We continue the discussion after the fallout of AM1090 changing to sports with a Q and A we had recently with a local station owner we'll call Radio Guy. We kept his name and market out of it but he offers some insight to the changes going on now and how he remains hopeful in spite of changing technology and formats along with changes in ownership.
BlatherWatch: Is progressive talk done after a 6-8 year run? Some say NPR fills that void but most of their programming is news and features, with little call-in.
Radio Guy: Without a base of major cities, it will be a challenge for the syndicator(s) of those programs to maintain an advertising network. If they can hold on to even one top ten market and use that as an anchor point, they can make it work. But, it’s an open question as to whether that revenue model is enough to keep a major syndicator or the host interested. That being said, some of the hosts in the format are clearly talented and it’s likely they will be picked up by someone if they want to remain in radio.
If you can't sell progressive talk on the west coast, it can't succeed anywhere. I wish KLAY the best, but I've sold controversial programming, and without advertiser/believers it doesn't matter if you have a 1.0 share.
BW: Some stations have merged both progressive and conservative talkers like 960 in San Francisco, do you see more of that happening as this is what the market will bear as formats in some cities may be too heavy with the same programming?
RG: From a programming standpoint, it’s a questionable decision to try to be all things to all people. I haven’t looked at the research lately. Mixing programs like that is a roadblock to time spent listening. Can you create a larger audience base to overcome less time spent listening by mixing programming? I doubt it. If you’re relying on syndicated programming, I think you end up cannibalizing both because consumers have been trained to understand radio stations by formats. “If I turn on station ABCD, I’m going to get X every time.” If you’re 100% local, if you have a big signal, if you’ve been doing information/talk forever, and your hosts are hitting local issues, then you have more flexibility in your mix of hosts.
I don’t know much about 960, like who owns it, and whether it is simply being used as an anchor signal to sell a network or not.
BW: Is there more room for syndicated sports talk, ESPN, FOX, CBS and possibly Cumulus? How much money can 4 networks throw at this before 1 may have to exit or does it matter? I see Cumulus not that well managed so far. They blew up KGO.
RG: KGO was mishandled in a significant way. WGN was a better transition.
People have to step back from looking at what CBS is doing as a radio play. This is bigger than radio. The decision to roll this out is about creating a multi-platform, multi-media presence for CBS Sports to enable them to be available anywhere and everywhere someone wants the brand just like ESPN has done. ESPN has set the competitive bar, and they’re soaking up sports rights in part because they have created a synergistic brand machine. CBS has figured that out, and they are moving in the same direction because it has been so successful for ESPN. FOX has distribution through Clear Channel, but they have a ways to go in terms of bringing everything together as ESPN has done. Cumulus is part of the CBS deal. The network question of the day is what happens to the sports radio network NBC is trying to push, and what happens to the Yahoo! Sports Network. From a local perspective, what CBS is doing might hurt 710 and 950, but you have to also recognize that when 710 joined 950 doing sports, the total sphere of sports listeners actually increased in Seattle. There are more sports radio listeners today than there were when 950 was alone. I doubt that will happen again with CBS being here, but it will be interesting to watch.
BW: Are some of these changes window-dressing until stations are eventually culled out and shuttered over being irrelevant as technology changes or will there always be a market for an under performing AM or FM no matter the economy or dropping numbers in listeners?
RG: In 1970, there were approx. 6,600 radio stations total in the US. Today, there are over 21,000 if you include translators and boosters. It’s a ridiculous number of radio signals, but there is still value in all of them. More on that in a moment.
There are a significant number of radio signals losing money in every market of the country, but radio is not irrelevant, not even AM. You can say it isn’t cool or sexy right now. It’s under promoted. But, radio is not irrelevant. Most Internet companies are hemorrhaging, too. Look at Pandora. They can’t make a profit. Frankly, Pandora should just go out and buy a bunch of cheap, AM terrestrial signals for no other reason than to leverage radio’s lower rights fee structure without heading to Congress and force the rights issue that way. There isn’t a single Internet audio offering that wouldn’t be stronger by having a terrestrial signal paired with it. There isn’t a single newspaper on the Internet that wouldn’t be stronger by having a terrestrial signal paired with it. Radio is simply going through a reinvention phase right now. This industry is the ultimate survivor. The radio audience is the largest its ever been today reaching 93% of all Americans each week.