Monday, January 21, 2008

Hybrid talker in Oregon flipping to sports

According to AllAccess, KEZX (730AM) in Medford, OR will drop their liberal/conservative hybrid talk format next month and flip to sports.

The station, owned by Opus Broadcasting Systems, will carry programming from FOX Sports Radio and Jim Rome's syndicated sports talk show starting February 4.

The move will displace progressive talkers Stephanie Miller, Ed Schultz and Thom Hartmann, as well as conservatives Neal Boortz, Dennis Miller and Tammy Bruce. Syndicated morning show Steve and D.C. will also be gone in the shakeup.

KEZX flipped from easy listening to their current talk format in October 2006, after no doubt witnessing the success of upstate progressive talker KPOJ, as well as a few other similar stations in the state. Since flipping, ratings have been down from the old elevator music format in the one ratings book released since the flip.

When the format launched, I was a bit skeptical of it. Their intent was to compete against the other established talk stations in the market by trying to emulate the massively successful KPOJ. But they went about it all wrong. While they added Stephanie Miller, Schultz and former Air America Radio host Al Franken to the lineup, they also opted to air pseudo-libertarian Boortz, a ratings dud who's usually a last resort for filling midday slots on conservotalk stations, and the oft-cranky Don Imus, who's show has rarely done well outside East Coast markets. While doing right/left talk is a commendable thing, and I certainly wish more stations would return to the way it used to be done, this wasn't what made stations like KPOJ, which got bold and went with an all-progressive lineup, a success. In addition, the schedule seemed to be a slapped together mishmash of random talk shows, with no form or flow. Hybrid talk formats tend to work better with more local hosts that can flow in and out of opposing viewpoint shows. During the 1990s, there were quite a few stations that had left-leaning hosts leading out of Rush Limbaugh, and they were successful at it.

Another problem for KEZX was that they were scraping the bottom of the barrel and taking on lower-tier conservotalk offerings, since the top-tier stuff was scooped up by the other two talk stations. Were hardcore conservotalk fans really going to flip from Sean Hannity and syndicated Oregonian Lars Larson on KMED or Laura Ingraham and Michael Weiner on KCMX to listen to C-list talkers like Boortz or Dennis Miller on the weak-signalled KEZX? Doubtful. It was as if the folks at Opus were afraid to really carve out their own niche. As a result, it just didn't work.

Hybrid talk can and should work. It did for many years. But the case in Medford, as is the one with the similar KRFT in St. Louis, which itself is scheduled to flip to sports soon, shows how not to do it.


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