The FM Talk Watch isn't looking good at this hour, and the carnage is not far from Ohio's borders. In fact, the stations are close enough that both can claim at least some Ohio listeners.
This time, it's the death of two CBS Radio-owned FM talk stations, one which had been in the format long before the whole "Free FM" thing (think David Lee "Awful Radio Show" Roth).
That's Detroit's WKRK/97.1, which did eventually adopt the "Free FM" name, but continued with a mostly local lineup until recently - with the presence of CBS Radio's Opie and Anthony, moved from a brief clearance on the AM dial on sister sports WXYT/1270, displacing WKRK's previous morning show, Cleveland's own "Rover's Morning Glory".
WKRK was once "Live 97.1", and was a part of the company's older line of successful FM talk stations - with similarly named stations in Los Angeles and Dallas, and Washington DC's WJFK-FM, to name just three. All three were anchored by former morning man Howard Stern, now broadcasting to a few hundred thousand on Sirius Satellite Radio.
The "hot talk" ended Monday, as WKRK has dumped "Free FM" talk for...a simulcast of WXYT's sports format, to be known (presumably legally, soon) as WXYT-FM. The new sports duo carries a host of sports teams which previously had broadcasts on one or both of the stations.
But O&A are nowhere to be found in the move.
Their show was dumped, along with most of WKRK's "hot talk" personalities. Among those on that list - former Toledo radio host Johny D, once of Clear Channel top 40 WVKS/92.5 "Kiss FM" and Cumulus top 40 WTWR/98.3 "Tower 98-3". Dumped on the AM side was ESPN's Mike and Mike, who slid into the 1270 slot after O&A went to FM.
In morning drive on the new AM/FM sports simulcast "XYT - Detroit's Sports Powerhouse" - 97.1's highest-profile local talk show, "Deminski and Doyle", which aired in afternoon drive on the FM talker. The rest of the schedule appears to be live and local all the way until 2 AM weekdays.
It's no surprise to anyone that the second FM talk casualty was also a move of CBS Radio, with national programmer Dan Mason making the rounds to fix the company's failing program moves.
The FM talker launched on 93.7 in Pittsburgh was never known as "Free FM". (By that time, the brand became somewhat toxic, with Mr. Roth and company long gone.)
CBS Radio in Pittsburgh branded the station as "The Man Station", under the name of WTZN "The Zone", but the "Zone" apparently has found its limits.
The station, a curious mix of local and national hot talk, political talk and sports talk, was an oddity from the start.
It had to wait a week after launch to feature one of it's highest-profile personalities, Scott Paulsen, as he awaited being let free from a contract with Clear Channel.
It ran O&A in mornings, and piped in Pittsburgh-native Dennis Miller's Westwood One-syndicated show. It also ran a local show by former KDKA/1020 and cable TV (PCNC) political talker John McIntyre.
But now, it no longer talks, and is playing Christmas music for the next week. The station has set up a new website with the legend atop: "PITTS-URGH - Something's Missing".
Among the choices presented to forum users on the site is "B94 Radio". And gee, the above legend (and the site's URL) are both, well, missing a letter B...leading to massive speculation about the venerable "B94" top 40 format being returned to its former home.
(Lightbulb goes on over head!)
We wouldn't bet against a top 40 "B94" return. CBS' Mason has already swooped in and "restored" once-successful formats displaced on other large market CBS stations...in particular, New York oldies outlet WCBS-FM, and San Francisco oldies outlet KFRC-FM.
We don't know what format a new "B94" would take, if it is indeed coming back to the Pittsburgh airwaves. In the other two examples, a more updated version of the "classic hits" took hold.
But considering the likely low ratings for "The Zone - Pittsburgh's Man Station", just about anything would be welcome at 93.7. Whatever happens, it's promised for Friday.
Stepping away from the Pittsburgh and Detroit markets long enough to address our usual question: What does this mean for our long-time contention that FM talk is a format on the rise?
Well, not "FM hot talk".
Some of the programs placed on these stations border on the amazingly idiotic. They're aimed at very young audiences, usually males 12-24 or so, and apparently feel the need offer to talk about body parts, sex and juvenile humor. It's like stations only believe that you can reach young males with such drivel.
Our general contention is that the talk you hear on AM stations today, perhaps skewing a LITTLE younger, will end up on FM in the next 5 years or so - even as a simulcast of existing stations.
The problem is quite simple - an entire generation of incoming radio listeners couldn't find the AM band if you handed them a picture of a radio and highlighted the "AM" button. (Then again, there's the problem of many not listening to even FM at all, thanks to the iPod and the like.)
And the Detroit flip is in our favor in this regard, with an AM sports talker expanding its wings onto the FM dial...