The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

04 March 2005

Update: Liberal Talk Radio Continues to Struggle


Will New Stations Provide A LibTalk Boost?

Despite a huge effort
by radio syndicators and online supporters to make liberal talk radio appear successful, the truth is that it continues to struggle to gain listenership, as measured by the Arbitron ratings service.

Backers continue to point to the performance of KPOJ, Clear Channel's liberal station in Portland, but beyond that they struggle to show where there is actual ratings growth elsewhere. So far, the conversion of a significant conservative talker to a "progressive" format in Providence, Rhode Island, has been an unmitigated disaster.

At the same time Clear Channel is for some reason still converting a number of underperforming stations around the country to this "new" format.

Remember that liberal talk shows have been tried many times before over the past decade with poor results in
every instance. Alan Dershowitz, Bernie Ward, Mario Cuomo and Jerry Brown are some of the best known examples of leftists with radio talk shows that quickly failed.

Industry speculation as to Clear Channel's motives is all over the place in terms of theories. One is that the company was tired of being slammed as "right-wing" by Democrats.

One trade publication today is suggesting that Clear Channel is gearing up to sell a number of stations, could these be among them? They would be very likely candidates.

More peculiar is the idea that Jerry Springer, of all people, is the guy that can get liberal talk jumpstarted. Does this make sense?

When I revealed the truth about the situation in a WorldNetDaily article, I was subjected to hate mail from liberals and an unhappy response from one of the leftist hosts.

Yet new data released last evening by Arbitron shows again that Air America's flagship New York station is failing to generate any audience growth, both in-city and in outlying areas. The ratings information is for the broadest listener measurement category, persons 12 and older, 6am to midnight daily.

WLIB has now had a full year, a generous amount of time in broadcasting, to build an audience and figures are still flat compared with the previous niche Caribbean format the station featured. Often in radio that would mean imminent cancellation, but backers continue to be so noisy, they have generated enough industry hype to sustain poor performance a tad bit longer.

In fact, the upcoming annual Radio and Records Talk Radio Seminar in Los Angeles has essentially been hijacked by liberal talk radio interests. One industry source told me today it's exactly why he won't be attending the event this year. This seminar is normally considered the best industry convention with a focus on this particular format.

My contention is that if liberal talk radio can't find an audience in New York City, it certainly doesn't have a chance in San Antonio, Reno, Fresno and other places now gaining Air America stations that have small "progressive" populations.

More information will be released later today and in coming days which will shed more light on the situation. I will be updating this post with that data as it arrives.

(Boston data arriving at 5pm EST, Seattle in a few days)

5.10 update: Boston liberal talker shows anemic, miniscule 0.6 audience share in numbers released minutes ago. Conservative talker WTKK increases again to 4.3 from 4.1 share. Conservative WRKO steady with a 4.0. This is Boston we are talking about here!

San Diego "progressive" talker KLSD drops from 2.3 to 1.9 in brand new data. Conservative talkers KOGO and KFMB miles ahead with 5.5 and 4.5, respectively.

No liberal bragging rights in Philly either.

Wednesday update: Michelle Malkin links to this post and adds her own thoughts.

6.45 update: new San Francisco ratings release shows paltry 1.0 share for Air America affiliate KQKE. That's less than half the audience the station had a year ago for its previous adult standards format. The station is a no-show in nearby San Jose.

Detroit Air America talker fails to generate measurable ratings.

Full Air America station list here.

More data Thursday. Seattle figures Friday.

Thursday update: Air America a no-show in Minneapolis!

Friday update: Air America goes nowhere in Seattle! A tiny 1.1 share, up just .1 from the last ratings period, and just slightly above the previous classic country AM format. KIRO's hard left turn takes it from a 5.0 down to a 4.6 overall (listeners 12 and older) audience share. Seattle's two conservative talkers tie at 3.4 each, for a 6.8 combined share. KVI doing well without Rush Limbaugh. Air America's Portland success with KPOJ is not being repeated in Seattle or anywhere else.

Why are stations still converting to this format? Where are the ratings?

Also Friday evening: more Air America/Al Franken media hype.


  • And thus far, no success here in San Francisco.


    By Anonymous ira, at 01 March, 2005 19:24  

  • Thanks, Ira, nice site (click name to see).

    Sure, San Fran has KGO liberal talk late nights, but wouldn't listeners there be screaming for Air America? Guess not.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 01 March, 2005 21:12  

  • Seattle, our ever-"wonderful" Liberal bastion, has it's Air America station (KPTK) dropping consistently, too... Down, down, down...The problem, IMHO, is that it is not progressive talk - it is reactionary, contradictory talk. Whatever the GOP states, they are against it, automatically. Whatever the President does, they oppose it. Regardless of being sane or not...

    It's marginalizing itself, just like the Democratic party, because it has chosen to define itself as simply "the alternative", and let's the Republicans essentially choose both positions! They do not take a stand, nor define an idea, until it's been taken by the Republicans, and they are left with the only option of opposition.

    I do occasionally flip over to KPTK during commercial breaks on KVI and KTTH, just to see what's being railed against, and get a "heads up" about the upcoming Democrat pet-peeve. For that reason alone I hope it sticks around, but with a market share of 1.0, I don't know how long they will stick around...

    By Anonymous TheRooster, at 02 March, 2005 10:33  

  • Rooster, Seattle ratings arrive tomorrow. It will be the first real test of Air America in the market.

    Check back for those details.

    Thanks for your insights.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 02 March, 2005 11:38  

  • Pretty funny. As I read through your article about Clear Channel converting to liberal stations, i thought " come on! Don't tell me they're upset about Democrat catcalls!" And then I saw you noted that others had speculated this as well.

    If Clear channel has knuckled under because of name calling, I would be extremely disapointed. Howard Stern has been insulting them for a year now - how much influence do they really think he has? I saw writers speculating before the election about his impact, where he was continuosly bashing Bush. He had an impact all right - every city where he broadcasts, the Democrats numbers went down. (Instapundit had the link) He's an aging baby bomer, and the reason why I am selling short on Sirius. If Clear Channel is concerned about him, they're quite foolish, and obvioulsy bt in step with the times.

    By Blogger David, at 02 March, 2005 12:37  

  • Rooster-

    Isn't that what conservative talk radio did during the Clinton years?

    In general-- give this some time. Air America has had virtually no advertising, nor a TV outlet for self-promotion (i.e. the o'reilly factor, hannity & colmes, mike gallagher as fill-in host on fox)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 02 March, 2005 12:47  

  • Actually, Air America might have a better chance in a conservative market than a liberal one. The 'reactionary' aspect might be a better sell in areas where liberals feel more isolated/voiceless than where liberalism is the status quo. This, essentially, is what Limbaugh played on.
    The only problem, though, is that with so many media outlets being liberal, it is difficult to argue that liberals in strong conservative markets experience the same disconnect that conservatives have had with the MSM.

    By Anonymous Geoff Matthews, at 02 March, 2005 14:06  

  • In addition to the flat 1.0 in San Francisco, KQKE-AM "scratched" in nearby San Jose!

    By Anonymous ira, at 02 March, 2005 20:00  

  • As for the Boston station, there are actually more ratings to be found. Arbitron lists WKOX-AM as Air America, but it is also heard on WXKS-AM, listed as Adult Standards. The two add to 1.1, still not great but better than the 0.6 posted.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 02 March, 2005 20:44  

  • As for the Boston station, there are actually more ratings to be found. Arbitron lists WKOX-AM as Air America, but it is also heard on WXKS-AM, listed as Adult Standards. The two add to 1.1, still not great but better than the 0.6 posted.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 02 March, 2005 20:45  

  • Anon, it is the Boston problem due to Arbitron not having correct station info., or a mistake at Radio and Records?

    If the two are listed separately, is it because the programming varies in certain parts of their schedules?

    Yes, even at a 1.1, not much better. WTKK and WRKO add up to an 8.3 for conservative talk in the market. WBZ is primarily news.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 02 March, 2005 20:48  

  • To Geoff Matthews:

    That's the argument made for placing Air America on stations in places like San Diego and Reno.

    The problem is, as you pointed out, there are plenty of places for liberals in those markets to turn: it's the same CBS news in San Diego and NYC. NPR is everywhere. Ditto CNN.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 02 March, 2005 20:52  

  • To David:

    I think Clear Channel did become concerned about its right wing image some time back. Some of the execs there aren't conservative at all. This has provided a cheap, low-risk way of quieting down left wing criticism.

    It quells efforts to boycott advertisers of Clear Channel's Premiere syndicated programming arm (Rush, Glenn Beck, many others).

    Personally I think some people at Clear Channel really do agree with Air America's agenda. I don't think the company was ever made up entirely of conservatives.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 02 March, 2005 20:56  

  • This was a preordained outcome (unfortunately). Political rhetoric that is not based in practical public policy and factual observations no longer sells on the air in America.

    I just hope they make it. We really need these outlets out there hanging themselves with their own rhetoric.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 05 March, 2005 17:10  

  • Anon:

    I would have no problem with Air America succeeding, but it isn't entertaining and isn't generating ratings. That's my objection to stations converting to it as it's not working.

    Otherwise, if they could find a way to make it entertaining, there's certainly room for everybody.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 05 March, 2005 18:56  

  • First, 12+ ratings are meaningless, that's why Arbitron makes them freely available. No advertiser pays for them. For example, Oldies stations tend to have great 12+ ratings and practically nothing 18-34 (even 25-54). Air America is doing much better in the advertiser-friendly demos than the AM oldies stations they're mostly replacing. In addition, right-wing talk stations tend to do little better than Oldies stations in the ad-friendly demos.

    Second, very few liberal talk stations have local news and talk. This was a huge problem in November.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 05 March, 2005 22:22  

  • Anon, if 12+ ratings were meaningless, nobody would care about them, yet people do. Advertisers look for 25-54 ratings. Air America hasn't shown where it's going to generate those either. The industry saying is "12+ for show, 25-54 for dough."

    The Air America stations should have local shows, but they didn't push for that. It was considered unnecessary, that somehow Al Franken and the others would carry it.

    Oldies stations have a diffent target demographic, usually adults 55 and older.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 06 March, 2005 09:20  

  • Local shows weren't considered irrelevant, they're just not something Air America, acting as a syndicator, can do. Now all these local Air America stations actually are adding local hosts.

    And let's look at WLIB. While the 12+ numbers aren't changing, the underlying demos are. The NY Post reports that WABC is #15 and WLIB is #18 25-54 (I'd link to it, but NY Post archives stories after just 7 days).

    Clear Channel is rolling out Air America so aggressively because they're simply more able to make money with Air America than with the oldies and Fox Sports stations they're largely replacing. And that's because Air America is getting advertiser-friendly ratings.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 06 March, 2005 10:39  

  • Anon, Air America's local affiliates would do well to add local hosts and remove some of the weaker network shows.

    WABC and WLIB may look close in the 25-54 numbers at the moment, but that's because WABC took an unusually large drop this month. It usually rates much higher and I expect it to return to its normal position quickly. 18th place 25-54 is not the sign of a strong station.

    After all of the hype and free publicity Air America received it should have fared better. Now that has died down and had better catch on with an audience soon.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 06 March, 2005 11:22  

  • Well, then, I guess we're back to that "Air America Deathwatch" stuff. I think it's baloney. We'll see.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 06 March, 2005 15:10  

  • I don't think we're at the "deathwatch" point yet, but it may not be too far down the road. There should have been more ratings by now. It's got to be hard to sell out there, making me wonder about revenues.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 06 March, 2005 23:03  

  • I think you're off the mark (as I'm sure you do with me), but I'm glad we're both able to be reasonable here. Read a couple stories about Air America from UPI and Reuters that were published a month ago and let me know what you think.

    Especially, what do you think of this from the UPI article:

    [Clear Channel VP Gabe] Hobbs said talk stations typically take 18 months to two years to become established, but progressive talk is connecting considerably faster for Clear Channel.

    "Our stations are getting there in 30 to 90 days," he said. "That's remarkable considering most of the talent, no one knows who they are."

    And this from the Reuters article:

    With a new team of executives in charge and investors committing additional capital, Air America President Jon Sinton predicted the network could reach profitability by year's end.

    "We are as far as I can determine the fastest-growing network in the history of this industry," Sinton said, adding that its cumulative national audience ranges from 2.5 million to 3 million listeners per week.

    Also, regarding WLIB and WABC, WLIB's signal is significantly weaker, and the data wasn't from this most recent ratings period, though one can figure a reason to discount almost any single rating period's data.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 07 March, 2005 03:33  

  • Anon, yes, I prefer your civil discussion to the hate mail I usually receive instead from critics.

    As for the Gabe Hobbs comments, there's a difference between what companies tell the press and what's going on behind the scenes.

    So far Clear Channel seems to still be on board with the format for now. I don't think that will continue if performance remains this poor for another few months. I'd imagine they expected more by this point.

    There's a difference between an executive saying they will give a format two years to perform and actually giving it that much time. Patience usually runs out after a year or so.

    One thing that might save Air America is that there simply isn't much of anything else to switch the stations to, since they are mostly AM's.

    Clear Channel could easily spin the stations off for a sale, however, I think that's most likely.

    As for NYC: my point is that WABC consistently rates very high and WLIB has not shown growth in a year of any consequence. There are all kinds of signal problems in a major city that plague every station. You're not likely to get many AM stations inside NYC highrises.

    Yes, the company could make a small profit even with low ratings if it keeps expenses to a minimum. That seems realistic.

    As for having 3 million listeners, I don't buy it, unless online listnership accounts for most of it. There's no way the broadcast stations are attracting one-tenth of that audience combined (and that's probably high too).

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 07 March, 2005 10:32  

  • I think AAR is succeeding because it fills a need for station owners. It's an easy, low-cost switch for low-rated AM stations, and there are a lot of those out there. It does better in the "money demos" than oldies stations do, and it's cheaper to run. You're right that there's not an obvious better alternative to liberal talk for many AM stations, and I think that's what will give it an opportunity to grow.

    Also, you're right that CC execs have motive to say kinder things in public than in private about AAR. But I wouldn't think saying they're going to roll out 20 more stations this year would be something they'd say about an initiative they're considering ending.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 08 March, 2005 09:55  

  • Anon:

    I agree in part, it certainly is cheap to switch to Air America, the shows are free (barter) and the stations are probably automated so overhead is zip.

    There are very few formats suitable for AM stations.

    That being said, it's difficult to sell this kind of programming for many reasons.

    I tend to believe it's an easy format to switch to in advance of a series of station sales.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 09 March, 2005 00:00  

  • Would it make sense to be developing local hosts and even a new syndicated host for the format (Jerry Springer) if they're just looking to sell the stations, though? It seems to me they're trying to develop local shows, especially in AM drive, to pull in money.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 09 March, 2005 16:58  

  • It's not clear what they plan to do with Jerry Springer.

    Only a few stations have picked up local shows so far. The only serious effort underway is in Denver with KKZN where they've brought in Jay Marvin. That's local management putting the proper energy into making it succeed. Marvin has a good track record.

    Otherwise, Clear Channel hasn't developed local talent for their conservative stations, why would they for the liberal ones?

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 09 March, 2005 22:54  

  • Denver's got Jay Marvin, Cincinnati's got Jerry Springer, Detroit's got Nancy Skinner, San Diego's got Stacy Taylor... I guess Sacramento's Christine Craft isn't on a CC station... It seems like I've heard about other stations searching for local hosts. Portland's KPOJ, for example, says they'll have a local morning show announced this month. I did think there were more than that, though. I guess only time will tell who's right here.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10 March, 2005 07:09  

  • Around the time Clear Channel flipped WXDX to WDTW-AM (Air America, etc.), Salem turned WDTK into a conservative news/talk station (Ingraham, Medved, Prager - mostly hosts who had not been in the Detroit market before). WDTK, although it has a smaller share than the Detroit mainstay, WJR, at least has a measurable share of the Detroit market.

    Not to mention that WDTK is competing against local and loved hosts on WJR - including Detroit-based Mitch Albom - and national hosts like Limbaugh and Hannity on WJR. Despite that they've managed to gain some market share in Detroit, and only began the new format last October.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 29 April, 2005 01:23  

  • Liberals dont debate on facts. Conservatives do. We HAVE to listen to AM radio to get the cold hard facts. Who needs to listen to Air America personalities talk about for the 1,000,000th time that George W Bush in fact LIED about WMD.

    By Anonymous AaronHood, at 06 June, 2005 14:41  

  • Brian, you have no credibility. Your twisting of the facts is clearly a sign of right-wing desperation....I guess right-wingers are not as popular as they thought they were. But then they tend to be "under-informed" anyway.

    By Blogger synaesthesiac, at 14 November, 2005 13:44  

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