Updated, Sunday, April 1 at 12:30 am. Update in boldface type.
With the announcement today, reported in Ohio Media Watch, that WARF-AM, 1360 in Akron is going to flip from liberal talk to sports on Friday there will then be no lib talk station in the entire state of Ohio.
And this happens less than five months after the Democrats dominated the election results in the Buckeye State –sweeping all statewide elections including a U.S. Senate seat, the governorship and most state and federal legislative positions.
Shortly, thereafter Clear Channel Communication started switching out lib talk stations. The first station to go was WSAI-AM, 1360 in Cincinnati, which flipped to non-political talk on December 7. A month later, WTPG (now called WYTS) flipped to conservative talk
even though CC was already operating a right wing talk station in the Democratic leaning Central Ohio town . Now just over two months later CC has completed the trifecta, by flipping from lib talk to sports in Akron.
Is it possible that a broadcasting company that gives more money to the GOP than any other broadcasting company (about 95% of CC’s political donations go to Republican candidates) is trying to influence future elections in the important swing state of Ohio. They use to say "as Ohio goes, so goes the nation." This was definitely the case in 2006. Democrats swept all the key statewide races and went on to big a national victory.
CC’s Cincinnati Operation Manager, Darryl Parks, told the Cincinnati Post in December that lib talk needed to be dropped in the Queen City because it was "agenda driven."
"It was a format that was set up not to entertain, but it seemed set up to get people elected, for a lack of a better way to put it," Parks said. " "There were some good (liberal) shows, but they need to start looking to more broad-based subjects than just harping on politics."
Now that there are no lib talk stations in Ohio, Parks is probably less worried about losing elections.
Tom Thon, CC’s Market Manager in Columbus, was a bit more politically correct when he told Columbus Dispatch why they thought two conservative stations was a better idea than having one liberal and one conservative station.
"Unfortunately, central Ohio listeners did not respond to the progressive format," Thon said. "It’s been very underperforming in ratings and revenue."
Actually the ratings for WTPG were not that bad. Ratings had improved by 80% since the station was flipped from oldies to lib talk on September 7, 2004.
A group called Ohio Majority Radio was formed to protest the WTPG flip and to try to get another central Ohio radio station to pick up lib talk. They were able to get almost 3,000 people to sign a petition in support of their efforts. Some of the people involved in the successful effort to save lib talk on WXXM-FM, 92.1 in Madison are involved with Ohio Majority Radio.
The anticipated flip of WARF in Akron from lib talk to sports is the very strange. The station used to carry sports and never did very well. Ratings have been up about 25% since the switch. It is odd that they would go back to sports, especially since there are already three sports stations serving the market – Fox Sports affiliates WJMP-AM, 1520 and WHBC-AM 1480 and ESPN affiliate WKNR-AM, 750.
They even offered a daily local show with veteran Cleveland talk radio host Joe Finan. Joe left WARF several months ago and sadly passed away in December.
CC made a feeble attempt to explain why they were dropping lib talk in Akron by posting the following notice on the WARF website two days before the format flip.
It's Over. Radio Free Ohio will cease operations on Friday March 30 at 8:58 am
There’s an old expression in the ratings business that if you torture numbers enough they will tell you anything. It is clear that whoever wrote this pathetic message on the WARF website was doing just that. What the message fails to point out is that WARF had pretty decent ratings over the past year. (As noted above they were up 80%) The Fall book was the first poor ratings performance since switching from sports to lib talk a year and a half ago. Anyone in the radio business will tell you that you never make a programming decision on one bad book.
To say that lib talk is in free fall would be an understatement. In a little over a year, 24 stations that reached a potential audience of over 15 million radio listeners, have dropped the format. (See "the right column".) Nine of these stations are owned by CC. However, in fairness to the San Antonio based radio station owner, they also own and operate 14 of the remaining 56 full time lib talk stations.
Syndicators of sports of programming are no doubt hovering over the remaining universe of lib talk stations like vultures over dying carcass. Eight of the 24 stations that have dropped lib talk over the past the year have flipped to sports.