Sunday, December 21, 2008

WVKO Losing Liberal Talk

Just a couple of weeks after Bernard Radio liberal talk WVKO/1580 Columbus celebrated its first anniversary, the format is about to go away.

Those associated with the current format, operated in a local marketing agreement by Gary Richards' Cowtown Communications, are announcing that the liberal talk format's last day will be Monday, December 22nd.

From the station's website:

WVKO AM will be changing format from “Progressive Talk” to “Religious” before the year is over. The station has been purchased, and the new owner will air Catholic Programming instead of Progressive Talk.

That "Catholic Programming" link leads you to the website of St. Gabriel Radio, the group which already owns two Catholic-themed radio stations in Ohio - including WUCO/1270 Marysville, which is being operated out of St. Gabriel's Columbus studios. (WFOT/89.5 Lexington, near Mansfield, is the other station.)

WUCO is something of a rimshot as far as Columbus is concerned. The apparent pending purchase of WVKO, which hasn't yet made it to the FCC website, would give the group an in-market signal.

But it displaces the "progressive talk" format in Columbus for a second time. The format was resurrected by Mr. Richards and company on WVKO just over a year ago, some time after Clear Channel flipped liberal talker WTPG/1230 to conservative talk "Talk 1230" WYTS...which also carries Premiere Radio sports talk mainstay Jim Rome.

As those associated with the about-to-die left-leaning talk format on WVKO start soaking in the news, the station's local programming has turned into something of a wake/goodbye.

The Saturday "Blue State Diner" show with news director Michael Alwood featured talk about the station's impending demise, with Mr. Richards himself talking about it via a call-in.

Richards told the show that they're trying to return the format "in some form" in the Columbus market, but didn't have a lot of specifics.

But, a followup call from a man claiming to be a long-time attorney of the WVKO general manager said Richards' company is "in talks with" WVKO owner Bernard Radio - over the possibility of purchasing the company's other Columbus market station, WVKO-FM/103.1 Johnstown.

Whether Mr. Richards can do that, financially, is anyone's guess. The current WVKO(AM) LMA operation has operated, by his own admission, as a "below shoestring operation", and he and others associated with the operation knew that Bernard Radio was actively shopping both stations.

To refresh a little history here, Bernard Radio is the operating arm of the D.B. Zwirn investment fund, which took over the former Stop 26-Riverbend stations out of bankruptcy. It, like other similar groups, are likely operating stations like these solely to keep their value for an eventual sale to another company or companies.

Of course, the radio sales market has basically cratered due to the economy and continuing credit crunch. St. Gabriel Radio has been doing its own fundraising to get the money to buy stations like WVKO.

Can Gary Richards find a path back to the radio dial on the FM side? Who knows?

WVKO-FM - which has been running a Spanish-language music format - is probably the worst FM rimshot in the Columbus market, which is full of them. It is a class A signal from far northeast of Columbus, near its city of license (Johnstown). Maybe that helps keep down the price.

We haven't driven the Columbus market recently to check out the signal, but 103.1's signal would appear to be but a rumor for the southern and western parts of Franklin County - even if the flutter could be reduced by turning off the FM stereo pilot in a talk format.

But...Richards and his Cowtown Communications are about to have no radio signal at all, as of Tuesday.

The station's final day of programming will feature what all involved say will be "an extended" edition of Dr. Bob Fitrakis' "Fight Back" show on Monday afternoon.

For the moment, at least, the WVKO website will continue. It's actually been under the administration of the Ohio Majority Radio folks, who have already put up another online petition to return the format to the Columbus airwaves.

The site says it'll also still offer up a progressive talk webstream featuring many of the station's current syndicated talk stars...

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