sports or whatever on 640.

Paul M. said...

I enjoyed the programming on 1350 but quickly grew tired of the constant technical gaffes. I once called Jerry Mullins who was listed as the program director of 1350 and asked why EVERY weekend I would hear two or three things on the air at the same time every Saturday morning. He told me it was "a conservative conspiracy" and basically laughed me off and told me to get a life. It might have been his attempt at humor, but I was not amused. Three weeks later I called and spoke with Keith Kennedy. The following Saturday the station ran smooth and I never heard the same problem again.
If they had somebody who was into the format and understood what Progressive Democrats wanted, they might have been more successful. Instead they choose to have the same program director as the conservative station.

Anonymous said...

quote: "Randi is the personification of fingernails on a chalkboard."

A matter of taste. Randi, like Rush(yeah--I would agree Randi is no Rush, talent-wise) was a good music jock, and it carries over for both of them into an entertaining show.

"Entertainment ability" also applies to Glen Beck, who is undoubtedly the best of the conservative talkers-----he knows exactly how to mix politics and pop culture. Even if we disagree on an issue, I can listen to his show for hours.

quote "O'Reilly and Savage are entertaining. Yes, they are "In your face" and confrontational, but they are not boring. That is the point I was trying to make."

They come a lot closer to "brutal"(your earlier word describing other hosts) than most other talk hosts, especially when someone disagrees with them(such as O'Reilly with Charlie Sheen).

Quote "To be fair and balanced (I think I heard that somewhere) most of the WHK conservatalkers (Bennett, Prager, Medved) put me to sleep".

At least Medved seems to have a lot of opposing-viewpoint callers on his show(more than even some of the lib talkers) and he'll give many of them a decent amount of time, even when he's knocking their message.

Anonymous said...

Getting to see agency copy instructions on a daily basis, part of the problem for ''Left Talk'' was the same as ''Right Talk''...ad agencies had detailed instructions that their clients spots were not to be aired in ''Air America'' or around ''Controversial Programming''...

So even if you were in a ''liberal enclave'' you still couldn't air certain advertisers in your programming..

Curious timing for the fomrat flip..a day after WHBC-AM goes all talk...doubtful if Pam and NextMedia would look at Miller or Schultz..but if they could shave another salary or two in the process..who knows? You could probably pick up both for Barter at this point..

WHBC has a long term contract with the Cavaliers..Ohio State was a Beaverkettle must have..1480 is probably one of the Tribe's original network affliates..there was talk about dumping the Browns after their first season..but they have stuck with them so no one else in the market could grab it..

raccoonradio said...

I have to agree about your comments on the future of libtalk. To be honest, CC (and other owners) did put AAR/prog talk on weaker signals; often there were no local hosts (an
inexcusable situation in Boston, for
one), and some felt there wasn't
enough promotion. (Though I know in
Boston the AAR stations got some
writeups in the paper when they
launched, etc.)

That is an interesting observation that AAR launched as a network
(or there was an idea of launching a network) because it was felt that the bigger, conservative stations wouldn't want to air libtalk. I do agree about the Steph Miller cloning bit: it is about being entertaining and not just preaching to the choir.

And yes WARF's signal was not the best. A friend of mine works in the area (and in radio) and when I visited him he noted how the signal could drop off suddenly in some
areas.

Anonymous said...

What I will really miss on this change at 1350 will be Bill Handel's show on Saturday mornings.
Seriously---who cares about sports talk or liberal talk...but Handel's show was great!

(at least I assume it will get dumped for the sports feed also)

raccoonradio said...

>>Salem stations don't always favor Salem talk hosts.

In Boston Salem's WTTT took advantage of Hannity being dumped by FM talker
WTKK and they carry him live; a syndie alternative to local shows on
WRKO (Howie Carr) and WTKK (Jay
Severin)--not that syndie is necessarily better than local...

raccoonradio said...

On the RadioFreeOhio site:

>>The end of the progressive format on 1350 is coming on Friday March 30th at 8:59am. Watch this space for more information.

email us for details

raccoonradio said...

Since you posted the 1:45 pm update, the
"end is near" now links to a page confirming that the new format is indeed sports, starting Fri at 9 am.

Excerpt: "Before the format switch to Progressive Talk, 1350am was an all sports station. In the Winter of 2005,(the last ratings period for the station as sports) 1350am had 17,000 weekly listeners. In the latest release of ratings, for the Fall of 06, WARF had 11,600 weekly listeners, and was on the decline"

Anonymous said...

thanks for the mad props.

Handel on the Law is moving to WHLO. time TBA.

Anonymous said...

I know this is a very unscientific sample, but then again. I mentioned to a co-worker---a sports fanatic who always has WKNR on his desk radio---that 1350 was changing formats. Before I could even mention what they were changing to, he said "sports", then asked whether local(like WKNR) or satellite. When I said satellite, I got a "don't think I'll bother with them" type reply.

Could this be the reaction of many potential listeners?

Side note---great to hear Handel will be on WHLO, especially with their much better coverage.

Trefdawg said...

Here's what I'd do with 1350, do what they've done with 1450 in PArkersburg (1450-HAnk) Go classic country and call it....ugh.. you guessed it Whistler!

Anonymous said...

Lets face it...radio sucks. WTAM and WHBC are the only AM stations with enough ratings to even make a decent profit. All AM's should permanently sign off because they are waisting spectrum space. Next time you are in a crowd, look and see how many people have Ipod or similar devices to their ears. Radio is dying. Except for satellite and internet radio. Dying just like the telegraph, black & white TV and phonograph records.

Anonymous said...

I figured I listened to about 25 hours of radio in the past week. I have not traveled or been out of the area for a week. But out of the 25 hours of radio I have listened to in the past week 23 hours have been radio elsewhere. Satellite radio and online radio (some stations, some network syndicated, some internet only.)

Two years ago I didn't have sat radio and I didn't listen to any online programming. At that time I probably spent 25 to 30 hours per week with the radio medium. So I spend the same amount of time now with radio MY WAY. You'd think in Akron with so many AM and FM stations I would have some I like. Not really.

The local talk/news/information stations are basically useless. WAKR does good in the AM for me and I like Stan Piatt on WNIR, but I am not a huge political listener and if I did listen to politics it certainly wouldn't be WHLO. Can't stand Rush or Shawn Hannity or that horrid Savage guy. I've tried them all. I liked 1350 at times and that was about the only station I listened to. 1480 I have tried and Miller is just another politico republican talking head. Brady Russell is extremely boring and I haven't heard that other guy in the mornings. I like Jim Rome but that's it for sports talk.

Sorry for the rambling but the radio stations around here are just boring or not what I need. I hate to admit to myself I have satellite radio and use the internet but that is all I use now primarily.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Trefdawg might have the right idea. Considering the market, classic country would likely work better than sports talk. Of course, someone might says the demos are too old, but the demos 1350 will get aren't that great either----40+ male only.

Either way, it will take some real work from the 1350 sales staff to make it work.

Village Green said...

I guess I'm the only listener to Radio Free Ohio because I am truly bummed out by the announcement. There are no other stations that I want to set my alarm radio clock to now. Drat.

Anonymous said...

Hey folks,

Two weeks ago I picked up my new XM AudioVox Express for in car and at home usage. I love it. On sale for $60. Haven't listened to the regular radio since and probably won't be back for a long while.

GG

Anonymous said...

I stream both XM and Sirius on my home computer..I'm hoping the merger goes through so I can buy a portable unit and be able to listen to both Howard and O&A, along with the MLB and NBA packages..

Bummed about the loss of Air America locally? Pick up an XM radio..Air America has a channel there..and some great music that commercial radio would never think of airing..''research says'', you know..

Anonymous said...

I love XM for baseball. Of course you only get your home broadcast team for half the season but it still beats the massive mid-summer storm static you get on the AM stations. Plus its sometimes fun to listen to the opposing team's announcers and some of the other games around the country.

What's cool about XM is that you get whatever you want when the mood hits. I've actually found I am enjoying music I was never much exposed to because radio's total music playlist is about 1,000 songs across all genres. Plus some fun channels like BBC News, comedy, Bloomberg, etc.

I can't wait for the merge of Sirius also because Stern's show is 10 times more funny now. I had a rental car a few weeks ago with his channel 100 and it was hysterical.

gregrocker said...

When Clear Channel first offered to complete the Air America network with their underperforming and low signal stations, many were wary since they are the career sponsor of G.W. Bush, and in fact derived their start-up capital in a windfall after taxpayers of Arlington, TX. were conned into building a stadium for W's Texas Rangers.

However, radio analysts felt that it was a legitimate effort to cover their asses in the event that Dems came back to power. This hardly explains why they would start dumping AAR affiliates on false pretenses (no ad sales when they hired no ad staff)right after the Dems regained power.

The only logical explanation is that they got a call from Karl Rove. And since Howard Dean credited Air America with a dozen wins in the 06 election, many in Ohio, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to wonder why all 3 Ohio affiliates were amongst the first to be changed over.

The only solution to this is for the Dem COngress, for their own survival, to begin immediate hearings on the AM talk radio monopoly juggernaut. These are the public's airwaves and they are being used as a gargantuan right wing disinformation operation that would astound Goebbels. Every aspect of this needs to be aired in public hearings, to begin pressuring the corporations to return balance to the AM dial, and to educate the public as to how their politics became so nasty and false.

Anonymous said...

arqejhuh?
with their underperforming and low signal stations,

WARF 1350 is 5k day and night
WHLO is 5000 day 500 night and directonal.

it was the same in Cincy too.

Anonymous said...

A little more than a year ago, Paragon Media Strategies did a study that showed that 51% of Americans still use "regular radio" as their primary source of music, with Satellite radio only showing 2%.

Around the same time, there was a Michigan State University study that showed that 75% of the respondents spent as much time or more listening to "regular radio" as they did the year before, and 95% expect to listen even more after that.

Then there was an Eastlan study that showed that four out of five Americans have no interest at all in subscribing to satellite radio. "Regular radio" is far from "dead". People simply don't care, and even though the above studies were done more than a year ago, there is no way that satellite has made the kind of leaps and bounds to kill regular radio.

Ex-radio people and music freaks will cry all day long that satellite is taking over, but it simply isn't as powerful a medium as cable TV was to impact such a strong surge in the way Americans listen to radio as cable did for TV viewers.

Then there is also the plain and simple truth that the vast majority of Americans that will not PAY for radio. Paying for cable TV and paying for satellite radio are worlds apart and are not even in the same ball park together. Besides, there are many more important things that people are paying for!

Hey, enjoy your satellite radio. It's your choice, but millions and millions of Americans will continue to enjoy regular radio, and will for a long time to come!