The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

15 May 2005

Democrat Reality Check In Washington State


Fallout From Tax Hikes, Conservative Talk Wars Over

The tax and spend party is over for Washington state Democrats, who seem to realize after the fact, that voters are hopping mad.

There are really two major stories wrapped in one, however, because this wild Dem spree also unintentionally ended Seattle's two-station conservative talk radio war. A winner has now been declared.

A combination of the disputed gubernatorial race going to Christine Gregoire, along with Democrats retaking full legislative control in Olympia, led to a party drunk with power. Instead of proceeding with caution, they went full-throttle, perhaps worried they would lose Gregoire if the election court challenge were to go against them.

The result: a near ten cents per gallon gas tax increase, on top of the recent five cent hike and vehicle tab renewal rates going higher, as well.

With gas prices hovering in the $2.50 per gallon range and the cost of living continuing to rise, there's only so much the working public can stomach. While Democrats dismiss public questions about potential fallout, privately, there seems to be far more concern.

In the meantime, conservatives are newly energized, after spending several nervous months wondering whether their gubernatorial court challenge would proceed.

Through this chain of events, Democrats unintentionally ended the once-noisy conservative talk radio war between Seattle stations KVI-AM and KTTH-AM.

They didn't do it alone, however: there was plenty of help from KTTH, who all but threw in the towel and gave up fighting for the Puget Sound area audience.

Rival KVI rose to action, immediately raising tens of thousands of dollars to fight the increases via initiative, energizing large groups of listeners and producing a tremendous amount of free publicity for the station.

With several local talk show hosts to rally the troops, KVI was in a strong position to fight hard. The momentum behind the effort is incredibly strong, even if they don't collect the required number of signatures needed, in the short time window to get the matter on the ballot.

On the other hand, KTTH rolled over and played dead. The fading station has tried to coast on its acquisition of Rush Limbaugh, saving money by hiring only one local host (tired Mike Siegel), which is now proving to be fatal.

Worse, the station has continued to use a second-tier syndication lineup for the rest of their schedule, dragged down by the conservative-bashing Michael Savage in afternoon drive.

KVI's hosts even invited KTTH's Siegel to participate, but he declined and took the station down the tubes at a critical time. That's a mistake he will soon live to regret.

Initially, KTTH's ratings surged, after it grabbed Limbaugh away from its longtime home at KVI. Since then, KVI has been able to fight back through local talk shows, while KTTH has slowly dropped to the point where the stations are neck-and-neck in the rankings.

Now the contest is over and KVI is the undisputed winner. For conservatives, KTTH is just a three-hour break from KVI during Limbaugh's timeslot. The chances of Rush making a fast return to KVI, as soon as contractually possible, have skyrocketed.

And when that happens, expect KTTH to disappear right off the map, a short footnote in the talk wars that will be quickly forgotten.


  • Would it be possible for you to link to some of the ratings data for KVI and KTTH broken down by time slot? (The links you provided for the Air America rating were very helpful.) I'm especially curious about Medved's show, which is stellar in my estimation.

    What's really driving listeners back to KVI is the station's focus on currently superheated local issues. Before the presidential election, listener's were more focused on superheated national issues as well. Regardless of whether Rush returns, KVI will continue to do well as long as there are local issues listeners feel passionate about.

    By Anonymous SheriJo, at 15 May, 2005 12:43  

  • The funny thing is, I generally listen to Snow instead of Limbaugh, so KTTH gets almost none of my time--I listened to Rush occasionally when Snow's fill in hosts bored me.

    As I've mentioned here, I never listen to Savage. KTTH would be wise to try to get Hugh Hewitt instead. I'm not sure how that would work, though, as Hugh's a Salem man, and he's on their local affiliate KKOL. KOL's signal is too weak, and their marketing nonexistant, though.

    KVI, though, deserves lots of credit for clawing their way back from the brink.

    By Anonymous Timothy, at 15 May, 2005 22:30  

  • Brian Maloney conveniently neglected to mention the name of Michael Medved in his article. Medved lives in Seattle and his show on KTTH is very successful.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 16 May, 2005 17:19  

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