Friday, January 26, 2007

KOMY finally pulls the plug

After nearly two years of threatening to pull Air America Radio off their Santa Cruz radio station, the Zwerling family has finally done just that.

On Thursday, KOMY in Santa Cruz finally dropped liberal talk. Taking Air America's place is golden oldies, — from the likes of Roy Orbison, Patsy Cline, and Chuck Berry, spun by real live and local disc jockeys, or so they claim.

This finally caps a long, drawn-out drama in which the owner, Michael Zwerling, has endlessly complained about never being able to sell advertising to support the format. Which of course makes sense when you have hardly anybody in the station to sell advertising.

KOMY is owned by Zwerling, along with his mother Kay. The two also own conservotalker KSCO, which seems to be their pride and joy, though it gets horrible ratings. KOMY was perhaps one of the weakest of Air America's affiliates (and that's saying a lot), in that the station was hardly promoted, the schedule was cluttered with infomericials, the ultra-conservative owners obviously hated the programming, and they constantly complained about a lack of advertisers, even though the station appears to have a barebones sales department. The two-station cluster is a mom-and-pop operation (actually, a mother-and-son operation - shades of the Bates Motel?) in every sense of the word, and often, it seems the programming of the two stations have always taken a backseat to the strange antics of their eccentric owners.

Air America Radio made its debut on KOMY in July 2005. When Zwerling announced his intention to put Michael Savage's show on in the evening, Air America execs scoffed. Finally, the station gave in to Air America's demands, and cleared three of their shows: Al Franken, Randi Rhodes and "The Majority Report". And since they couldn't mix Savage in with the liberal talk programming, they made sure to slot in 'owner editorials', which were nonsensical at best, fire-breathing reactionary at worst.

And then came the drama. A couple months later, Michael Zwerling went to his friends in the local media, complaining that area liberals weren't beating down the door to buy advertising time on KOMY. In protest, the Zwerlings yanked "Majority Report" and started airing infomercials in its place, in essence holding the format hostage.

After receiving some not-so-nice letters from listeners, Zwerling went on the air (the Zwerlings are fond of their ridiculous on-air 'editorials') and blasted the listeners who sent the "vicious hate mail", as if they felt insulting their listeners would improve the station's performance. Zwerling didn't appreciate the complaints about the Kay Zwerling editorials, and demanded that “hypocritical Air America listeners” better send in money or they would yank the programming off the station. Yes, he did indeed issue that threat.

The Zwerlings have always detested Air America. They also claim local advertisers think likewise. "It's an angry, nasty, pissing and moaning format where the only thing they say is 'Bush stinks' or 'Bush is bad'," he said. "No commercial advertiser wants to be associated with that."

"We didn't sell a single ad in a year and a half," Zwerling said Thursday. "I thought liberal radio would work as a viable advertising business in the most liberal town in America. I was wrong"

Zwerling did admit that some advertisers were turned off by the ultra-conservative reputation of KOMY and the Zwerlings.

Perhaps it could have been that the Zwerlings didn't have much of a sales department. The Zwerlings don’t even pay their own talk show hosts on KSCO, instead demanding they go out and find their own sponsors! Which of course, explains how Brian "Screech" Maloney got his start. It appears that the Zwerlings seem most concerned about selling ads for Rush Limbaugh's show on KSCO, which they have constantly boasted about being "sold out."

Zwerling finally announced back in October that he was pulling the plug on KOMY's liberal talk format, effective October 25, and everyone hoped that that would be the end of it. Since then, the Zwerlings realized that they really didn't have anything to replace Air America, so the station became an unpredictable hodge-podge of Air America, infomercials, replays of KSCO shows and Alan Colmes (whom they refer to as "a reasonable liberal"). At times, they ran the straight Air America feed, and even aired promos for Mike Malloy's show, though it had been dropped from Air America months earlier. In the meantime, they finally put up a website for KOMY. Perhaps they were giving it a second third chance. Finally, on Thursday, the Zwerlings ended the insanity and flipped to oldies.

As much as the local newspaper seems to suck up to the Zwerlings (the articles in the Santa Cruz Sentinel are always sympathetic and a bit thin on facts), the Zwerlings are not the martyrs that they make themselves out to be. Listeners avoid their stations, people in the industry mock them, and many former employees detest them (except for Screech, I guess). How inept are the Zwerlings? Their main station, KSCO, which carries a mix of local shows and syndicated fare from the likes of Limbaugh and O'Reilly, gets terrible ratings. In the most recent Arbitron book, listenership dropped nearly in half, down from a 2.3 last summer to a 1.2 in the fall. KOMY only occasionally made a showing in the ratings books. Granted, the Monterey Bay area is not a strong market for talk radio (the only truly successful talk station here is KGO, broadcasting from San Francisco, roughly a hundred miles north of Santa Cruz), but similar stations to KSCO in other markets do much, much better. For the market's flagship news/talk station to do that poorly is embarassing.

Meanwhile, across the bay in Monterey, KRXA, which began airing liberal talk at the same time as KOMY, is plugging along with their own non-Air America talk format. Owners Hal Ginsberg and Peter B. Collins are very dedicated to the format, and seem to have few problems attracting advertisers, as quite a few local businesses can be heard on their airwaves. Ratings aren't great, but they've been steady. And the owners and staff do indeed have a passion for what they do. So, the question deserves to be asked, how do Ginsberg and Collins succeed where the Zwerlings have failed? More effort and less whining, I guess.

To their credit, the Zwerlings did make one more programming move recently. Earlier this month, KSCO dropped Michael Savage. However, this was only because the cost to air the show became too expensive.

See also this thread from October, or all threads regarding KOMY.

UPDATE 1/27: It appears Air America has not left the Monterey Bay area. KRXA has picked up more programming from the network, including the overnight refeed of Al Franken and Randi Rhodes at 11PM, as well as the Mark Riley show live from 2-3AM. Rhodes also gets a best-of replay on Sunday afternoon and evening. Laura Flanders' RadioNation has been picked up for Saturday and Sunday nights. Previously, the station had already been carrying Ring of Fire. So, don't believe the wingnut blogs with all of ten readers. AAR is still on in the Santa Cruz area.

UPDATE 2/2/07: Michael Zwerling responds.

Subject: Are You The Author Of.....

If so, my compliments to the chef!


The story is mostly accurate and TOTALLY entertaining reading!

You (or the author) have (has) a true flair for writing.

This is screenplay material.



Michael L. Zwerling
Owner, KSCO NewsTalk AM 1080 and
KOMY Oldialites AM 1340
Monterey-Salinas-Santa Cruz


Anonymous said...

Every market seems to have a least one wacko owner, GM or PD and this guy fills the role in Santa Cruz. Everything I've read about the guy makes him sound nuts.
I for one think liberal talk needs to prune the weaker stations (that accomplish nothing except to give Maloney some reason to say "I told you so") and to give stronger stations a chance to build good track records which will attract other solid radio properties to the format: quality over quantity.

Question now: Will Peter B. Collins pick up Randi Rhodes (I don't think AAR has anything else he could want)? FTR: He already takes Hartmann's syndicated show. Interestingly, he takes Lionel over Nova M running mate Mike Malloy. I can imagine some changes coming over there.

ltr said...

FTR: Collins does not appear to have any relationship with Nova M at this time. No mention of him on Nova M's site. Why? I have no idea.

KRXA has carried Hartmann since the beginning of the current format. In addition, they have been carrying "Ring Of Fire" on the weekends.

As for individual stations, hey, even Limbaugh started out on some pretty terrible signals. It's all part of the growing pains cycle. Nonetheless, AAR is fortunate to be rid of the Zwerlings. AAR should have stepped in and pulled the programming off KOMY a long time ago. Zwerling's nothing but a whiney headcase.

I know they like the market clearances, but Zwerling was nothing but a cancer for AAR.

raccoonradio said...

Gotta love those call letters...
"Commie" AM! :)

Anonymous said...

Hey raccoon...
The cold war ended almost two decades ago. Thought you'd like to know. This why we have the so-called war on terror. The authoritarian neo-cons always need a designated enemy.

Meanwhile, let's talk about media bias:
Santa Cruz Sentinel...
"Liberal AM radio fails to pay its own way in Santa Cruz"
CBS 47...
"Liberal AM radio flops out - even in Santa Cruz"
"Air America Can’t Even Pull Listeners In Santa Cruz"

None of the stories mention the "other" progressive talk station in the market, the history of the owner or the poor signal.
Now Captain Wacko is going to play Oldies (with the same bad signal). Music on AM with lots of static? Terrific! Wonder how long before he starts making threats to pull that format if local merchants don't buy ads.

I wonder what happened with Collins and Nova M? Maybe they just rent him satellite time but don't distribute the show. Maybe Medicare Mike got his stethoscope in a knot because Collin doesn't clear his show or Malloy's.

I see KRXA does run some (unspecified) AAR programming late at night (and some Best of shows, including Randi, on the weekends).

- the late Fred Flintstone. Reborn as mwebster on

ltr said...

Well Fred, I'm shocked to say this, but you bring up some good points.

Forget Raccoon - he constantly leaves astroturf in his wake. Let's call them 'raccoon droppings'.

As for the wingnut bloggers and other media flacks, a question deserves to be asked: Was AAR responsible for going out and selling ads on KOMY? Did they control all programming outside of theirs on the station? The answer, of course, is a big fat NO. AAR merely supplied programming off the satellite, from their offices in NYC. That's all. Anyone who thinks otherwise knows nothing about radio, let alone about simple business practices (oh, the irony!). If Zwerling couldn't make it work, that's his problem. And if he couldn't sell a single ad in a year and a half, then why didn't he drop AAR earlier?

He'll go on and on boasting about being able to sell out Limbaugh's show. Well, no duh! Any station can do that! Drugboy's got a track record. Zwerling, however, doesn't mention that they really don't sell much the rest of the day on KSCO. I've posted links to articles where former local hosts have derided his demands of making them go out and find their own sponsors as a condition of being on the air. And KSCO's ratings? Plain and simple, THEY SUCK! KSCO, as the only conservotalk station in the market, should be getting way more than a 1.3 share!

I'd like to see someone come here and prove that Zwerling is indeed a good businessman. From the looks of it, this guy is a complete joke!

Back to Drugboy, it appears that he lost two affiliates himself last week, including one in the conservative stronghold of Fargo, ND. Does this mean his show is failing?

At KRXA, it does indeed look like they picked up some more AAR programming. They're airing the best-of feed during the overnights (that would be the Randi Rhodes overnight replay and Mark Riley live). Rhodes also gets a Sunday afternoon replay, and Laura Flanders is live on Saturday nights. So yes, AAR is still alive and well in the Monterey Bay area. But you'll never hear that from the AAR bashers in the media and the blogosphere.

As for the Peter B./Nova M thing, I have no idea whatsoever what's going on. References to Collins were removed from Nova M's site not too long after being added. Why, I have no idea. So I don't think he was ever really a part of it. Perhaps he could email me and share the story (hint, hint). In return, I'll even pimp his show, which is very good and is much deserved of wider syndication.

will_in_chicago said...

As I see it, we have a case of a negligent owner, who refused to take action to support the station or the format.

Progressive talk is succeeding in many markets, even on stations with relatively weak signals. WCPT AM 850 is having some success, despite being a daytimer with a weak signal. The owner, Fred Eychaner, is dedicated to the format, and the station is selling advertising.

Perhaps some people who have posted here forget that it takes effort to make a business successful. In the radio business, this includes reaching out to listeners and advertisers.

Peter B. Collins is not part of Nova M, but he is carried by their Phoenix affiliate. I think that regardless of what happens to Air America Radio, we will see more syndicated shows in the coming year -- and perhaps a few new stations. Progressive talk is succeeding despite the words of the naysayers.

-- will in Chicago

Anonymous said...

This is just one more example of self-fulfilling prophecy.
People in radio keep telling anyone who will listen that liberal talk can't work.
Then they do everything they can to sabotage it.
I just finished John Dean's fascinating book "Conservatives Without Conscience." Deans says the current bunch have stolen the name "conservative" from true conservatives like his mentor Barry Goldwater and that they really represent the classic authoritarian personality.
The personality type which dominates the Republican Party also dominates radio, which may be why radio and authoritarian neo-con talk are such comfortable bedfellows.
Fellow authoritarian Joe Goebbels would be pleased.

mac (aka mwebster on radioinsight)

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