Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Clear Channel Flips Have Flopped

About three months ago Clear Channel flipped four liberal talk radio stations to other formats claiming that the stations were not performing well.

Now, the results are in and it appears that format flips have proved to be flops.

Also, according to an article that appeared in the Columbus Dispatch, where the lib talk station, WTPG/1230, was flipped to conservative talk, it appears that CC’s motives were not to improve to the programming but rather to protect dominant status of their heritage conservative talk station WTVN/610.

During the last two weeks of December, stations operated by CC in Boston, MA and Columbus, and Cincinnati, OH dropped lib talk in favor of new formats.

WXKS/1400-WKOX/1200 in Boston became The Rumba (a music format targeting Hispanics). WTPG in Columbus became a conservative talker with new call letters – WYTS, and WSAI in Cincinnati was changed to eclectic mish mash of lifestyle talk calling itself The Source.

Now the Winter Arbitron survey results are in and the news for Clear Channel are not good.

Hispanics in Boston have not picked up on the Rumba where listenership has dropped by 75%. Conservatives in Columbus, who seem to be happy with WTVN, are not flocking to WYTS, which saw listenership fall by 38%. And talk radio listeners in Cincinnati are not tuning to The Source, which has resulted in stunning 90% decline in WSAI’s ratings.

Collectively, the three stations have lost about 70% of listenership over the past three months.

Next ratings period we will see how the other CC flips have worked out --e.g. in Akron, WARF/1350 and in New Haven WAVZ/1300 where the stations have switched to Sports.

Remember what CC managers said at the time that they announced these three flips.

"It wasn’t working. We thought it best to do something else," said Tony Bender, program director at WTPG.

Obviously, what Bender came up with is apparently working less.

We’ve reported extensively on comments made by Darryl Parks, CC’s operation manager in Cincinnati who refers to himself as "the 'Grim Reaper' of liberal talk radio."

"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."

Tom Thon, CC’s market manager in Columbus told the Dispatch that the format flip was just a "business decision".

"Unfortunately, central Ohio listeners did not respond to the progressive format," Thon said. "It’s been very underperforming in ratings and revenue."

However, that same newspaper in Columbus revealed that CC might have had a different motivation.

On Wednesday, the Dispatch, reporting on the sharp ratings declines experienced by WYTS, confirmed that CC had no desire to return to lib talk in spite of the miserable ratings they were receiving for the newly launched conservative talk format.

"The station now ties up talk-show hosts such as Laura Ingraham, Bill O'Reilly and Michael Savage in case another station in town wants to flip an FM station to talk,"the Dispatch reported.

So it seems that "the business" decision that CC made was not designed to get higher ratings for WTPG (WYTS), but rather to protect their conservative talk franchise on WTVN.

Lib talk radio fans in Boston, Columbus, and Cincinnati are working hard to get the format back in their respective markets. For more information check out their discussion boards.


Anonymous said...

Maybe it's time to contact CBS radio and ask them to put in a progressive station.

Emacee said...

The issue is not ratings but sales revenue. If these stations make more money (regardless of what happens to the ratings numbers) they win.
Fans of liberal talk need to deal with the issue of selling liberal talk, which is almost impossible since all we known are the meaningless 12+ AQH share beauty contest numbers.
CBS already has a progressive talk station. It's in Seattle and it seems to be doing well. CBS right now has even more business problems than Clear Channel. In addition, CBS is moving away from political talk - all political talk.
The future of talk radio is non-ideological talk radio - talk radio without water carriers.
The good news is the right wing hosts won't be around much longer either.

barooosk said...

CBS also owns WWKB in Buffalo. But you are right. They will not be providing much help to liberal talk radio.

ltr said...

Actually, WWKB is Entercom. They also own WROC down the road in Rochester.

The only one CBS currently owns is KPTK in Seattle, though they did own the one in Fresno a while back prior to selling it.

Emacee said...

Baroosk, I can relate. I've gotten names crossed a time or two, as well. It's not a typo but there doesn't seem to be a name for it. LOL.

This topic is similar to radio board threads about Standards and Oldies stations which flipped and got lower ratings but apparently became more salable. Sports sells. Hispanic sells. Urban sells. AC sells. Country sells. Few major advertisers will buy talk radio - any talk radio. The irony is what attracts listeners often repels advertisers. In terrestrial radio, advertisers pay the piper and call the tune. This is the main advantage of satellite radio, where listeners pay.

Phoenix Woman said...

Of course this is Clear Channel we're talking about here. Their bosses are Bushies. They're not going to spend the time and energy on selling progressive talk that was and is spent on promoting conservative talk, both on radio and TV. (Rush Limbaugh's show alone took several years, tens of millions of dollars and the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine for his William-Simon-inspired handlers to incubate; in those early years it was essentially given away to rural stations in need of cheap programming. And everyone knows the role of Simon's Olin Foundation in forcing America's media and discourse rightward.)

If this were all about ratings, Phil Donahue's MSNBC show would still be on the air. Instead, it was cancelled even though it had the best ratings by far of the infant MSNBC's lineup: Because they weren't going to back a voice that opposed Bush or the Republicans, especially in the rush to sell America on the Iraq invasion. (Which is why CBS just fired former General Batiste for opposing Bush with the Vote Vets ad, even as tons of pro-Bush/pro-Iraq-occupation generals are given big bucks to give us the Bush party line.)

raccoonradio said...

Political talk radio will still be around but maybe in not so great numbers. You have local talkers plus syndicators like Westwood One, ABC,
Premiere, Jones, Air America, and TalkRadioNetwork all trying to offer shows but there's only so much airtime and only so much interest.

As the old song went, "Only the Strong Survive". Your strongest talk hosts on the left and right will
continue but others will fall by the wayside. And yes, some stations
will shift to formats like sports
that are "more sale-able"

>>The issue is not ratings but sales revenue
>>The future of talk radio is non-ideological talk radio

I agree with the first; as for the second, there WILL still be political talk radio but only with
the strongest hosts. And yes mixing in pop culture with politics is the best bet.

>>Sports sells. Hispanic sells. Urban sells. AC sells. Country sells. Few major advertisers will buy talk radio - any talk radio.

That's true, too, but there will
still be SOME talk radio around.

In Boston Clr Chnl could have made a good effort to get ratings for
WKOX/WXKS with a stronger signal
(due soon for WKOX), a daily local host, and more publicity. When the ratings--and the sales--didn't
materialize, the format dropped and people shook their heads at the idea that liberal talk failed in
BOSTON! (Though maybe many on the Left enjoy NPR, or AAR/Jones shows
via satellite radio)

raccoonradio said...

It is possible that Clear Channel tried to put prog talk on with the intention of having it fail (see?
prog talk is doomed to fail) or that maybe it was a way to rid the efforts
of bringing back the Fairness Doctrine.

As it is, had it not been for Clear
Channel, there wouldn't have been too many prog talk stations to be had
(was the peak around 80 or 90? I believe it's about 42 now). Though here in New England the surviving Prog Talk stations are owned by the likes of Saga and Nassau Broadcasting. (Clear Channel dumped it in Providence & Boston)

barooosk said...

emacee said..The irony is what attracts listeners often repels advertisers. In terrestrial radio, advertisers pay the piper and call the tune.

This is the same game the station owners play. They say they are making a change because of low ratings. Then when that problem goes away they switch to saleability issue. I'm reminded of KOMY in Santa Cruz, CA where the owner said he was not able to sell one ad in a year and half, so he flipped from lib talk to oldies. Meanwhile there's an even smaller lib talk station down the road that sells dozens of ads per week.

RussKC said...

raccoonradio said...

It is possible that Clear Channel tried to put prog talk on with the intention of having it fail


This is a tune I've been singing for a while. I think Clear Channel is trying to poison the well of Progressive Talk.

They put the format on their weaker stations, then don't market it, and sell ads for a pittance (if at all) ... and then shrug their shoulders and say, "ProgTalk sucks, because no one listens and ad revenue is way down. You want to have a popular station? Don't program it with Progressive Talk."

Emacee said...

Baroosk, I can understand your skepticism. People in radio are among the most accomplished liars in the country. Right up there with politicians and way ahead of used car salesmen.

Financials are hard to come by but I did find BIA figures for the Denver market which may illustrate the problem progressive talk stations face.

In Denver, Clear Channel operates three talkers:
- 50kw blowtorch KOA with Rush and an otherwise local-live news/talk and sports schedule.
- KHOW with local-live talk in AM drive, late morning and PM drive plus O'Reilly, Beck and Dr. Laura.
- And libtalker KKZN with Jay Marvin's local show plus Hartmann, Big Ed, Randi, et al.

In 2006....
KOA averaged a 5.2% share of the audience and a 10.5% share of total market sales revenue.
KHOW averaged 2.9% of the audience and 3.2% of market revenue.
KKZN averaged 1.5% of the audience with 1.2% of market revenue.

Advertising buys tend to be concentrated on the top stations; the stations at the top of their formats get a disproportionate share of ad dollars.

But BIA numbers published for Philadelphia show revenue per share point is much higher on some stations than others. FreeFM out bills the local Oldies stations (which has a much larger audience); FreeFM's revenue per share point is about double that of the Oldies stations. Sports also gets a very good return-per-share-point.

So when station owners say they can't sell libtalk, I doubt it. But it does seem they can't make as much money selling libtalk as they might with other formats.

barooosk said...

BIA numbers are usually pretty accurate. Okay so, the lib talk station KKZN is only getting 1.2% of ad revenue. Since Denver generate about $40,000,000 per year in ad sales revenue KKZN is getting $480,000. That's not too bad.

Emacee said...

It's not too good either. San Antonio may give local managers latitude in programming but they look carefully at revenue performance and compared to other properties, the station is under-performing.

Missy said...

For the most part, the Democratic Party support for Prog Talk has been anemic. I've heard a state lawmaker say that his state's Democratic Chair would consider any financial support for Prog Talk by loaded libs as competition for Party or candidate fundraising. Howard Dean may get it but it's not filtering down. Dems with stature need to be encouraging businesses, Unions, and PACs to support venture capitalists to BUY RADIO STATIONS. Dems should be leaning on businesses, unions and service orginizations to support the format by ad purchases too.

Emacee said...

Excellent point. Although I think the mindset of "financial support" as donations is damaging to the progressive talk format in the long run.
But there are people with money, who got their money the old fashioned way - they earned it (rather than inherited it) - who are politically progressive, who have supported Democratic candidates and progressive causes and - most important - who own businesses. The Democratic Party (and other progressive fund-raisers) should make these lists available to progressive talk stations. These business owners would be most likely prospects to advertise on progressive talk stations. Right-wing talkers sell to right-wing business owners, who buy time because they think everybody wants what they want. Progressive talkers should use the same approach with progressive advertisers.
Even public radio "sells" corporate sponsors based on the business value of the sponsor's message reaching the public radio audience (the pitch about "supporting" public broadcasting is reserved for pledge drives).

Missy said...

What we need to encourage Democratic Party officials to *lean on* progressive business owners to support the format is a Progressive Talk Political Action Committee. Prog Talk fans could be encouraged to fund it. The PAC would also support lawmakers who support breaking up the concentration of ownership and get more stations in the hands of Mom and Pop owners. Does such a PAC exist? Anyone know how to go about it to make it happen? Such a PAC would make George Will have a coniption--see his Last word column in latest Newsweek mag.

AlanF said...

Thanks for the post, and especially the graph!

Emacee said...

Missy, I really urge you to think about what you are suggesting.
If progressive talk radio can not sell advertising on it's ability to reach people and deliver an audience, it does not deserve to exist.
The Democratic Party is hardly "progressive." It represents a history of copping out and selling out. AAR is already too much a tool of the DLC and the Zionists.
And "leaning in" on businesses to get them to advertise? That sounds like you are returning the Democratic Party to the old time machine bosses like Daly (Sr), Pendergast and Tweed.
Radio that is partisan propaganda is not something I want any part of.
Keep in mind the Democratic Party also takes money from broadcasters and the concentration of ownership you decry happened under Slick Willy.
Politicians are the problem, not the solution.

Missy said...

I would prefer the press of 120 years ago than todays'. At least various points of view got out there with newspapers published by political parties and the bias was right up front instead of our "fair and balanced" crap today. I believe that given a somewhat level playing field, Prog Talk can and will beat the Conservo-talkers. But most Prog Talk stations were put on crappy signals and intentionally not promoted. "Lean on" may have been too strong of language. But I can't see what's wrong with local Dems encouraging progressive business owners and service organizations to advertise and for Dems to provide sales staffs with a list. You don't ever think the Salem radio stations and ideological business owners are matched together by Repubs? I realize what Clinton and the DLC do. Progressives should work hard to counter that behavior within the Party. Backing Nader was a losing proposition. I can't see what's wrong with trying to educate Dems on the value of Prog Talk.

Emacee said...

In a way, we've gone back to the press of 120 years ago thanks to the Internet. The newspapers of that day were in content more like what we'd now call "blogs."

While I wouldn't want to see progressive talk radio and its hosts tied too closely to a party organization (especially one which has too often sold out progressive principles in the name of political expediency), and while I'm not quite comfortable with the idea of the party "leaning on" potential advertisers, I think making party donor lists available to station sales reps for "prospecting" is an excellent idea. Heck, the party and related groups make their lists available to lots of groups for lots of purposes.

To thrive, progressive talk needs to be able to take on Democrats who stray from progressive principles and politicians who disgrace progressives through misbehavior or incompetence. No of the same old "they do it, too" BS. We have to remove any beams from our own eyes first to have real credibility.

I'd also think current public radio sponsors would be a good place for progressive talk reps to go, as well. Maybe instead of using sales reps used to selling right-wing talk, progressive stations should hire corporate development people away from public radio.

And - as you say - a real problem is the POS weak sticks the progressive talk format is stuck with in many markets. I know some here won't agree, but at this point I think the format would be better off with no station in a given market. The strategy would be a "Gideon's Band" of stations with good coverage, strong local programming plus the best national shows, creative promotion, and solid sales and management to show the industry nut-jobs that there is an audience and the format can make money.

Missy said...


I think we're starting to agree. Other than Ed Schultz, Prog Talkers took Joe Lie-berman to task before the primary. My guess is that Bill Clinton could not have signed the Telecommunications Act if Prog Talk had been around in the 1990's. Of course Progressive Talkers should keep Dems accountable and I think they do. Thom Hartmann asked Charlie Rangle about trade policies recently and the line went dead and Hartmann criticizes him for it.

raccoonradio said...

Meanwhile the GM of WTWK in Burlington VT (take this for what it's worth) explained on the station's forum page that the decision to drop Air America was a hard one; they were getting zero ratings and as far a sales went,
while local advertisers in the left- leaning city did like the prog talk programming...

..they did not want to be associated with "Bush bashing"
fearing it would turn potential
customers off. He said that. (In years gone by VT was heavily Republican but these days Burl itself seems pretty liberal, from when I've visited...

Whether or not a conservative talk station bashing a Democratic president (we could have one in
Jan. of 2009) would turn off
advertisers...remains to be seen.

I'll add btw that WTWK (NOT
a Clear Channel station) has a weak
signal and was daytime only and basically they just dropped one
all-satellite service for another.

They could have just as easily gone
all satellite sports, all satellite
oldies, all satellite classic country...But apparently in the land of Howard Dean, they feel more
lifestyle-ish talk focusing on women would get better results than progressive talk.

Anonymous said...

This is a great posting! Have you thought about cross posting it to DKOS? There have been more and more postings there on this subject, and I would think it would be appreciated.
(BTW, If you do, be sure to include tags, including "progressive radio" so it will be listed for easier ref. Also, include a "Crossposted from ..." line. That can bring more readers back here.)

Dave in Columbus

raccoonradio said...

looks like WARF in Akron went from a 0.6 to a 0.8; flipped to sports on March 30. The 12 plus numbers as of
May 1 are on

barooosk said...

WARF in Akron went from a 0.6 to a 0.8; flipped to sports on March 30.

These numbers are meaningless because the flip occurred midway through the survey period.

Sue said...

When does the pity party for Clear Channel begin? LOL! I cannot get left/progressive talk ANYWHERE on the radio where I live in north central Ohio, so I stream it all. I also work for the Head On Radio Network, and everytime CC gets cute and drops stations, our listener base goes up. CC and the rest of the theo-neocons better get it through their heads (and their egos) that the mood in this country has definately shifted, and we just don't buy the bunk anymore! Just know that if you all find yourselves suddenly cut off from rational thought, please swing by our site and give a listen. Stop by the chat and tear off a few rants too! They can take away our stations, but they'll NEVER take away our voice! Peace to you all! - Sue (ELO)

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