St Louis, Missouri, Providence, Liberal Talk Radio
Failure To Learn From Past Mistakes Proves Costly
When managerial incompetence finally succeeds in killing off this still-popular radio format, what cause of death will be chiseled into talk radio's tombstone?
--- Will it have been the undermining of experienced talk radio programmers, by company managers who wrongly believe anyone can run the stations?
--- Or, corporate-mandated, low-quality syndicated talk shows that have displaced local hosts nationwide?
--- Or, as threats emerge from every possible direction, owners and managers who have no idea how to adapt?
While those remain key industry missteps, a lack of institutional memory is the most likely final nail in talk radio's coffin. If it didn't work a few years ago, what's different now?
Sadly, that never seems to stop these talk novices from wasting time and money, relearning someone else's past mistakes.
Need examples? Out of this week's news, here are two:
Unlearned lesson one: unless grandfathered-in via a longstanding, loyal "heritage" audience, talk stations need to choose a side: liberal or conservative.
Common industry knowledge for at least a decade, switching between right, left and sports shows is akin to playing classical, hip-hop and rock music on the same outlet. Audiences don't stick around.
Yet look what just happened in St Louis (via St Louis Media):
KRFT flips Wednesday ... from RadioOnline: Big League Broadcasting is launching "Talk Radio 1190," a new Talk outlet in St. Louis. Beginning tomorrow, Sports KRFT-AM will flip to a lineup of nationally syndicated talk programming, including Don Imus, Neal Boortz, Al Franken, The 2 Live Stews, Jim Cramer and Dave Ramsey. Big League also owns Sports/Talk KFNS-AM & FM (The Fan) in St. Louis.
"We are extremely excited to launch a second station in the St. Louis Market, especially with such a dynamic lineup," says VP/GM Evan Crocker. "There is something for everyone, from political talk on both ends of the spectrum to a brand new form of sports talk that brings a new level of energy to the genre. One thing is for certain - Talk Radio 1190 promises to be unpredictable and never boring."
How many Neal Boortz listeners are going to stick around for Al Franken? Or for sports and financial talk?
On the same radio station, that's at least four different formats, a recipe for disaster.
Unlearned lesson two: if it didn't work six months ago across town, it's probably not a good idea for your station!
Providence's WHJJ-AM was a previously successful Clear Channel conservative talk station that made an ill-fated decision to go liberal with Air America programming. After bleeding nearly to death, it finally pulled the plug on most of the shows.
Instead of returning to conservative shows, however, the station went milquetoast. The result: no ratings recovery.
So what did highly-rated, longtime conservative competitor WPRO-AM do? After years of right-leaning programming in the midmorning slot before Rush Limbaugh, it has imported an out-of-state liberal!
Excerpted from the Providence Journal:
WPRO-AM has hired Dave Barber, an outspoken, sometimes controversial talk show host from Flint, Mich., to take over the morning slot formerly held by Steve Kass.
WPRO general manager Barbara Haynes said the station heard about Barber through Holland Cooke, a radio consultant (and former WPRO DJ) who lives on Block Island.
Pullen said Barber has a flair for publicity -- but not all the publicity has been good.
In 2000, Rebecca Crossnoe, an employee at Barber's then-radio station, WFDF-AM, sued Barber and the radio station for sexual harassment. The Michigan state attorney general's office investigated but did not file criminal charges.
The Flint Journal reported the case was settled out of court.
"That's wrong. The woman dropped the suit against me. I didn't settle anything," Barber said. "I didn't pay her one cent. . . .the charges were completely false."
Barber said he didn't know if the radio station paid anything to the defendant. Crossnoe's attorney, Andrew J. Bean of Detroit, did not return phone calls.
WPRO's Haynes said she was aware of the case, did some research of her own -- she declined to specify exactly what that entailed -- and went ahead with her decision to hire Barber.
In 2003, Barber was charged with impersonating a peace officer at a bar in Grand Rapids, Mich. The Flint Journal reported the charge was reduced to illegal possesion of a law enforcement badge, and Barber paid about $100 in fines and court costs.
The Flint Journal said Barber had been given the badge by a former Michigan county sheriff who had issued hundreds, maybe thousands, of them during his administration.
Barber said the badge was visible in his wallet when he went to pay his credit card bill, and another patron at the bar made an issue out of it.
Haynes said she was not aware of the incident.
Unlike most talk show hosts these days, Barber usually comes at issues from the left, not the right. Pullen called him "a blue collar populist."
Barber is a close friend of film provocateur Michael Moore, although Barber said that doesn't mean he agrees with everything Moore says.
On his last day on the air, Barber spoke to Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat. She was just back from the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C., so Barber asked her about Rhode Island Governor Carcieri.
Granholm said she happened to be on a panel with Carcieri. "Had I known, I would have warned him about you," she said.
"He'll be a good subject for you. You are gonna love it. He's a conservative Republican, and he's gonna have a lot to worry about with you coming to Providence," Granholm said.
"Can you imagine that I've spent my entire life in Michigan, and the one time I pick to move I pick a state that has a Republican governor?" Barber said.
Aside from the questionable background and unwillingness to admit he's a liberal, if Barber's so great, why was he stuck in Flint for 30 years?
Beyond carrying Limbaugh, WPRO's strength has always been in providing an uncommon alternative to Rhode Island's hopelessly corrupt Democrat political machine. Because he serves as a rare check on their power, the station's listeners support Governor Carcieri a great deal.
Barber will be foolishly fighting the tide and WPRO will suffer greatly from this ill-advised move.
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