Thursday, November 29, 2007

Lib Talk Returns to Columbus Ohio: One Down 16 to Go

Liberal talk radio returned to Columbus, OH on Monday morning, 11 months after it was unceremoniously dropped from WTPG/1230 to by Clear Channel.

According to Brian Rothenberg, of Progress Ohio, WVKO/1580 is the new lib talk station in Central Ohio. The station, which previously programmed an urban format for many years, has most recently offered Spanish programming. Here's what Rothenberg said in an email that we received on November 30.

Thanks to the efforts of Ohio Majority Radio and longtime radio executive Gary Edwards, central Ohioans will once again hear progressive talk from favorites like Stephanie Miller, Ed Schultz, and Randi Rhodes. We'll also hear coverage of local high school football, boys and girls basketball, and other local sports.

The email also asked supporters to make donations to fledgling lib talk venture.

The launch of WVKO represents the first "re-flip" of a lib talk station since station owners started dropping the format about a year. Since November 2006 17 radio markets have lost their only lib talk station. Interestingly, six of the nine rated stations in these markets have seen their shares fall since abandoning the format!

The WVKO line-up features seven of top syndicated lib talk hosts:

Bill Press, 6-9 AM

Stephanie Miller, 9 AM-12 NOON

Ed Schultz, 12 NOON-3 PM

Randi Rhodes, 3-6 PM

Rachel Maddow, 6-8 PM

Thom Hartmann, 8-11 PM and

Jon Elliott, 11 PM-2 AM

WVKO, is owned by Bernard LLC, which also owns WVKO-FM/103.1 which broadcasts a Spanish format. There’s an interesting string on discussing ownership issues involving the two Columbus stations.

WVKO general manager Gary Richards told the Columbus-Dispatch, that the coming political year had a lot to do with the programming change at the station.

"[With] AM stations, you're kind of limited in what you can do," Richards said. "Music is a losing proposition on AM, and we had to find a niche, and we think there is one in political talk -- especially with 'something big' (the 2008 election) going on next year."

Clear Channel flipped WTPG/1230 (now called WYTS) from lib talk to conservative talk on Jan. 1 of this year. CC also owns and operates the number one talk station in market WTVN/610, which is also a conservative talker. Since flipping WCOL/WYTS, the station has seen is ratings in the market drop from a high of 1.4 in the Spring of 2006 to 0 in Fall of 2007.

Ohio Majority Radio has maintained an active profile on the internet with a Yahoo discussion group and a petition drive. While its attempts to convince CC management that the decision to offer a second right-wing talk station in predominantly Democratic central Ohio was a bad one, they have apparently succeeded to make that argument with the owners of WVKO.

WVKO is a 3200 watt station that offers very good coverage of the Columbus market.

Here are the other 16 markets where the only lib talk station has flipped formats in the past year:

Market/Station/New Format
Akron WARF AM Sports
Austin KOKE AM Spanish
Binghamton WYOS AM Sports
Boston WXKS AM Spanish
Burlington WTWK Womens Talk
Cincinnati WSAI AM Sports
Corpus Christi KCCT AM Sports
Duluth-Superior KQDS AM Oldies
El Paso KHRO AM Alternative
Little Rock KDXE AM Sports
Memphis WSMB AM Sports
New Haven WAVZ AM Sports
New Orleans WWWL AM Conservative Talk
Portland, ME WLVP AM Sports
Quad Cities, IA WKBF AM Christian
San Antonio KTXX FM Spanish

Good job Progress Ohio and Ohio Majority Radio! Now that’s one down 16 to go.

For more information on markets that have lost their lib talk station go to Non-Stop Radio.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

"Balanced Talk" Doubles Down in Southern California

The newest "balanced" talk radio station KGIL/1260, which features Michael Jackson, the highest rated liberal talk show host in the 1990s, will make a significant move to increase it’s coverage and hopefully its ratings when XESURF/540 flips from country to talk on Tuesday.

Combined the two stations offer reasonably good daytime coverage in the two largest radio markets in the Southern California region – Los Angeles and San Diego. KGIL puts a good signal over the northern two thirds of the L.A. market. 540 AM, as it is known, which broadcasts out of Tijuana, provides decent coverage in the San Diego market. We can even hear it here in the world headquarters of Talking Radio in Orange County (which constitutes the other third of the L.A. market.)

Unfortunately, the newly merged stations will be beefing up their conservative talk line up when they launch 540 AM. Lars Larsen (3-5 pm) will join Neal Boortz (7-9am) to bolster the right-side of spectrum. Jackson holds up the liberal side, with a two hour show (7-9am) that will be repeated (5-7pm).

However, the big news it that sex and relationship guru Drew Pinksy will be launching a daily talk show, targetted for syndication, calling it the "Dr. Drew Show." Pinksy is one of the country’s longest surviving talk hosts. For the past 22 years he has participated on "Loveline" which is syndicated, Sunday-Thursday nights, on over a 100 stations – mostly FM rockers. Pinksy currently co-hosts Loveline with Ted Stryker.

It’s hard to believe that Pinsky will continue to do both shows. That would be 20 hours a week of radio for a guy that also is practicing physician and the father of triplets!

Pinsky joins Dr. Joy Brown (1-3pm) on the non-political side of the new twin talker. The line-up is completed with a one hour show by Larry King (yes he still does a radio talk show) from 7-8pm. No attempt will made to continue talk in late evening and early morning when the two stations reduce power. Listeners who find either station at these times will hear standards music.

Saul Levine, owner of KGIL and operator of Mexican owned 540 AM said he was making move because he felt that the demise of KLSD/1360 created an opportunity. As we know, KLSD in San Diego dropped liberal talk two weeks ago, after a three year run, and is now offering a sports format.

"We felt the need to access an audience in San Diego as well as provide an alternative frequency for Orange County," Levine said.

It is strange that Levine has not chosen to offer other liberal hosts. There are several nationally syndicated lib talkers that are not offered in Los Angeles, including Lionel, The Young Turks, Jon Elliott and Peter B. Collins. Also, Levine must be aware that Stacy Taylor, the only local weekday talker on the now defunct KLSD, is looking for a job. We got an email from Taylor on Friday stating that he was mulling over an offer from Clear Channel to host an early evening show on their conservative San Diego station KOGO/600.

Go ahead Saul... make Stacy an offer that he can’t refuse.

KGIL/540-AM is the latest of several balanced talk stations to launch in the past two months. Others include 3WT/1500 in Washington and WTAN/1340 in Tampa.

In fact, according to our records there are at least three dozen balanced talk stations on the air right now. These stations include KGO/810 in San Francisco, WRJN/1400 in Milwaukee, WJNO/1290 in West Palm Beach, and WTDY/1670 in Madison.

We define a "balanced talk station" as a stations that offers at least two liberal talkers and at least one conservative talker on weekdays. We have identified about a 100 talk stations that carry one syndicated liberal talk host. About half of these stations offer Alan Colmes, about 25 offer Ed Schultz, and the balance contain other syndicated lib talkers. We call these stations "marginals."

Are we going to see more balanced and marginal talk stations launch in the future? It’s hard to say.

The fact is, that you count the full time liberal stations that have launched this year on the fingers of one hand and they have all shown up in small or unmeasured markets.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Wendell to Fill In for Malloy, Colmes, and Mr. K

The Thanksgiving holiday is providing one talk radio host something to be thankful for.

Johnny Wendell, who regularly hosts a talk show on KTLK/1150 in Los Angeles on Saturdays from 7 to 9 am, will be busy over the coming week filling in for other hosts who will partaking in Thanksgiving holiday festivities.

On Wednesday, Wendell will be filling in Mike Malloy on Nova M Radio and on Thursday (Thanksgiving Day) he will be sitting in for Fox Radio late night host Alan Colmes. You can find out how to catch Wendell here for the Malloy show and here for the Colmes show.

Listeners in Los Angeles can also catch Wendell on KTLK where he be filling in for Marc "Mr. K" Germain on Thurdsay and Friday from 3 to 7 pm.

If you haven’t had a chance to hear Wendell, try to catch his show over the next few days. He is funny and passionate and does a talk show the old fashioned way. That is, he focuses on one topic per hour and if you don’t agree with him by the end of the hour, you probably have changed the station.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Sports Talk 3 Lib Talk 0 in San Diego

It has been a week since Clear Channel pulled the plug on liberal talk radio in San Diego and lib talk supporters are now finding out that they were being used while the radio station group finalized it’s efforts to launch the third sports station in the market.

While 19 lib talk stations (six owned by CC) have ceased to exist during the past year, the flip of KLSD/1360 represents the most serious blow yet to the format. (Ironically ratings for the station were up 33% in the last Arbitron Survey.)

KLSD was, by far, the largest lib talk station to drop the format. In fact, listenership for the San Diego station was more than double that of any of the other stations that have dropped lib talk.

It was the first station on the West Coast, serving an Arbitron Radio market, to drop lib talk. Arguably, before the KLSD flip, you could drive from the Mexican border to the Canadian border and always be able to tune in to lib talk station. If the format is struggling in some parts of the country, it has been doing quite well in the West Coast. (28% of lib talk listeners live in the three states bordering the Pacific Ocean)

KLSD was the only station to drop the format that had a daily local talker. Listeners in San Diego were particularly outraged to lose the morning talk show hosted by popular Stacy Taylor. Ironically, Taylor and his team had won an award at the San Diego Press Club's 34th annual journalism the night before his show was dropped. (Stacy is currently mulling over an offer to be carried in an evening time slot on KOGO/600, CC's conservative talk station in San Diego.)

One of many posters on the Save KLSD message board expressed his steadfast support for KLSD morning talker.

As one of the many loyal listeners of The Stacy Taylor Morning Show, I have to say, when the show is gone I will not suddenly decide to listen to any of the other Clear Channel stations. In fact, I will do everything in my power to never listen to a Clear Channel affiliate again.And the termination of lib talk at KLSD was handled very differently than the other format flips over the past year. Virtually all of the other flips were carried out with little or no advance notice and corporate and station managers remained tight lipped.

However, the flip of KLSD (now called 1360 Xtra Sports) was handled very differently. Clear Channel announced that they were thinking of flipping the station’s format over two months before the flip was made.

The station’s program manager, Cliff Albert, actually encouraged listeners to voice their support for continuing the lib talk format. Albert even posted encouraging messages on the KLSD website and spoke at rallies attended by hundreds of KLSD listeners.

However, despite receiving many hundreds of emails, an on-line petition with over 4,500 signatures, and several appeals from station advertisers, the flip was made. It seems that Albert’s boss, Bob Bollinger, CC’s San Diego Operations Manager, was quietly planning the change while Albert was sweet talking hundreds of lib talk fans.

Bollinger, who never spoke publicly about the matter during the two month long kabuki dance directed by Albert, told the San Diego Union Tribune on November 9 (three days before the flip.)

"I think there's always room for another great restaurant, no matter whether there's one in town or 10 in town. And we feel, with the foundation that we have through our Chargers broadcasts (on sister station Rock 105.3), that we could put on a good product with good content."

Actually, Bollinger played his hand a month earlier when he told the San Diego Union Tribune on October 13 that Clear Channel had hired Chris Ello, a longtime sports talker in San Diego.

John Bauder, writing in the San Diego Reader reported that a day earlier, John Lynch, chief executive of XX Sports parent, Broadcast Company of the Americas, tendered his resignation from the San Diego Radio Broadcasters Association. (XX Sports is the number 1 sports radio station in San Diego.) Lynch complained that the "dominant member" of the association (Clear Channel) "continues to engage in what I believe is anticompetitive behavior."

The "anticompetive behavior" concerned a move by CC to contact 19 of XX Sports employees "to discuss employment on one of their new formats."

Then on October 15, Brad Samuel, KLSD’s top ad sales executive, sent out an internal e-mail jubilantly declaring, "XTRA Sports -- Welcome Home!" It gave the details of the flip and even listed the talent.

According to Bauder’s report "the next day, Samuel tried to retrieve the e-mails, claiming he had sent them by accident. He profusely begged forgiveness but announced who the general manager and program director would be."

The mixed messages delivered by CC managers over the weeks before the KLSD flip, elicited the following response from one San Diego radio veteran.

"In my years in the business, I have never seen something so badly handled," said Ron Bain, former president of CBS Television Sports. "For months this has been rumored; they have denied it, said they were thinking about it. If you are going to flip a format, flip it."

Meanwhile, Albert is still at it. He has started a blog called San Diego Progressive Talk encouraging backers of lib talk to once again register their support for the now defunct format.

He wants them to convince lib talk syndicators like Air America Radio and Jones Radio to license their talk programs for an HD radio channel that Clear Channel could launch so that the 50 people in San Diego who own HD radios can listen to lib talk.

Finally realizing that they have been taken for ride, one commenter on Albert’s blog summed up the feelings of the legions of disgusted lib talk fans.

"Clear Channel is run by corporate swine (who care about nothing other than making money) and their gutless mid-mangers who do as they're told."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sirius Signs Black Activist for Midday Talk Slot

Sirius Left (channel 146) launched a new talk radio show today – "Make It Plain," hosted by Mark Thompson – but in doing so, the satellite radio channel had to drop one of the leading national liberal talk show hosts.

Thompson, the first African-American to get a weekday slot on Sirius Left, is a veteran talker whose career included stints on WOL in Washington and more recently as the first African American host on XM.

To make room for Thompson, Sirius dropped Stephanie Miller and cut Ed Schultz’ show from three to two hours. Schultz, Mike Malloy and Thom Hartmann are the only lib talkers carried on both satellite services.

Sirius described their new lib talker as someone who will speak passionately about political, social, and economic issues from an African-American perspective. Their press release calls Thompson "an African-American broadcast pioneer, human rights visionary, and community leader, who launches with a powerful, high-profile and stellar lineup of guests from the African-American community." Make It Plain will air weekdays, 5 to 9 pm.

The rest of the Sirius line-up remains unchanged.

Bill Press, 6 to 9 am
Alex Bennett, 9 am to noon
Thom Hartmann, noon to 1 pm
Lynn Samuels, 1 to 3 pm
Ed Schultz, 3 to 5 pm
Mike Malloy, 9 pm to midnight


In addition to Schultz (noon to 3 pm), Mike Malloy (10 pm to midnight) and Hartmann (8 to 10 pm), Air America Radio (Channel 167) on XM’s weekday schedule includes the following hosts:

The Young Turks, 6 to 9 am
Lionel, 9 am to noon
Randi Rhodes, 3 to 6 pm
Rachel Maddow, 6 to 8 pm


Sirius currently has 7.7 million subscribers (XM has 8.6 million). Arbitron reported satellite radio ratings for the first time during their Spring 07 survey. Sirius Left recorded a cume of 59,100 homes and AAR on XM recorded a cume of 109,600 according to Arbitron. The combined Sirius and XM cumes are slightly less the cumes recorded on WWRL in New York and KTLK in Los Angeles.

However, ratings scored by lib talk hosts on satellite radio do not generate ad sales. Accordingly, satellite radio does not provide a revenue stream for lib talk.

Thompson told a reporter for Tennessean that he’s looking forward to his new show on Sirius.

"It means that our audience will still have an opportunity to hear me and to continue with some of the things we started. To be able to talk about all of the political and social and economic issues of the day from an African-American's perspective is still very important."

"We all in America, the different cultures, speak different languages. That is OK; diversity is a good thing. However, in talk radio, there aren't a lot of African-Americans broadcasting nationally, so this is an important opportunity to step up to bring diversity to what is a very real cultural institution in America, and that's talk radio.

"Black talk radio has always had its own special place when it comes to the African-American community. It's something we need to keep alive, and satellite radio is one of the best places to keep that going."

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Two New York Stations Shake-up Their Morning Talk Line-Ups

Two New York talk radio stations – conservative WABC/770 and liberal WWRL/1600 -- have revamped their morning line-ups with new shows and new hosts.

WWRL, the Air America Radio flagship station in New York, the number one radio market, dumped its morning show co-hosted by Sam Greenfield and Armstrong Williams on Friday and launched a new show featuring two veteran lib talkers -- Richard Bey and Mark Riley.

Bey has racked up extensive experience as a talk show host and TV personality over the past dozen years. He was a weekday host on WABC, until he was fired in 2003 after coming out against the war Iraq. In addition, he has hosted comedy TV shows on WCBS/Chan 2 and WWOR/Chan 9 in New York.

Bey is teamed up with Riley, who co-hosted an AAR talk show with another funny guy named Marc Maron. It looks like WWRL is looking for same kind chemistry that has been sorely missed on the lib talk network since Morning Sedition was cancelled a year and a half ago.

The big news however, is the shake-up soon to occur cross-town on WABC. Last week it was officially announced and widely reported that Don Imus will be returning to radio as the morning host on New York’s number one talk station.

Imus, who lost his syndicated radio talk show (as well as his TV simulcast on MSNBC) after referring to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as "nappy-headed hos," replaces the duo of Curtis Sliwa and Ron Kuby, who had occupied the morning slot for over eight years.

According to Phil Boyce, vice president for news-talk programming at Citadel Communications, the owner of WABC, they will find a new slot for Sliwa, but it appears that Kuby the popular duo’s liberal voice, has been shown the door.

Asked about his abrupt dismissal, Kuby had the following comment:

"Our show has enjoyed the best audience: intelligent, compassionate, decent and kind. The new owners don't want that kind of show."

Boyce seems very happy knowing that Imus will part of WABC weekday line-up, which is without a local talker during AM drive, for first time since the station converted to talk in 1982.

"The truth is, the lineup is more consistent, top to bottom," he posted on the radio-info board.
"Now...I can drive traffic from morning to noon to night...and get that TSL up to astronomical numbers, which in turn gives me better shares."

However, it doesn’t appear that Imus will produce "astromical" shares for WABC. When the I-Man was carried on WFAN/660, he was consistently beaten in the ratings by Curtis and Kuby. Moreover, WABC has underperformed as New York’s top talker. In the most recent Arbitron survey the station’s average share was 3.1 – that’s 31% lower than KFI/640, the top talker in the number two L.A. Market, which recorded a 4.5 share.

Citadel plans to use WABC as a flagship station as they attempt to syndicate Imus' show.

Boyce doesn't see a problem with the fact Imus' show will be syndicated around the country, meaning it will almost certainly have less local content than Curtis and Kuby.

"I've found that if something interesting is happening in New York, the rest of the country wants to hear about it," says Boyce. "So we'll still be paying attention to what's happening here."

However, conservative blogger Brian Maloney is concerned about this development. He called the hiring of Imus, who he refers to as "the crusty old fossil" an "injustice" that "could send a number of ABC-Citadel staffers straight to the unemployment lines.

Maloney presented a list of the Citadel talkers that were at risk to be dumpled when Imus is syndicated. The list includes:

  • WABC -- New York's Curtis & Kuby Show (this one is already a done deal)
  • KABC /790 -- Los Angeles morning host Doug McIntyre
  • KSFO/560 -- San Francisco's Lee Rodgers & Melanie Morgan Program
  • WBAP/820 -- Dallas's WBAP Morning News with Hal Jay (and possibly part of Mark Davis's program as well)
  • WJR/760 -- Detroit's Paul W Smith
Since all of these hosts are very conservative, it would be a very unwelcome development for right-wingers, like Maloney, who consider Imus, who is opposed to the war in Iraq, to be almost a liberal.

This is not surprising. Since the passage of Telecommunications Act of 1996 which allow conglomerates like Clear Channel and Citadel to gobble up radio stations and replace local radio programs with syndicated shows and voice tracking, more than 50% of local talkers have been dumped and replaced with syndicated shows.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Blogging from South Florida

We are blogging from South Florida this week (while Hurricane Nicole lingers about 150 miles offshore.) The last time out on the road we didn’t even try to blog. This time we found a comfortable business center in a Miami Beach condiminium and we're going to take a shot at it.

And there is much to blog about. Glenn Beck’s latest outrage suggesting that movies like “Happy Feet” and “Superman Returns” are attempts by Hollywood to push a “one world government"; successful efforts by minority groups in Minneapolis and Cincinnati to get station owners to take action against racist comments by talk hosts; the spat between Ed Schultz and WABC PD, Phil Boyce (and others) about whether the New York conservative talk station is poorly managed; and whether Clear Channel is trying to censor Bruce Springsteen.

Instead we’ve decided to cross-post a message that appeared yesterday on News/Talk board on a thread dealing with the WABC ratings issue. The message, posted by Radnowski, offers an articulate and cogent take on the state of talk radio in general and liberal talk in particular. Here it is:

This thread has been interesting, entertaining, informative and to an extent, exasperating. Much like talk radio. In some instances, this thread has devolved to a "mine's bigger than yours" posting match. In other ways, it's been an informative class in Arbitron 201: Cume, Quarter Hour Shares, Persons, Ratings Points, Turnover Ratios, TSL... I'm surprised a few sales types haven't jumped in with Gross Ratings Point, Reach and Frequency. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Somewhere between Free FM (moment of silence, please) and what passes for Talk radio from Hannity, Schultz and others (notice I use a lefty and righty) these days lies the future of the talk format. Maybe it's somehwere between the politics of Hannity/Schultz and the lunacy of Opie & Anthony. Maybe it's NPR crossbred with The Daily Show.

One thing about talk radio these days, it's old. It sounds old and it appeals to old people. What's old? 45+? 55+? 65+? A friend of mine, a 43 year old attorney who lives on Staten Island has long ago tired of me asking him about talk radio in the Big Apple. He doesn't listen. Why? "It's for old people, WABC is a parody of itself," he says. "But why?" I wonder. He reponds, "There's very little there I'd want to listen to for any length of time." I persist, "WABC is a legendary station. You're an attorney, doesn't even Kuby interest you?" "No, he's an ass... and he's hopelessly liberal." "You're a third generation Republican, a legacy... surely you'd like Hannity and Rush." "They don't speak for or to this Republican," he replies. He loved Stern and listened to NPR. What's up with THAT!?

So Phil [Boyce], what's the median age of a WABC listener these days? I'm sure the qualitatives look nice, upper demo and upper income, with plenty of white guys from the burbs who drive Mercury Marquis and Buick Park Avenues. Ah, but those land-barges do have a nice ride.

Much as I was intrigued by what Air America might do, it was readily apparent within a few weeks of their launch that they would fail. Fail across the board and fail especially when going up against stations like WFAN, WABC, WRKO, WJR, WLW, KFI and WWL... you'll recognize these as the "heritage talkers," the Big Daddy 50 kW flamethrowers. The AA affiliates and AA itself lacked discipline and substance. It had plenty of style, but very little form. It more resembled an amoeba than a vertabrate.

This having been said, it did have potential. Randi Rhodes can be shrill, but she knows how to push the buttons and work the room. Too bad the whole Air America platform reeked of poor design and execution. Leasing time? Buying stations? WTF? Get a network up and running, polish it, work it, sell it, promote it and improve it day by day.

Most Progressive Talkers are running on life support these days. I often thought that when CC committed to Progressive talk, it intentionally co-opted it. Sure, progressive talk does well in a few markets, notably Portland, Oregon. Buffalo has a 50 kW flamethrower on 1520 that, according to recent ratings, attracts about 27 people on a good day. Bill Press, Stephanie Miller, Randi Rhodes, Ed Schultz and Alan Colmes can't get arrested here.

...Wonder how WABC would fare against a full blown competitor operating on a 50 kW 1A (such as the 50 kW WCBS signal) that offered as solid (if not more resourceful) news department, as efficient vertical and horizontal promotion and equally talented and compensated (if not left of center) air talent that can be found on the very well-programmed WABC. The idea is purely hypothetical, but it's worth imagining.