Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Mixed signals in Boston

Okay, so does anyone know the fate of WXKS/WKOX?

Last week, rumors were flying on radio message boards about the future of the two stations, which both simulcast a progressive talk format consisting of Ed Schultz, Stephanie Miller and assorted programming from Air America Radio. Some personnel connected with the station had no idea of any pending format change, and some Clear Channel executives claimed the rumors were true.

In fact, just yesterday evening, station listeners received an email, enlisting their help in determining their new lineup, even after the station announced their changes last week. The email encouraged listeners to vote for who they thought should be on during the 12-3PM ET shift, since Ed Schultz was moving his syndicated show to that slot. The choices were Schultz (who the station had already announced as staying in his current 3-6PM slot), Al Franken (who was going to be dropped altogether) and Thom Hartmann (who would inherit the slot).

With this email, the station does a backpedal, claiming that the addition of Hartmann is temporary, and anything could happen. And they ain't kidding!

The Boston Globe reports today that the station may wind up dropping the format altogether. While Clear Channel representatives are not discussing details, the national radio group, which has been selling stations across the country, acknowledges that change is in the works for WXKS-AM (1430) and WKOX-AM (1200). Saying that details will be released within two weeks, Clear Channel vice president of programming "Cadillac Jack" McCartney acknowledged this week that changes are pending and that Air America "is history." In fact, their own website kinda reveals their hand, as they are currently looking for a bilingual sales manager for the stations, which will soon air a format called "Rumba". The last day for liberal talk will be December 22. Merry F'in Christmas, from the fine folks at Clear Channel!

Since the company entered into a sale agreement, Clear Channel has been on a tear to trim as much fat as possible. They quickly announced that they were divesting of all stations outside of the top 100 radio markets that they own stations in. They've been consolidating more staff positions. Formats for several stations have flipped or are in the process of being flipped to in-house syndicated products like Premiere Networks or FOX Sports (which they own). And even stations like WGST in Atlanta have dropped all local talk from the schedule and replaced it with cheaper syndicated offerings. Needless to say, Clear Channel is looking to scale down hard.

For all the criticism that Air America and other progressive talk syndicators receive, much of it should deservedly be directed toward the stations that air the programming. Some stations are run very well (KPOJ, KLSD, WINZ, KKZN, KPTK, and KRXA, just to name a few), while many of them are a complete joke. It's as if a particular station's management just slapped it on the air and sat around waiting for things to happen. Their own salespeople ignored the station because they were too lazy to figure out how to sell the format. There have been countless stories of station automation software running amok, and sometimes airing the wrong shows or two shows at the same time. As Schultz has said on his radio show, this is no way to run a radio station, and if he was in charge, heads would be rolling. And he's right. No upstart station can succeed without promotion, advertising sales or even at least a little attention. This is not Air America's fault, and certainly not the fault of any of the syndicators. It all boils down to the people at the ground level, running the station. And if they're too lethargic to make their product the best it can be, they don't belong in business.

Clear Channel is notorious for using cost-cutting as a primary means for making money. Granted, a miser's approach toward the budget is often important, but it is not the be-all, end-all of becoming profitable. They have to create a strong station and give it all the tools it needs to succeed. Syndicated talk is a very cheap format to run. The programming costs the stations nothing. It's offered on a barter basis. All the network asks for is to hold back 5-6 minutes an hour for their own advertising. The station gets the rest of the time to sell their own ads (and this local inventory is often the same or greater than for more expensive music formats). Why is this so difficult for these people to understand? And why can't salespeople sell it?
Granted, we all know they'd rather sell spots for sports or rock music formats, because they're so easy to sell. But any good salesperson (and believe me, I know) will be the type to get creative and sell a rather diverse format, bringing in many potential clients who likely had never considered advertising on radio before. Here's a hint: Just about every metropolitan area has a local independent weekly paper or even a college paper, and many of these tend to be very left-leaning in their content. And many of the papers' sponsors even put their phone numbers in their ads (hint, hint). And the sales clowns can't sell spots on their own radio station??? Unfreakingbelievable!

Progressive talk can succeed. Just ask Nancy Leichter, general manager of little KYNS (1340AM) in San Luis Opispo, CA. She's confident in the format's chances, and this newspaper article even features the testimonial of a local repair shop owner, who saw her business increase after advertising on the station. Listeners even proclaimed that they brought their cars to her garage because she advertises on KYNS and supports their programming. And Clear Channel account executives still can't sell time on their big market 'progressive talk' stations? Aye carumba!

In closing, it's pretty easy to rip on Air America (and much of the criticism directed at them is well-deserved). But any station owner that thinks they can coast along and run a crappy organization is naive. And Clear Channel should know better. This is no way to run multi-million dollar radio properties. Perhaps this is why the Mays family is looking to get out.
And if you feel somewhat burned by Clear Channel-Boston's dirty tricks, you can send back some holiday cheer at this email address, or just give them a call at 781-396-1430.


raccoonradio said...

Cat is out of the bag: the new Rumba 1200/1430 (Spanish-language format)
is soon to debut in Boston, and Clear Channel is looking for sales staff.
Boston Herald
has details.
Maybe other Boston stations like
WRKO or WTKK might consider picking up the likes of Miller, Schultz,
or Hartmann, even if tape delayed.
More powerful signals, too...a state that's about 98 per cent Democratic in office holders but no Air America/prog talk...

raccoonradio said...

Scott Allen Miller of WRKO talks about Air America's problems in his

(scroll down to see that entry).

He points out that yes, these stations were placed on inferior signals, etc., but the likes of Rush had to
deal with that problem at the start, too. And he questions the idea of lack of promotion by CC:

"Clear Channel's alleged neglect of its prog talk stations in Boston should be the envy of anyone in talk radio. The outdoor advertising budget for these stations must have been in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many of its personalities have had long, glowing features written about them in the Boston Globe while the embarrassing incidents -- such as Randi Rhodes' two references to wanting to shoot President Bush -- never made it to print. If my show was neglected as much as Al Franken's show has been, my ratings would double."

raccoonradio said...

The change to Spanish did take place at noon, after a couple moments of silence (probably due to technical issues rather than the moment-of-silence you'd get when someone has passed on...) Nobody from CC was on to thank the listeners.

there is a yahoo group to try to get progtalk on in Boston

Anonymous said...

The switchover was strange. Right at noon there was a brief pause, just crackle and static. Followed by a pre-recorded announcement in Spanish and a countdown to "Rumba".

I had this sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. It felt like a coup d'├ętat.

Friends, this is the part of the story where the corporations start to push back. Stand tall, We can win this.

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