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.
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.)
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.