Friday, August 31, 2007

Don't be cruel

Jon Elliott claimed on his show last night, which originates from the studios of KLSD in San Diego, that things are looking up for that station, which has been rumored to be considering a flip to a sports format. Evidently, Monday's rally must have been effective.

In the midst of all this and other format flips on their progressive talk stations, Clear Channel Communications itself has taken a lot of heat, some deserved and some not. Many see this as some sort of conspiracy to remove the format from the nation's airwaves, and point to the political lean of the Mays family, founders of the company.

But it's never that simple. Over time, I've found that in the radio industry, politics often takes a backseat to pure commerce. Meaning, they don't really care what's on the air, so long as it pads the bottom line and takes next to no overhead to keep it running. How else to explain Entercom Communications, the fourth largest radio group in the United States? Now here's a major radio station owner that, ironically, actually donates heavily to Democrats. In a simplistic form of thinking, one would think progressive talk would be a slam dunk for some of their struggling AM stations. So, how have they been doing thus far in this regard? The first Entercom station to pick up the format was WROC in Rochester, NY. After three years, the station is doing modestly, given its AM dial position and rather weak signal. From there, Entercom stations in New Orleans, Sacramento, Buffalo and Memphis picked up the format.

Flash forward to 2007. WROC has been climbing in the ratings. WWKB in Buffalo occasionally does well, in spite of how badly neglected the station is. And progressive talk has been dropped in New Orleans and Sacramento. The format seems to be badly neglected in Buffalo. And now, rumors are swirling in Memphis, where it looks like WSMB (680AM) may soon flip to sports. At least that's the rumor coming out of there, as salespeople are allegedly breaking this news to their clients.

Needless to say, this doesn't sound surprising. WSMB (formerly WWTQ until they grabbed the current call letters from their defunct New Orleans progressive talker) is blessed with an amazing signal (10,000 watts day at a very low spot on the dial), rare for a progressive talk station. But they had to go and screw it all up by doing a rather half-assed job of programming and promoting it. Until today, I didn't even realize that they have rolled out a new website for the station. For a long time, it was the same old tired WWTQ site that prominently featured relics of the past such as Jerry Springer, Al Franken and Janeane Garafalo. Not very up-to-date, is it? And that's another thing. While progressive talk stations around the country have experienced some sort of success with a mix of shows from various syndicators, and even some local programming, WSMB couldn't even be bothered to program their computers to flip a satellite switch! That's right - they carry the straight Air America Radio feed. Meaning no Stephanie, no Big Eddie, no local talk. Nothing that can help a station boost their numbers and draw potential advertisers. To be fair, though, they did carry a local morning show at one time, but it was universally hated by everyone.

Keep in mind that, like at Clear Channel, format decisions for stations are made mostly at the local level. One look at the vast differences of the various stations easily prove that. WROC has been pretty aggressive, have a fairly good mix of programming, and are currently getting the best ratings the weak AM signal could possibly hope to get. Meaning that the people there are at least doing something. Not sure the same could be said about their other progressive talk stations, certainly not WSMB.

Granted, the station did add some other programming. But that programming consisted of St. Louis Cardinals games and University of Tennessee sports. It's true that locally-oriented sports programming does pull in the bucks. Even high school football on the radio can rake in a ton of loot. So when this stuff pops up on progressive talk stations, I often give it a pass. Hey, if this stuff is good enough for conservotalk stations (and many of them have sports contracts that often contribute the bulk of station revenues), then it's good enough for the liberal talk outlets.

Given the amount of neglect that progressive talk has gotten on this signal, and the increased emphasis on sports programming, it should be no surprise that liberal talk will likely soon be leaving the Memphis airwaves. And no, it's not because nobody wants to listen to it, as this ignorant pinhead seems to think. I chalk this one up to neglect. The progressive talk format is only as strong as the stations that carry it. And when it's viewed as merely cheap, latchkey programming, well, how well is that going to turn out? Weak promotion (except for a billboard or two a long time ago and some bumper stickers), poor ad sales efforts, uninspiring programming choices, and perhaps the ugliest logo in the radio industry. What aggravates me is that WSMB had so much potential, even in a market like Memphis. This station has been badly neglected.

Yes, Entercom really screwed the pooch on this one. Let's hope they know how to do sports.

UPDATE: And it looks like it's been confirmed. According to AllAccess, Entercom Memphis announced this afternoon that WSMB will become FOX Sports 680 on Saturday evening (9/1), immediately following the Cardinals/Reds game. They will carry the FOX Sports feed most of the time, save for the 11A-2P shift weekdays, Saturday mornings and whenever they run local play by play.


Brian said...

What do we have to do to get progressive talk back in Memphis?
Let's raise some hell about this!

Brian Stuhr

Brian said...

Let's organize and get something going!! I saw the line of people wanting Al Franken tickets when he came to town. I heard the callers on the Blue Hotline. I heard mid-south callers on many of the shows. THERE ARE MORE OF US THAN ENTERCOM THINKS THERE ARE! Were ANY of you EVER asked by ANY ratings company if you tuned into AM680? I was never asked. IT'S UP TO US TO TELL THEM! The first step is to get a list of people willing to support the progressive talk format in Memphis. The next step is to organize a demonstration in the Entercom parking lot (out east near Poplar and 240).

Sign the petition below and I will get the ball rolling!

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