The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

03 June 2005

Talk Radio Down In Seattle

Talked Out In Latteland?

Stations Look Weak In Latest Survey

What's happening to talk radio in the Puget Sound area? Tonight's fresh ratings data for the Seattle-Tacoma market doesn't bode well for the format.

Soon after the data's release, the Radio Equalizer was already hearing from readers, who thought these declines really jumped off the page.

Liberal, conservative, it just didn't matter from Arbitron's perspective: Lattleland seems to be suffering from talk radio fatigue.

In the interest of full disclosure, I've worked for a couple of these stations, but I call 'em like I see 'em. So far we have overall Monday-Sunday numbers for all listeners 12 and older, soon, more detailed data will become available.

For conservative talkers, the news wasn't good for either Limbaugh station KTTH, or more locally-focused KVI. While KTTH came out slightly ahead of KVI, that should be a given, with the huge built-in advantage of having Rush on board.

KTTH continued its massive audience erosion, from a solid 3.8 share last summer, to a sad 2.7 now. Each new report seems to take KTTH down further, while the station's been badly neglected, in terms of programming in need of a radical retooling by qualified professionals, combined with a moribund marketing effort.

For too long, the station cut costs by having only one local program, banking on Rush to hold it up. Meanwhile, there are several syndicated programs in the lineup that should have been removed long ago and the morning show needs fresh energy.

Rival KVI's not looking better, except for this: to hold your own against Limbaugh's station, without a similar superstar program, isn't easy.

Having Hannity helps quite a lot, as well as the emphasis on local programming, which gives the station an edge when area issues are hot (which has been the case recently). KVI's local hosts have been particularly active on state topics recently, taking advantage of their strong suit.

KVI fought hard to recover from the loss of Limbaugh, correctly sticking to local topics, but is now losing the audience again, falling from a 3.3 last fall, to a 2.5 now. What hurts KVI is the lack of a dedicated program director, after the last one left for Portland several months ago.

On the left side, there was nothing to crow about, either. The once-mighty KIRO held steady with last month's number, but is now stuck in 6th place. For many years, KIRO was locked into first place every survey, it never gets near that rank now.

There are major rumblings about changes coming, but I'm not so sure, they've been slow to make changes in the past. The station's sharp turn to the left, with one local conservative in the middle of a liberal sandwich, makes no sense from a programming standpoint.

When I worked there, one manager described KIRO to me as "net-non-ideological", meaning there was enough balance to keep the station from being seen too much as one way or the other. It always had a liberal tilt, but never to the extreme seen now, which is why I think a segment of the audience has been alienated.

What's key to KIRO's survival, by the way, is not how any of the talk shows are performing, but whether the morning news program's ratings hold up. Recently, those had begun to slide for the first time. That's where the money is made, so any real drop there, would hurt KIRO badly.

KIRO's real competition is a news station, KOMO-AM, which stole the Mariners radio broadcasts away from the station several years ago. With the team not faring much better than last year, KOMO hasn't seen the big ratings surge expected, at least not yet. That's more likely to change as the summer figures emerge.

Air America affiliate KPTK showed more promise than any of their other stations around the country, mostly because they had a chance to seize upon KIRO's misfortune, but they haven't put enough effort into the station.

Crucial time was lost in not hiring a local host for the station, which has cost it dearly. A real opportunity for liberal radio to succeed has been squandered in Seattle. One major problem: its local managers aren't familiar with the talk radio format.

KPTK fell from a 1.5 to a 1.3, settling in near the bottom of the list, next to tiny stations from distant communities.

Since the Radio Equalizer has a decent number of Puget Sound area readers, I'm going to put this question to you: what's going on here? Is there fatigue with some of the national programs?

Have some of the local hosts become stale or uninteresting? Are the wrong topics being covered? Are blogs such as Sound Politics or news sites like Orbusmax taking away the need for talk radio?

Please leave your insights in the comments section below, by clicking on the link. No registration is required.


  • Hi Brian, My listening is affected by hot topic du jour. Before the presidential election, I listened regularly to national shows such as Rush and Medved. Now that local issues are red-hot in our fair Washington State, local shows on KVI are much more important to me.

    I view many blogs as well, but in addition to and not instead of talk radio.

    I still like to catch Medved since he talks about cultural issues as well as politics. He also engages his guests and callers in debate, enabling his audience to hear both sides of issues. I find that very compelling and thought provoking.

    I have to admit that as much as I like Medved and Rush, KTTH has a real problem with the rest of their lineup IMHO.

    By Anonymous SheriJo, at 03 June, 2005 23:53  

  • Here's my personal Arbitron:

    I try to get KVI's Kirby Wilbur in the morning via the Internet stream, and except for today because of closing arguments - I stream up John Carlson. Listening to him is a fashion statement, ever since "the total mess" in King County Elections. Also, I trust him to give me the conservative POV on things.

    Sometimes I also stay on and listen to Lt. Bryan Suits, but it depends on if I'm maxed out or have to blog something he isn't talking about.

    I'd try KTTH's Mike Siegel again (used to do him in the mornings) but his reception is so iffy in Sedro-Woolley and his producer is a big, fat, stuffy needle. Frankly, KTTH needs to go streaming to survive.

    And I have an idea for a new talk show host: Mary "Marummy" Lane.

    I may do a blog post on this tomorrow. Blogged out today.

    By Anonymous Josef of "Freeware Journal...", at 03 June, 2005 23:55  

  • Brian...Nice insightful report.
    Bean counters, in my opinion, have done more to ruin radio, almost any formatthan anyone. Most of them have nary a clue about broadcasting. Also, we probably have far too many radio stations on the air. There just isn't the advertising dollars to support it all. Automation saves money and it sure is hell better than the click thump automation of decades agao, but it sure dosn't sound fresh. Nothing more fun than time checks that can be off my minutes and never a current temperature.
    Out of town consultants have to rank high in ruining radio as well. Are there no real professionals in broadcasting to make decisions about how to program a station?
    I listen to KVI, KTTH, KIXI. At 61 I rarely tune in an FM station.
    KBSG, typical of so many oldies stations has a play list as long as some women's thongs. KIXI does a bit better, but they have ignored 100's of great songs that fit their format.
    Remember in the 70's before the first major gas crunch?....4 gas stations and many street corners....far too many to survive. Deregulation of radio so you hear the same guy reading news or whatever on several staions, under the same ownership umbrella isn't my idea of radio. Broadcasting isn't "fun" or spontaneous anymore. The golden days are long gone. I am just glad I was fortunate enough to enjoy them.

    By Anonymous Duane, at 04 June, 2005 00:09  

  • Greetings, I enjoy your site, although it's been several weeks...
    Being in the 40-50 yr bracket, I now live in the talk radio market (I AM my old man!!!). Up until the month of May, I lived in my car for the daily commute. I would spend 75% at KJR-am and the rest btwn KTTH and KVI.

    Mid-morning was tough... Rush is tiresome. Tony Snow and Alan Prell are both off the chart. Air America is just plain boring.

    Mid-day was fun. Dori just plain ROCKS. He's bending more to the right now, but that fits the times and age demographics. Medved is not bad, but a bit more 'right' than I like at times. Sean H. is off the chart at times and Ed Schultz is . . . boring. I hate his voice... My fall back is the Groz on KJR.

    At 3:00, my attn is on Groz with Gas. Their chemistry is great. I'll slip over to John Carlson, but that's it. I used to listen to Ross in the morning, but he's up against too much in the afternoon.

    I now work at home and only stream in the afternoon. I toggle back and forth btwn KIRO and KJR.

    By Blogger MacBoar, at 04 June, 2005 02:42  

  • The talk radio market is reaching saturation. There's a cyclical nature to talk radio, centering around election cycles.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 04 June, 2005 11:01  

  • I just hyperlinked to you Brian, hoping that'll garner a few more comments.

    By Blogger Josef, at 04 June, 2005 13:44  

  • I am definitely a good example of a radio listener in Seattle that has switched back to KVI for some of the day due to the current local issues.

    I work from home and used to listen only to KTTH: Siegal, Rush, Medved, Savage. Now it's been Siegal/Kirby Wilbur, Rush, Medved, Carlson/Savage. Basically switching between KTTH and KVI while the local programming is on. I'm curious to see if I'll go back to the straight KTTH line-up once the court battle for Governor is over and when the gas tax initiative is settled. Usually I'm much more interested in local politics. Oh, I can't forget David Boze. I like him a lot and wish he would just take over the morning show from Mike Siegal.

    Also, I have been switching back to KVI during Rush a bit now that Tony Snow is back. I think Rush has spent way too much time talking about the nuclear option. I think he spent all three hours for about three weeks talking of almost nothing else. It was just too much.

    Sorry for such a long post, but one more thing. As for blogs taking a bite out of talk radio; I’m not so sure that's the case. I check out blogs constantly but have the radio going all the time. I suspect this is probably the case with others. Blogs are a good complement to the subjects being discussed on radio and vice versa.

    By Anonymous Mark D, at 04 June, 2005 17:17  

  • Brian,

    This is an insightful blog.

    I have watched myself spend less time listening to the radio over the past two years. While KVI and KTTH are where my AM dial is set and KBSG is the only station on FM, nowadays I seem to get my news from the net. I do listen to Mike Siegel, mainly cause I am starting to have trouble with Kirby's voice and combative syle (NOT HIS POLITICS) and am very pleased with the community outreach that Mike does all around the Sound (granted he is selling his books at these events too.) I listen to Rush, but less so now that there is no national election on-going. Michael Medved is eminently listenable and his emphasis on culture is the only program like it. Besides, he does a pretty darn good job of film review and is even able to separate his political or cultural view of the movie from his evaluation of its technical and entertainment merits.

    Sean is a great guy, but his and Tony's voices aren't pleasing to me. Savage is inconsistent and not someone you want behind you, you would never know when he was going to knife you. And like Rush, I listen less to the national guys/gals in non-election years.

    John Carlson is the one guy I go out of my way to listen to. His choice of subjects (usually local or state) and his approach to those issues is exactly right for me (pun intended). More importantly, John seem to do the best job of all of the hosts in research, insight and fairness. But his being a born and bred local and a participant in many issues and races certainly gives him a leg up on framing the context of current events.

    Brian Suits is a comer, but since I am retired military, I also evaluate him differently when he talks military issues. He is a technical and tactical grade A but a operational and strategic grade C -- 100% reflecting his youth and (in)experience not his upper level intellect. He is likely the future of a KVI/KTTH star line-up in 10 years. But he does have to get more involved in local affairs so that he too is part of the scene not just reporting on or discussing it.

    In the final analysis, personality and programming aside, I find I now depend on the blogs and Drudge/Orbusmax for news and commentary. You, Shark, Josef, Croker Sack and even the PLU College Republican Blog (Respectfully Republican) - there are about seven I read consistently - provide thoughtful insight and commentary AT MY CONVENIENCE.

    By Anonymous Deryl McCarty, at 05 June, 2005 19:33  

  • Brian, I just looked at your link to the actual Seattle ratings and noticed KQBZ has actually overtaken KTTH and KVI in the ratings. This was quite a shock to me. For those who don't know, KQBZ is home to "Radio for Guys" and carries a long-running Seattle morning show then the rest is Tom Leykes and Tom Leykes type local shows.

    Any insight into this?


    By Anonymous Mark D, at 05 June, 2005 22:23  

  • I listen both KTTH and KVI.

    Yeah, I'm a bit fatigued by the same tired arguments. Both sides blame the other, while the country turns to shit. Just once I'd like to hear one side or the other say "Yeah, we have been a bunch of toads. We've decided to stop."

    Yeah, like that will ever happen.

    Savage is hard to take sometimes, but in many ways, he's my favorite. I think he shares more of my values (hatred of liberals and checked-pants republicans) than many other hosts.

    I also like "Darth" Sytman, but I can only get him on Saturday / Sundays.

    Boze puts me to sleep big-time. David -- I don't give a rip about your house projects or the dance lessons you took in college.

    Siegel is better. I'd like to hear more cases where Siegel is getting on the phone with some pol a-hole and confronting them.

    I wish he would make his calls during the day and record them for broadcast the next day. Hearing him leave voice-mail is weak at best. I want to hear honest confrontation, not a "please call me" message.

    I can't listen to Rush for more than about 1/2 an hour.

    Medved is typically good, and I could listen to him all afternoon.

    O'Reilly doesn't impress me as much anymore, since the skirt-chasing deal. He needs to be more effective in holding people accountable, and to confront more people on his show. Shit, Bill, where is the passion that you used to have?

    I like Kirby on KVI, but he's too polite.

    Snow is good, but he is too willing to endorse the checked-pants RINOs (same with Rush.)

    Hannity is just yelling. If I wanted yelling, I'd just ask my wife a valid question, like "Is dinner going to be late again tonight?"

    Carlson is good, but too mellow and easy going for my tastes.

    Suits is pretty good, and a welcome break from KTTH at times.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 06 June, 2005 03:10  

  • Isn't there always a loss of interest after a major election? For me it's like a fatigue or burnout.

    There also seems to be a decline in the ability of national shows to continually produce a quality program. Tony Snow is one of my favorites, but his fill-in hosts just didn't do it. My guess is his ratings fell during the time he was away. Hannity's show is like one long advertisement for his TV show, or his books, or his summer concert, or whatever. Rush kinda went down hill after his troubles with the law. Savage is... well... savage.

    Locally, Bryan Suits is still getting back in the swing of things. And Carlson gets a little tiring with his constantly siding with moderates in the Republican party while claiming to be a conservative. And Kirby is just too early in the morning for a techie like me. We keep odd hours.

    That's my take.

    By Anonymous JB, at 06 June, 2005 03:20  

  • You had some interesting comments on talk radio. I do think I get feeling saturated with politics, especially national, and want to listen to some local talk radio right at the time when only national talk radio shows are on. I listen to KTTH and KVI a little in the morning ( Kirby's voice gets a bit on my nerves, I have to admit. When I get to work I listen to KBSG (tired of the same oldies, however, hear them over and over there), but from 9-2 M-F mainly listen to KGNW or Christian station, learn so much there. The rest of the time I listen to old time radio mystery tapes my husband tapes for us in the middle of the night on KIXI. At 3 p.m. I turn on KVI to hear the opening comments, but I have to admit I love Michael Savage. He is refreshing and not just a "Republican" but a conservative and very funny. I used to listen more often to talk radio, I am so glad it is there, but I have to turn it off sometimes just to retain my sanity as the frustration mounts with the constant fight against liberal doings!

    By Anonymous jeanie, at 06 June, 2005 09:04  

  • Damjned good column, Brian -- andyour contributors are, for the most part, interesting too.
    My observations (as a retired radio DJ, talk-show host, Program Director and manager) are, first, Kirby Wilbur wears his Christianity on his sleeve, which is okay - unless you're something else, like a Deist; Mike Segel is excellent, as is Dave Boze; Rush is getting tired. Tony Snow knows more and is the most enlightening/educational. Then, Medved chased me away because of his "Losertarian" rants -- no wonder his audience is fading; Sean Hannity is a tad too shallow, and his having clowns like Randall Terry on-the-air, giving him some pseudo-credibility? Yuck. I'll pass.
    John Carlson's sharp, BUT, he takes about 15 minutes to, uh, uh, say in, uh, 30 seconds or so.
    Dave Ross is blah, Mike Webb is probably the top candidate for suicide -- gotta be the most unhappy jerk I've ever heard, the least friendly and hardest to listen to. Savage is another nut who may just blow-his-brains-out someday, or jump off his Golden Gate Bridge. Haven't heard Suits in a while, but he was pretty fair last time.
    Which leaves Joel Connally's favorite, Dori Monson -- undoubtably the best radio guy in Seattle -- possibly one of the best in the country, and definitely the best talk-show host I've ever heard.
    It's more than just idiology, that's for sure!

    By Blogger Frost, at 06 June, 2005 11:20  

  • Living out on the NW Coast(Forks area) the day time reception is lousy KVI in p.m., Kiro- Dori Monson sic?, Dave Ross sometimes, Most of the time go to 2-meters and do my own talk.
    Mike H.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 06 June, 2005 11:55  

  • I think talk radio is for:
    1) Education on Issues
    2) Entertainment
    3) A form of Therapy to voice frustrations
    4) A sense of Community of like minded people.

    ACTION, ACTION, ACTION. Personally, I think listeners do get saturated, where they understand the issues in depth. We get to a point where we've talked it to death, and we want some ACTION, some VICTORIES. But for the most part, especially on the Left Coast, conservatives experience more defeats than victories. Most elected officials continue to ignore us. A good share of the talk radio audience is male. Males by nature want less talk, and more action. If we just keep talking about issues, we risk becoming feminized, and guys tune out. We can Think through the issues, we can Talk through the issues, but without Power and Action it is pointless.

    LOCAL, LOCAL, LOCAL. The trend continues towards nationally syndicated shows. But listeners have little impact on national issues. We can have limited impact on state issues. However, we can be most effective on Local issues, where we can call our county, city, and local school district representatives. These are battles we can win, where we can flood phone lines, attend meetings, form rallies, and where our votes can make a difference. In baseball terminology, play small ball, rather than striking out swinging for the fences. I'm in the Portland market, and Lars Larson is very effective here, but he is the only local host we have. Also, it is very effective when he has follow-up calls with local officials, where he keeps pressing for action.

    By Blogger Frank, at 06 June, 2005 17:41  

  • I think you are seeing some post election doldrums on the conservative side of things...the Kerry debacle was sooo entertaining...tough act to follow.

    We have some very entertaining and hot local issues right now compared to the national scene. Carlson, Monson and Siegel are entertaining on those issues. I honestly believe that the three of them could package a pretty good station.

    What I find irritating is Carlson's uh, uh, AAANDDAA uh, uhing - he should listen to his own tapes. Wilbur is intelligent but a very whiny voice - and his phony 'gasps' at his own 'jokes' are really annoying. BUT NOTHING is as grating as the morning baffoon - Allan Prell. Why can't KIRO management figure out that this guy is an idiot...totally ruining the good old reliable KIRO.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 06 June, 2005 18:01  

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