Saturday, January 06, 2007

Ready to Rumble in Boston and Columbus

The Air America Radio Network launched in handful of markets in April of 2004. After one year, the fledgling liberal talk network served 53 markets with 44 stations reaching a potential audience of 99,667,000 radio listeners. (AAR has an additional 25 stations that are not rated. These stations are not included in this analysis.)

By the end of its second year in existence, AAR reached its high point in coverage serving 70 markets with 59 affiliated stations reaching a potential audience of 110,307,000 radio listeners. Since that time, in early 2006, AAR has lost nine affiliates and 15,766,000 potential radio listeners. This represents a loss of about 15% of its coverage.

And the bleeding continues as we enter 2007. Unless, something dramatic happens this weekend, one of AAR’s oldest affiliates, WTPG in Columbus, OH will be flipping to conservative talk on Monday. That will result in the loss of another 1,382,600 potential radio listeners.

Few observers suspect that the switchouts will stop in Central Ohio. With the future of AAR still in doubt and the likely departure of the network's top talk host Al Franken, the first part of the new year could be very dicey.

The good news is that AAR does not dominate the lib talk market like it did a year ago. Right now Ed Schultz, who is syndicated by Jones Radio, is the number one lib talk host. Another Jones yakker, Stephanie Miller has added dozens of new affiliates this year. Also, added in the mix are syndicated talkers like Bill Press, Mike Malloy, and Peter B. Collins. Finally, there are more local liberal talkers now than there were a year ago. And of course, there is Alan Colmes if anyone is listening.

TR will be closely following the trials and tribulations of lib talk over the coming months. There are active campaigns in about half of the markets that have lost their local affiliate over the past year. We have identified campaigns in now underway in following markets.

Columbus, OH

Two of these markets – Boston and Dallas – have already lost their local lib talk station. The other market – Columbus, OH – is scheduled to drop lib talk on Tuesday.

TR has identified two other markets where there are organized campaigns to get a local station to pick up lib talk programming. In Milwaukee, a website has been set up to generate interest in bringing AAR to Milwaukee and in Cedar Rapids over 300 people have signed an on-line petition to to demonstrate support for the format there. (In nearby Quad Cities, the local AAR affiliate switched to Christian talk two months ago.)

Following is the status of the two most active campaigns – in Boston and Columbus – to restore lib talk on the radio airwaves.


What happened?

On December 21, Clear Channel flipped WXKS/WKOX to Spanish, leaving Boston – arguably the most liberal big city in the country without a lib talk station. Like usual, CC’s embattled station management used the "B" word when contacted by scores of angry radio listeners, who wanted to know why the change was being made. "It’s a business decision, nothing personal" callers were told by Michael Crusham, CC’s Boston market manager.

What has happened since?

A group was formed called, "Save Boston’s Progressive Talk" headed up by Robin Bergman, a local businesswoman. A website and petition drive has been initiated. (As of today over 1,100 people have signed the petition.) The group met last Wednesday at Panera’s Restaurant in Watertown. They will be holding another meeting at Panera’s on Monday.

Position Statement

Our voice, the voice of Boston, Eastern Massachusetts and Providence, RI was once at AM1200 (WKOX) and AM1430 (WSKS). Now it is silent, and thousands of Progressives in the Boston, Fall River and Providence area are left without an outlet for our political and social thought. While the region has over ten conservative talk radio stations, truly media saturation, the population is left without balance. At 12 noon [on December 21, 2006], Clear Channel changed AM1200 and AM1430 content to Spanish music. How does the bluest city in the bluest state in the union lose their progressive talk station? Well, lack of passion or dedication to the product/format, lack of local programming, lack of local advertising, a weak radio signal (which Clear Channel boosted AFTER the format change even though Boston Progressive Talk listeners had begged for the advancement for two years), a station basically set to "autopilot" in operations, and deliberate and conscious neglect by Clear Channel are big reasons. Progressive Talk listeners in the Boston, Fall River and Providence area are large, passionate, dedicated and hungry for a radio station that reflects their thoughts and values. If given a "real" chance a Progressive Talk radio station would flourish. Loyal listeners are meeting, brainstorming and planning for the future at
Join US!

Columbus, OH

What happened?

WTPG will switch from lib talk to conservative talk on Tuesday unless, a very active protest group can convince CC otherwise. Again CC’s management uses the "B" word to defend their bizarre decision to add another conservative talk station to the market – they already offer right-wing talk on WTVN.

What has happened since?

A group called "Ohio Majority Radio" has been formed with backing from some of the activists associated with successful campaign in Madison, which convinced CC to restore lib talk to WXXM. A website and petition drive has been initiated. (As of today over 2,000 people have signed the petition.)

A rally will be held Monday at the Statehouse in Columbus. Tentatively scheduled to appear at the rally will be Franklin County Commissioner, Mary Jo Kilroy, Ohio State Representative Dan Stewart and Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman. Also, participating in the rally will be Stephanie Miller, who will be devoting the final hour of her show (11 am to 12 noon) to simulcast with Columbus rally. Following the rally there will be a funeral procession from the Statehouse to the offices and studios of Clear Channel in Columbus.

Position Statement

On December 23, 2006, the Columbus Dispatch reported that WTPG-1230am Progressive Radio would be changing formats on Monday, January 9th. Instead of Stephanie Miller, Al Franken, Ed Schultz, Randi Rhodes and Rachel Maddow, Columbus will be subjected to the likes of Jim Quinn, Laura Ingraham and Michael Savage. The station will get new call letters, WYTS and will be promoted as "the Talk Station in Central Ohio" Bruce Collins, the local program director at Clear Channel, the owners of WTPG, says: "Whether it's politics or sports, financial information or general advice, central Ohio listeners will have the opportunity to talk about it on Talk 1230." Here in Ohio, we ARE the majority. In Ohio in 2006 almost 55% of the votes cast for statewide and legislative races were cast for Democrats. In Central Ohio that number were over 58%. And while Ohio turns blue, Clear Channel decides that they "cannot sell" progressive radio here. They've pulled out of Cincinnati and are leaving in Columbus. We have to show that we want progressive radio in Columbus and other places in Ohio.

The tactics being used in Boston and Columbus are very similar to the successful tactics used by activists in Madison over the course of their successful campaign to save the WXXM "the Mic." In Madison they employed a web page, a petition, community meetings, and even a funeral procession. The result was that Clear Channel wisely decided to acquiesce.

TR will be following the events in Boston and Columbus, so check back from time to time for updates. Also, if you have access to a lib talk affiliate or to internet streaming tune in to Stephanie Miller's show on Monday from 11 am to 12 noon for live coverage of the rally Columbus.

Hopefully, it won’t be "Goodbye Columbus" for lib talk on the radio.

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