Monday, September 17, 2007

The Death of Progressive Radio in Memphis

Chris Davis at the Memphis Flyer posted an article today about the demise of progressive talk on WSMB (680AM), which recently flipped to sports. He claims that its lack of success was due to things such as advertiser resistance and lack of localization. One thing he did miss is lack of promotion, particularly since he still mentions the station by its former call letters, WWTQ, which were changed back in December. Here's an excerpt:

"Nobody is more disappointed than I am," says program director Jerry Dean of Air America's local demise.


"The time is right for liberal radio," Michael Harrison, the publisher of Talkers Magazine, the leading talk radio trade publication, told the Flyer. Dean described local support for a progressive alternative to Rush Limbaugh and Mike Flemming as a "groundswell."

"It still seems like a good idea," Dean says, unable to explain why Air America attracted consistently low ratings and failed attract advertisers in solid blue Memphis. He suspects some advertisers were afraid to associate their brand with a liberal station.

"But it's not like liberals don’t buy things," Dean says. "Cars, clothes, and everything else."

WWTQ never found an effective way to localize the station. The eponymous show briefly hosted by Memphis media veteran Leon Gray showed early promise, but Gray's conservative views on issues like evolution and gay rights didn't appeal to listeners tuning in to hear Randi Rhodes and Al Franken. In June 2006, Gray and the progressive talk format parted ways.

Dean doesn't agree that WWTQ failed to localize and remains complimentary Gray's performance. "I always thought Leon did a really good job," he says.

Read more of the article here.

Perhaps WWTQ er, WSMB would have done better if people knew the station actually existed. As I pointed out in the previous article here, local Entercom management seemed to do a rather crappy job of programming and promoting it. The station's schedule was basically, save for St. Louis Cardinals games, a straight feed of Air America, minus Ed Schultz, Stephanie Miller, and other successful shows that could have really worked well there. And then there's station identity. I mean, come on! The guy who wrote the article didn't even know the current call letters! I didn't even know they had updated their website from their old one until a few days prior to the flip to FOX Sports.

For a format such as progressive talk, which needs to work extra hard to drag ears to the AM band, branding, promotion and programming is extremely vital. A straight feed to a PC in a closet is not going to do it. Not even on a strong signal such as the one at 680AM in Memphis.

Progressive talk didn't fail in Memphis. The station running it did.


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