Friday, December 15, 2006

"Changes are Coming" to WTPG

For the past week or so, strange things have been occurring on the Columbus AM dial.

Recently, WTPG, with no explanation, dropped the Ed Schultz Show from their schedule, and replaced Al Franken's midday show with Thom Hartmann. As of now, the station's roster consists of Stephanie Miller, Lionel, and the rest shows from Air America Radio. The station's website has also been rather difficult to load as of late (then again, so is WTVN's), and slow to be updated (par for the course with many radio stations). And now there is an interesting banner on their webpage, saying "Changes are Coming".

Of course, this would not usually raise an eyebrow. But the interesting thing is, their sister station, WTVN, which airs a roster of conservative-leaning talk, has a similar banner on their site.

Both stations are owned by Clear Channel, which has flipped or announced a flip of several progressive talk stations across the country. And the Columbus cluster is overseen by a regional office in Cincinnati. The regional manager, David Crowell, has also overseen the dropping of the format in his own home market (WSAI), and another station he oversees, the relatively successful WXXM in Madison, will switch to sports after January 1. Is Crowell on a vendetta to rid his stations of progressive talk?

The company has been griping about the format in some markets as of late, claiming that it is a tough format to sell. Of course, the majority of these complaints have come from Madison and Cincinnati, which are operated by the same regional office. There have been many things said about the ability to sell the format on this site, so I will go no further here.

As for what's next, Ohio Media Watch is wondering if they'll pull a move similar to what Entercom did in New Orleans, when they flipped progressive talker WSMB to WWWL, airing delayed shows from its sister station, WWL. Will Clear Channel make WTPG a dumping ground for their Premiere-syndicated talk shows, or delayed programming from its more successful sister?

The talk radio landscape is currently in a state of flux. With the election over, some broadcast owners are preparing for a slump in the format on both sides of the ideological spectrum. Clear Channel, which is in the process of slimming itself down for its pending sale, has even turned their regular talk stations upside-down. In Atlanta, they fired all local hosts from WGST, replacing them with much cheaper syndicated shows. In Providence, RI, they did likewise with WHJJ.

Of course, this is all mere speculation. WTPG might not even change formats. After all, ratings-wise, 1230AM has done better with progressive talk than with their last several formats. During the 1960s and 1970's, WCOL ruled the Top-40 roost in Columbus. As music-formatted AM stations were eclipsed by more powerful and better sounding FM signals, many of the abandoned AM facilities were in a rut. They tried conservative talk and all-sports, with poor results. The station returned the WCOL call letters in 2003, complete with an oldies format, but the automated station was a shell of its former self.

Since September 2004, when they flipped to progressive talk and even became the first affiliate for Miller's current radio show, ratings have tripled. While ratings have been mediocre at best, WTPG's progressive talk format has given the station its highest ratings in years. Then again, it seems the braintrusts at the Clear Channel fire sale don't really care about ratings, just so long as they can do it as cheaply as possible (though syndicated progressive talk is an outrageously cheap format to run). So, whatever happens to WTPG, who knows?

As for the other progressive talk station in Ohio, WARF has recently adjusted its schedule, and program director Keith Kennedy has vowed to keep the format. As of late, ratings for the station have been on the rise, and have been the best the station has seen in years.


Anonymous said...

The fact that both clear channel statons are announcing changes would seem to confirm old akronite's theory that a move to rebroadcast WTVN on WCOL. The simulcasting strategy is definately a money saver.

QEd said...

Both website have taken down their "Changes are Coming" billboards.

This is getting some national attention thanks to the blogosphere.

Proof: Someone from San Antonio, home to Clear Channel headquarters, visited my posting on the subject today.

ltr said...

Ditto here. The San Antonio folks visited my site as well.

Too bad they didn't read the other articles I wrote about them. Perhaps they could learn something.

citizenkeith said...

Minor correction... WTPG did not replace Franken with Thom Hartmann. Thom is subbing for Al while he's on the USO tour.

Also, Ed moved his show to the 12:00 time slot, so instead of replacing Al with Ed, they are keeping Al's show and running Randi Rhodes in place of Ed.

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