Monday, November 21, 2005

Air America Radio: No Growth in Last Six Months

Air America Radio Network launched on April 1, 2004. In the first 13 months of existence the liberal radio network grew to 61 affiliated stations serving a potential of just over 100M radio users (the so-called 12+ group)-- that's about 7.7 million new potential listeners each month! In the next six months AAR has added 14 stations and lost three -- WLTQ in Charleston, SC; WHJJ in Providence, RI and WHAT in Philadelphia.

The bottom line is that AAR is still available to just about 100,000 potential radio listeners. The rumor is that they will be losing their coverage on KTTX in Phoenix before the end of the year. -- That’s another 2.8 million potential listeners.

What is happening to AAR?

Have they hit the wall?

Are they just taking a pause before gaining coverage again?

Or are they starting to fade?

No growth in six months in either coverage or ratings. This is not good.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

How Clear Channel Saved Air America Radio

Air American Radio launched in April 2004 and immediately fell flat on its face. In less than two months the fledgling liberal network lost its affiliates in Los Angeles and Chicago, started bouncing checks for everything from payroll to studio rentals, and fired their CEO and several other members of top management.

Then something funny happened. While the media, especially the incumbent right wing talk radio pundits, were writing Air America Radio’s obituary, AAR researchers discovered some good news in a ratings report for the networks Portland, OR affiliate. It seems that Clear Channel Communications decided to give AAR a chance on a weak AM stations that it owned in Portland, OR. The station, KPOJ, 620 AM was struggling playing adult standards and generating an average share of less than a buck. Clear Channel decided to give AAR a chance. Afterall, Portland was considered a "liberal" market and there were already three talk radio stations there programming conservative talk radio. Well after one book, KPOJ, improved its average share by 1,000% and Clear Channel took notice. So while AAR’s backers were desperately trying to keep the struggling network from going under, the good news from the left coast provided a helpful surge.

With CC on board AAR’s fortunes started to improve. It seems that CC had bought so many stations over the past half dozen years that they suddenly realized that they owned a lot of AM dogs in some top markets around the country. Most of these stations played oldies rock n’ roll or standards and their miniscule audiences were literally dying off each month. So when CC struck gold with AAR in Portland they started converting AM stations in other markets to liberal talk radio. Eventually 21 CC stations became AAR affiliates and while this only represented 30% of all stations carrying AAR programming, these stations accounted for almost 70% of AAR’s ratings. While most of CC’s AAR stations are not doing as well as KPOJ, which now getting shares over 4, these stations are doing well enough.

CC seems to be happy with the performance of their AAR stations. However, one CC station, WHJJ in Providence has dropped most of the AAR programs including Al Franken’s Show in favor of locally produced talk. Also all CC stations offer Jones’ Liberal talkers Ed Schultz and several offer Stephanie Miller. What is most disturbing is that AAR has not been acquiring many new affiliates for several months now.

For the first year of the liberal talk radio networks existence they gained coverage on stations serving 100.000.000 radio listeners. However, in the last five months while AAR has acquired about a half dozen new affiliates they have not been able to expand their total coverage at all. This is largely due to the lose of WHJJ and two non-CC affiliates in Philadelphia and Charleston, SC. Now it is rumored that AAR will be losing its affiliate in Phoenix – KXXT.

Has AAR hit a plateau and will it be stuck here for awhile or is their lack of growth something more disturbing? What they must now do is concentrate on improving ratings. While it is not reasonable to expect liberal talk radio to establish parity with the leading conservative talk stations – which reach virtually all 200,000 12+ radio listeners in the measured markets. They won’t be able to do this, if for no other reason, than the quality of the stations carrying AAR and other liberal talk programming is significantly less than the stations carrying top conservatives talkers like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. For example, here in Los Angeles, Rush Limbaugh is on the 50,000-watt blowtorch station KFI 640-AM, that can be heard from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border. I can't even get the liberal talk stations from San Diego, KLSD and Los Angeles, KTLK on my car radio here in South Orange County (which is halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego.)

However, these stations must figure out a way to increase their ratings before starting a new push for increased distribution.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Guy James

It's been a good year and half for liberal talk radio. In March, 2004 there were no liberal talk stations and probably a dozen liberal talk hosts in the top 100 radio markets. Today the situation is much better.
  1. AAR launched in April, 2004 and is now carried on 70 stations.
  2. The Ed Schultz Show is now carried on 100 stations.
  3. There are probably three or four dozen liberal local talk show hosts in the top 100 markets.

So a guess it was bittersweet when I learned that Guy James was dropped by WINK/WNOG in Naples, FL. Guy has been broadcasting on Saturday afternoons in this reddest of counties in a red state for about three years. He had been on WINK/WNOG for about a year.

I enjoyed listening to Guy who has that kind of Midwest sensibility that Ed Schultz only pretends to have. He is an excellent talk radio host who is extremely patient with callers including some real oddballs and of course frequent right wing wackos. Probably the best part of Guy’s of show is a segment called "Republican Love," where he reads letters that he receives from right wingers. Guy would read the letters with a sweet love song playing softly in background. At typical letter would go like this:

“You no good communist pinko. How dare you say bad things about President Bush. President Bush is a good Christian man and we should all support him. Liberals like you are going to Hell and I can't wait til you die because you are a traitor to this great country. I am going to call the station the demand that they take you off the air.”

Guy would always joke that he was still on the air after three years of complaints from the right wing listeners who weren't happy with the three hours a week of liberal talk programming that listeners had to endure on Saturday afternoon on a station that carried wall to wall right wing talk on the rest of its schedule. He said that station dropped his show because they could allegedly make more money running football games.

The good news is you can still listen to Guy James. His show is streamed on Saturdays from 3 pm to 6 pm. EST. You link up to the stream on Guys website I hope that Guy gets back on the air real soon. I’m going to really miss listening to Republican Love.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Liberal Talk Radio Takes Off

Liberal talk radio has been steadily growing since Air America Radio launched in a handful of markets in April of 2004. Now 18 months later, the fledgling liberal talk radio network is carried in 70 markets serving over 60% of the country. However, despite the steady growth of AAR and the emergence of a few dozen other liberal talk radio hosts, the talk radio landscape is still dominated by conservative talkers. Conservative talk radio gets over 85% of the share of talk radio listeners. The other 15% is divided between liberal talk radio and non-political talkers like Dr. Laura, Dr. Joy Brown, and Phil Hendrie. In the top 25 markets there are three stations featuring conservative talk for every one station doing liberal talk. Typically, top right wing talkers like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are getting shares of 4 and 5 while liberal talkers like Al Franken and Randi Rhodes are getting shares of 1 and 1.5. Stations featuring conservative talk are more powerful and commercially successful than liberal talk stations. For example, here in Los Angeles, Rush Limbaugh is on the 50,000-watt blowtorch station KFI 640-AM, that can be heard from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border. I can't even hear the liberal talk stations from San Diego, KLSD and Los Angeles, KTLK on my car radio here in South Orange County.

Yet the growth of liberal talk radio over the past year and half has been very impressive. I attended a talk radio seminar hosted by Democracy Radio in Washington, DC in January of 2004. At that time, it was still four months before the start of AAR and Ed Schultz, who recently gained his 100th affiliated station was a talk radio host in Fargo, ND. I remember thinking how pathetic it was that we couldn't get a liberal talk radio host here in Los Angeles. (KABC had just canned Michael Jackson and Gloria Alred) and that even in San Francisco, that hotbed of liberalism, you had to stay up past 10 pm to hear to Bernie Ward and Ray Talifafero.
I remember what all the pundits (especially the right wing pundits) were saying when AAR was preparing to launch. They said liberal talk radio will never get off the ground. Liberals are too nuanced. They don't know how to succeed as talk radio hosts. The pundits noted that efforts by Mario Cuomo and Jerry Brown to do talk radio shows had failed and that AAR would certainly meet a similar fate. They chortled when AAR stumbled at the outset, when their original CEO, Evan Cohen, bounced a few checks and the network lost its affiliates in Chicago and Los Angeles.
But then a funny thing happened. While all the headlines were being generated about AAR's financial problems, the network had quietly succeeded to generate an audience in Portland, OR on KPOJ. That station which was owned by the radio industry largest group owner, Clear Channel, was converted from a struggling standards station which generated a share below one to a hot liberal talk station with a share of over 3 after its first book in the summer of 2004.
Ironically, it was Clear Channel, which gave 95% of its political money to Republicans and was the leading owner and operator of conservative talk radio that made AAR a success. Clear Channel owns twenty-seven of AAR’s affiliates and 65% of the network's listeners are tuning in to a CC station. Why did this happen? Why did it take 15 years after to emergence of Rush Limbaugh to get liberal talk radio off the ground? Why did a Texas based, Republican friendly, company become the networks prime benefactor. I'll answer those questions and more in the next edition of the Talking Radio Blog.