Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Meanwhile, over in DC...

It was an ambitious project, but one that obviously faced an uphill climb.

Yesterday, The Washington Post and Bonneville International, owner of the three radio stations that make up "Washington Post Radio" (WTWP-FM 107.7FM, WTWP 1500AM, WTWT 820AM and a translator at 104.3FM) announced they were going their separate ways, terminating a partnership set up to create an "NPR on caffeine" all-news and talk format on the already over-saturated local airwaves. They are also the flagship station for Washington Nationals baseball.

So, out goes WTWP, in comes WWWT, or "3WT" and a new format consisting of inexpensive bartered talk shows. Stuff like Neal Boortz, Bill O'Reilly (recently dumped from WJFK), Glen Beck, Phil Hendrie and Stephanie Miller. The station's slogan will be "Left, Right, and Whatever We Want." Tony Kornheiser's show, when actually on, will be a holdover from WTWP. The changes commence September 20.

Whoa, wait - Stephanie Miller? Um, isn't she already on liberal talker WWRC (1260AM)? Actually, yes. So, what does this mean for WWRC, the lowly-rated, weak signalled progressive talker? Is WYD/Jones MediaAmerica looking to move her to a station people can actually pick up? Or is Clear Channel shopping for a replacement format for 1260AM (as if anything else has a chance of getting ratings on this frequency)?

So, what's the deal with WWRC? One would think liberal talk would be a slam dunk hit in the nation's capitol, which consistently votes for Democrats in ridiculously high numbers. Well, it's not that simple. Never is. First off, the Washington, DC metro area is heavily packed with news and talk stations. Clearly out in front ratings-wise is public radio outlet WAMU. Bonneville's all-news station, WTOP (103.5FM and 103.9FM), is also often found near the top of the heap. The 50,000 watt conservotalker WMAL is a bit further down. Reformed Free FM shock jock station WJFK-FM is next, and Pacifica's WPFW is not far behind that (yes, a Pacifica outlet is one of the top talk stations in town). Then there's WTWP.

And then there's the rest. WTNT is WWRC's low-rated conservotalk sister station. WWRC usually shows up in the lower rungs of the ratings charts from time to time. Then there are the real bottom-feeders, stations that don't show up in the ratings at all. These include wonky Federal News Radio (WFED), urban talker WOL, talk/standards hybrid WMET, and non-commercial C-Span feeder WCSP. In addition, there's two all-sports stations (one simulcasts on three signals) that get crappy ratings. Not to mention many talk-oriented morning shows on FM music stations.

Now, that's a lot of talk! Especially in a market that's predominantly African-American. Of the top five stations in the market, four carry urban contemporary formats. Needless to say, there are way too many talk stations, in a market that doesn't much care for them. One would think hip-hop would be an easier sell.

Considering that news/talk is a slow-growth format that demands a long-term commitment, Washington Post Radio had a steep uphill climb ahead of it. Any talk station, whether it be all-news, sports talk, liberal talk and yes, even conservotalk, need a long, long time to establish themselves. Music formats such as rock or country can often explode right out of the gate. Not so with talk. In addition, a live and local format, such as the one being done by WTWP, is insanely expensive and has high amounts of overhead, including many, many staffers. Piped-in syndicated talk formats, though, are very cheap, since it's all bartered programming.

So, back to the Stephanie Miller/WWRC connection. Miller has been confirmed for the new 3WT. Likely, her show will be delayed to the evening hours, as opposed to her live WWRC slot. What does this all mean for WWRC? They carry the other two Jones progressive talk shows, Bill Press and Ed Schultz. The rest is filled with Air America Radio programming. And then there's those business talk shows. Yes, business talk. And it's slapped up on the station in the sloppiest of fashions, as brokered infomercials often clutter the weekday schedule at random times, often in prime drive time slots. Well, no wonder why their ratings suck!

In addition, many have complained about the station's rather weak signal, licensed for 5000 watts but probably putting out the equivalent of far less. The station barely gets out of the metro area. Various formats over the past few decades have been tried, everything from elevator music to business talk to sports. All have failed. A far cry from 1963, when they were the first station in America to play "I Want To Hold Your Hand."

So again, what is the fate of WWRC? Did they swing some sort of deal to carry Miller along with 3WT? Is she being replaced with Lionel? Who knows? Is Clear Channel going to pull the plug? What else are they going to put on that graveyard signal? Progressive talk is probably their best shot at any success. They're already doing sports on another signal.

But Stephanie Miller? On a Bonneville station? Aren't they that Mormon outfit out of Salt Lake City? Bonneville International, is in fact owned by the LDS Church (aka the Mormons). They are a secular broadcaster that owns roughly 30 or so stations across the country. They are also known for rather staid, plain and safe formats. Stuff like adult contemporary, country, sports and oldies. In other words, bland, non-offensive radio, save for one or two conservotalk stations. How safe? Last year, they sold hard-rockin' WLUP in Chicago, with most speculating that it was partly because the station's long-time format didn't jibe with the laid-back Mormon lifestyle.

Stephanie Miller on a Mormon station? Should be interesting. Especially when she rips into Mitt Romney.


Jim said...

"separate", not "seperate"

ltr said...

Hmph. Gotta love the grammar nazis.

Incidentally, there is a glaring error in my post from yesterday, "Quick Hits." I haven't corrected it yet. Can anybody find it? :)

ltr said...

Dave Hughes over at sums up what I was getting at in his 'rant' this morning:

Rant - 8/29 - So, Bonneville will be re-launching local talker Washington Post Radio as largely syndicated talker 3WT. Like its predecessor, it faces a Washington radio dial that already sports an awful lot of talk. Righty talkers like WMAL and WTNT. "Shock jock" talkers like WJFK-FM's Junkies and DC101's Elliot. Teen-aimed talkers like Hot 99.5's Kane. Chick-geared talkers like Mix 107.3's Jack Diamond. Sports talk from WTEM and Triple X. Christian talk on WAVA. Public radio talkers WAMU and WCSP, soon to be joined by WGTS. Lefty talk WWRC. Urban talker WOL plus the black-oriented talk shows of WHUR's Michael Baisden and WMMJ's Tom Joyner. Spanish talk all over the AM band. Not to mention Bonneville's own federal talk WFED and talkie news WTOP. If I was making the decisions over at Bonneville, I would put WTOP back on 1500 AM and 107.7 FM along with 103.5 FM. The 1500 signal would be WTOP's "Maryland edition" and 107.7 would be WTOP's "Virginia edition," both with hyper-local news, weather, and traffic inserts, as well as "zoned" ads and target websites. Also, the 1500/107.7 combo would feature WTOP's local talk shows, including "Ask The," Mark Plotkin, car guy Pat Goss, a David Burd weekend show, plus sports, including college, the Nationals, and maybe even the Redskins. With 103.5 remaining non-stop news, traffic, and weather. If Bonneville thinks Neal Boortz and Bill O'Reilly are the "answer," it's asking the wrong "question."

(Permalink to rants)

raccoonradio said...

the good news: they will probably run Steph Miller (poss. at night, tape delayed)

the bad: they will also carry Wash. Capitals hockey (82 games) and will reportedly continue
to run Wash. Nationals baseball (spring training + 162 games) next year, so if she's on,
say, 6-9 pm, she'll be pre-empted A LOT.

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