Seattle Radio Ratings Released
Rush-less Conservatives Win, Baseball Boost, Denver News
One of the more interesting results of the Arbitron Spring 2005 Phase II ratings has emerged in Seattle, where a news-talk shake-up is underway.
A seasonal Mariners baseball surge explains part of it, but there are larger trends at work, as well.
The ongoing conservative talk war between KVI and Limbaugh affiliate KTTH, has seen the former take the lead, despite lacking Rush's golden EIB microphone.
As mentioned here previously, the difference is simple: KVI has overcome the show's departure to KTTH by correctly emphasizing local talk shows, while the latter has failed to retool the lineup.
While KVI rose from a 2.5 to a 2.9, KTTH held at a 2.7, a recent low and down from a peak of 3.8 set last summer.
The lesson? That the days of simply coasting on Limbaugh's success are over. While Rush still has a huge following, he can no longer hold up a station on his own. Nor should this be expected of El Rushbo.
This reflects a trend we've seen in other cities, from New York, to Chicago, Dallas and Washington, where Limbaugh stations saw big ratings drops.
Does it mean he's less popular? I don't believe so. Most of the other cases involve ABC stations, which are in limbo, while they wait to be sold off by Disney.
KVI has a major revenue advantage as well, because local shows have more advertising spots per hour, as well as hosts making endorsements and live appearances at area businesses.
Strong sales departments know these opportunities more than offset on-air salaries.
Since news station KOMO-AM grabbed the Mariners coverage from longtime affiliate KIRO several years ago, the former has seen seasonal surges, while the latter has slowly, but steadily declined.
KOMO's problems are two-fold: their news coverage has never quite been strong enough to take over the market and the Mariners have performed unevenly in the last few seasons.
KIRO, however, made things much easier for KOMO and others, through a series of ill-fated programming moves, resulting in fresh all-time lows.
These drops can't be explained by baseball alone, since KIRO held up fairly well against KOMO in the first couple of seasons.
The station gutted its news coverage, dropping the afternoon drive program and added market-untested talkers that didn't catch fire with the local audience.
Most importantly, franchise host Dave Ross was uprooted from his longtime 9am-noon home and moved to afternoons. That has him competing directly with baseball broadcasts on KOMO.
KIRO fell to a 3.7 from a 4.3 last month against a high of 5.0 last fall. Until recently, the station always lead the market in first place. Now, it's ranked ninth overall, its lowest ever.
Since it dropped more than KOMO rose, baseball just can't account for the problem.
Meanwhile, Air America's KPTK rose a tenth, from a 1.3 to a 1.4. Infinity has delayed adding local talkers, something that needs to change immediately, if the station could ever hope to take off.
--- In Denver, former KIRO Program Director Kris Olinger had a good day, with two of the talk stations she now oversees experiencing increases.
Mega-talker KOA rose from a 5.3 to a 5.7, to take third. It features Rush Limbaugh and Rockies baseball. KHOW, with a less-clear image, fell from a 3.1 to a 2.8.
Air America execs might want to talk to Olinger, because her lib talker chalked one of the only real nationwide gains this month. "Progressive" KKZN rose from 1.6 to a 2.0, for 20th place.
How did it happen? First, high-profile liberal host Jay Marvin was lured back to Denver from Chicago to take the morning program.
Second, KKZN has been actively marketed, with promotional events in the area.
Bottom line: it's being run more like the conservative talkers, less like quirky, weird Air America.
Fair disclosures: I formerly worked for both KIRO and KVI at different times. Kris Olinger was my former manager. Ratings data from Radio and Records.