Wednesday, October 04, 2006

KOMY/Santa Cruz to finally drop Air America, so will the Zwerlings finally just shut up?

The Zwerling/Air America Radio soap opera will soon be over. KOMY co-owner Michael Zwerling is vowing once again to drop AAR programming (or what little they actually have of it) by next month.

So, the question everyone, including the media wonks, seems to ask is, why isn’t Air America doing well in that liberal hotbed known as Santa Cruz? Well, if they had to listen to the programming on a station like KOMY, the answer would be obvious.

KOMY is owned by Zwerling, along with his mother Kay. The two also own conservo-talker KSCO, which seems to be their pride and joy. KOMY is perhaps the weakest of AAR's affiliates, in that the station is hardly promoted, the owners obviously hate the programming (they're staunch conservatives), and they constantly complain about lack of advertisers, even though the station appears to have no substantial sales department. The two-station cluster is a mom-and-pop operation (actually, a mom-and-son operation) in every sense of the word, and often, it seems the two stations take a backseat to the strange antics of the eccentric owners.

Some may remember a controversial dustup in October 2001, when Peter Werbe's then-syndicated show aired on KOMY in the mornings. The Zwerlings were appalled by Werbe's controversial attacks on the Bush Administration, and Michael Zwerling went on the air during Werbe's show and denounced the show and its host, 'apologizing' to the people of Santa Cruz for having him on "his" airwaves. On Oct. 18, Zwerling, called Peter an "asshole," because the station was allegedly receiving so many complaints. Local residents were taken aback by the owner's on-air language, a violation of FCC standards.

If that wasn't enough, Mom went on the air with her own editorial, and bashed Werbe for being such a meanie.

Fast-forward three years later. KOMY and the Zwerlings give it another go. They affiliate with Air America after some tough negotiations (the Zwerlings wanted to put Michael Savage's show on the same station, and AAR would not allow it). Finally, KOMY cleared three shows from AAR - Franken, Rhodes and the Majority Report. But this was not the end of it. A couple months later, Michael Zwerling went on a whinefest to the local media, complaining that area liberals weren't beating down the door to buy advertising time on KOMY. In protest, they even pulled "Majority Report" and started airing infomercials in its place. After receiving some not-so-nice letters from listeners, Zwerling even went on the air again (the Zwerlings are fond of on-air editorials) and blasted the listeners who sent them. They aired another announcement that they had received “vicious hate mail” critizing the Kay Zwerling editorials, and saying that they want “hypocritical Air America listeners” to send in money or they would yank the AAR programming off the station.

Of course, the conventional wisdom was that they amped up the drama a bit in 'playing the victim', and it was likely that the Zwerlings' over the top editorializing was turning off listeners.

And the most likely possibility is that the Zwerlings are rather inept at running radio stations. They don’t seem to have much of a sales department, and if they do, they’re certainly not doing their job. Heck, the Zwerlings don’t even pay their on-air talent, instead demanding they go out and find their own sponsors!

Of course, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. And a combination of only two Air America shows, surrounded by unpaid local hosts and lots and lots of infomercials does not a successful station make. Obviously, the Zwerlings misunderstood the message of “Field Of Dreams”, because, quite frankly, they didn’t build much, and as a result, nobody came to listen. KOMY doesn’t even have its own website. Rather, there are a few mentions of the station on KSCO’s site, along with their own webstream. Otherwise, one would never even know that KOMY existed, or what they put on the air.

One really wonders what the Zwerlings hope to accomplish by dropping Air America. They only carry Al Franken and Randi Rhodes, last time I checked. And those shows are offered on a barter basis, meaning that they cost nothing to carry. Are they going to put on more unpaid local hsots? Infomercials? And they wonder why nobody is listening. Why would they? It all seems like a lot of grandstanding to me.

Meanwhile, across the Monterey Bay, another independently-owned AM station is also airing a liberal talk format. While KOMY airs only two or so Air America shows, surrounded by a ton of infomercials and whatnot, KRXA is fully devoted to the format. The station is owned by Washington, DC lawyer Hal Ginsberg and Bay Area radio legend Peter B. Collins. Ginsburg and Collins purchased the station and signed on their talk format shortly after KOMY. Since KOMY had the rights to the regular Air America programming, KRXA worked around it, signing a whole slate of non-Air America talk talent, including Stephanie Miller, Ed Schultz, and Thom Hartmann from Air America’s secondary syndication arm. The experienced and talented Collins himself hosts an afternoon show on the station, which is currently in syndication. They also do other local shows, and as far as I know, employees are being paid. So yes, to answer the questions everyone seems to ask, liberal talk can and does work in the Monterey/Santa Cruz area.

In the battle of the two stations, KRXA’s full-time liberal talk format easily beat KOMY’s half-hearted on-air train wreck. Collins is serious about the format, and the on-air presentation of KRXA proves this. While the station is not a massive success yet, local advertisers do seem to be buying time on the station. And the station is slowly rising up the ratings chart.

So, let this be a lesson to radio owners. As the saying goes, you get out what you put into it. The Zwerlings are running their stations on the cheap, and it shows (the ratings of their main station, KSCO, are pretty poor compared to what they should be doing). Air America should be happy that this melodrama will soon be behind them. Now the Zwerlings can go off and simmer in their own self-pity without being an obnoxious distraction.

And for listeners, fret not, since there happens to be a very good station on the air in the Bay Area. One that is dedicated to the format. That is KRXA, and they can be found at 540 on the AM dial. Give them a listen, and be sure to support their sponsors, and tell them why you do.


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