Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Trouble In Willie Paradise

So, long-time Clear Channel talk WLW/700 host Bill Cunningham just launched his syndicated show.

The former Drudge show was moved over to the "Big One" from sister talker WKRC/550 by CC Cincinnati AM operations chief Darryl Parks, so the station could prominently feature its own local talent with his brand-new weekly national talk show.

And then, the truckers got in the way.

No, not literally.

But it was apparently the technical commitment to deliver the syndicated "America's Trucking Network" straight up at midnight late Sunday that caused WLW to cut off the last hour of "Live On Sunday Night, It's Bill Cunningham" - reducing the talk show host's hours on the Cincinnati powerhouse from just under 16 hours a week to just under 15 hours a week.

And as a result, says Cincinnati Enquirer radio/TV guru John Kiesewetter, Willie is "miffed".

The outspoken host, at least in print, is aiming at Parks and his own station, saying he doesn't feel WLW is "supporting" him.

(OK, this is WLW we're talking about here, where just about every on-air and off-air interaction between hosts and management is meant to get free publicity.)

Parks, for his part, blamed "technical issues" involving the station's multiple feeds - not only the "ATN" feed to other affiliates, but the XM Satellite Radio feed, which forced them to dump hour 3 of Mr. Cunningham's new show for the trucking folks.

Our observations: We were listening to the XM 173 simulcast of WLW, and heard the America's Trucking Network program start on time at just midnight, after WLW's local news.

We weren't surprised by this, because we'd been led to believe that WLW would air the new Cunningham show from 9 PM to midnight, with the 9-10 PM hour live in Cincinnati, and delayed after midnight to the rest of the network affiliates. That was apparently news to Willie.

We checked the WLW online schedule, which is normally very comprehensive, and found that Mr. Cunningham's new effort was listed as airing from 9 PM-midnight locally, with the ATN Sunday night show listed as starting at...1 AM early Monday.

No accounting was made on the schedule for the missing 12-1 AM hour, which tells us that there may still have been some internal confusion about the issue as late as Thursday night.

One other related item...

We're told by those tracking various moves among local stations in the radio industry that despite the best efforts (uhhh...) of ABC Radio's Sean Hannity, Cunningham did lose a few affiliates from the 325 station Matt Drudge affiliate list.

Though he managed to keep WABC/770, Hannity's home base in New York City, Willie lost market #2 - Los Angeles - where Clear Channel talk powerhouse KFI/640 is already listing "Guest Host TBD (To Be Determined)" in the 7-10 PM Sunday night hole on its schedule.

That's no surprise to us. After Drudge "hit it big" with the Monica Lewinsky thing, he dabbled in talk radio at WABC. He also did local shows for KFI, since he lived in Los Angeles at the time, so he was sort of considered a local host for that station.

A quick check of website schedules provided by our sources shows that Cox talk WHIO/1290-95.7 in the Dayton market has also gone another direction, adding sister WSB/750 Atlanta weekend host Allen Hunt into the schedule - and repeating two hours to cover for part of the old Drudge time slot. (The rest? Yet another repeat hour of Premiere's "Coast to Coast AM".)

Other Cox talkers appear to have done the same, including WOKV/690-106.5 in Jacksonville FL. And Lincoln Financial talker WBT/1110 Charlotte has also picked up Mr. Hunt's Christian-themed/secular talk show.

Hunt was, until recently, the pastor of an Atlanta-based church (he left to concentrate on radio), but he appears to do a more secular show...sort of like the issues talk version of talk radio money guru Dave Ramsey, right down to a natural affiliate base in the southern part of the country.

Another Clear Channel talker going a "different direction" is 50,000-watt Denver powerhouse KOA/850.

Now, this is not intended to say that Mr. Cunningham's replacement of Matt Drudge has prompted a mass affiliate exodus.

For many of the above, it would appear to have provided the opportunity to explore their own new agenda - either with local talk, or like with the Cox stations, with a new in-house syndicated show. And despite even an in-house Clear Channel drop or three, he'll still be on a bunch of those stations...still the widest national news/talk station base of any group.

But one thing is clear: Bill Cunningham may have to take a bit of his controversial "edge" off on the national show, as a newly syndicated host with no national track record.

Despite the "I'm upset" comment above, Cunningham knows he has the good life locally with Clear Channel Cincinnati, and the unwavering support Mr. Parks has given him on WLW when "times get bad". From baseball players demanding his head, to special interest groups going after him for "insensitive comments" (one case still pending), "Willie" has firm support out of Kenwood whenever the crowds go after him.

But even with a former WLW employee calling the shots for his syndicated Premiere show, there are over 300 bosses - the program directors and station managers at his affiliates.

And you can bet that those PDs and managers don't want to have to deal with hassle based on what their 10 PM-1 AM Sunday night guy said on the air the previous night.

Rush? He's a different story. He has a long track record of success for over 600 affiliates, and has basically singlehandledly built today's AM talk radio powerhouses. "Flaps" can come and go, but Rush stays. Period.

Bill Cunningham only has that kind of protection at home base, on "The Big One" in Cincinnati. To the other programmers, he's just the guy who filled in for Rush once or twice, and has a popular local show in Cincinnati.

We're not saying "Live On Sunday Night, It's Bill Cunningham" is destined to become an also-ran, or that the show needs to totally water down. Bill Cunningham is Bill Cunningham.

But national radio isn't the Cincinnati talk radio playground that Mr. Cunningham has dominated from 12:20 to 3 PM weekdays. And with every talk show host from Rush on down the line getting hammered by protesters in the pre-election season, he might want to lay just a LITTLE low - and build his national reputation slowly.

Of course, we've never met the one and only Darryl Parks. We've only heard him do his Saturday "Midday" show on WLW itself. But we can almost hear him laughing at the prospect of Bill Cunningham dialing it back a notch or two.

Just some advice...

1 comment:

ira said...

Cunningham also lost Houston.