The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

06 April 2005

Air America Ratings Controversy Just Won't Die

A Life Of Its Own
Liberal Ratings Post Bounces Around Internet

I'm not sure why factual evidence of liberal talk radio's low ratings gets some people so worked up, except perhaps that it conflicts with both the high expectations for the genre and counters the media hype machine, that tries so hard to promote Franken & Co.

Since my most recent article appeared here, I've heard from some very angry liberals, who are certain I must be wrong but can't tell me quite why. Many excuses are being made which just don't hold water.

It boils down to this: there's a difference between what you might like personally and what the rest of the country cares to hear on the radio. It's not my fault if the two don't match up.

The article I wrote was not only picked up by a number of major blogs, but radio industry and general discussion sites as well, in the most unlikely of places. At least 100 sites linked to it, perhaps many more. A surge of readers began to look at it just tonight, why that is, I have no idea.

What Does It Take To Get A Boston Globe Correction, Anyway?

One excuse supporters make is to say that Air America stations have poor signals, but this issue is being badly overplayed, to the point of outright inaccuracy.

Boston-area radio DJ Bob Nelson contacted the Globe to correct their Air America story, which claimed the two local affiliates were daytimers, shutting down at sunset. Factually, that's incorrect, but the Globe sent Nelson a reply saying in effect, that since the station managers claimed this was true, it was good enough for them. But it's not true and between the two signals, most of the Boston area is in fact, being reached quite well.

Griping About Ratings Breakdowns

Several of the real soreheads who took me on about ratings claimed the 12-and-older figures I posted simply didn't matter, that it was really about more specific demographics. None offered factual information that these age breakdowns provided any better numbers for Air America stations.

I've worked in talk radio since 1993 and can tell you that you'd better believe the 12+ numbers matter a great deal, or they wouldn't be featured in the radio trades, each month. It's true that sales departments look at 25-54 figures, but again, nobody's bringing evidence forward that these ratings are any better.

Twelve-plus ratings remain the best way to look at a news/talk station's audience with the broadest available measurement. Some music stations work differently, one playing pop music is more interested in 18-34 or teen figures. Not so for news/talk.

I'm only aware of one place where Air America saw slight improvement month-to-month: in Seattle, where there was a tiny 12+ gain of 0.1 share. In the 25-54 audience segment they did well in the 10am-3pm daypart.

But the reasons were specific to Seattle: KIRO-AM, my former employer, threw their mid-morning and early afternoon audience away with a new line-up from 9am-3pm that has not worked out.

Liberals migrated instead to Air America's KPTK, giving it a rare ray of hope. KIRO finished dead last among talk stations in the 10-3 time period, behind KTTH, KVI and KPTK. KIRO was, until recent years, the number one news/talk station all day long. This is no longer the case. KIRO has also now largely abandoned news coverage to competitor KOMO.

The Right Wing Agenda Strikes Again

Some angry emailers took me to task for having a "right-wing" agenda that clouded my coverage of Air America and liberal radio. There's no question that this site reflects a conservative viewpoint, it's clearly stated, but I have no real desire to see liberal talk radio fail. I've worked with a number of leftists in radio, some became friends, others didn't.

If they can get ratings, more power to them. Even if it took off it would be no threat to conservative stations. The audiences are different.

These emotional hotheads must not have examined my blog too carefully, either, because I was tougher on Sean Hannity some weeks back than I've ever been with Air America.

Overall, I just don't think liberal talk radio is going to do any better this time than it did in all of the previous attempts. At some point, the radio industry and liberals alike, will have to face this unfortunate reality.

We'll keep you posted on developments.


  • Tony & Gary are feeding you flawed info.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 06 April, 2005 21:30  

  • Not sure who "Tony and Gary" are, if you're talking about Entercom Seattle, there are a few guys named "Tony" but can't think of a "Gary".

    It's not necessary, by the way, to have any Entercom contacts to obtain this information, so you can relax, unless I misunderstood.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 07 April, 2005 12:32  

  • You write that "between the two signals", you can hear Air America in most of Boston. Brian, you're simply wrong about this.

    I drive all over Boston each day as part of my job, and can say that the signal is often spotty, at best. Even the Boston affiliate's bumpers joke about hopw the signal needs to be strengthened.

    No idea how AA will ultimately do in Boston, but there's no accurate way to judge until people can listen to it in their cars for more than five minutes at a time.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11 April, 2005 12:22  

  • (Bob Nelson here, the guy Brian quoted!) Here north of Boston, 1200 and especially 1430 come in well. I've heard tell in Metro West 1200 comes in extremely well. (It should, being from Framingham.)
    South of town, I'm not so sure.

    And I would think in Boston itself, AM 1430 (stick in Medford) would come in well both day and night.

    Night coverage might suffer compare to a WRKO or a WBZ but here in Beverly, 1430 was coming in very well in the wee wee hours.

    Maybe depends on weather conditions of type of radio you have.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 14 April, 2005 13:55  

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