The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

06 April 2007

Los Angeles, Liberal Talk Radio, KTLK-AM


Schultz, AAR Spar Over Programming, Fees

Is this what it has finally come to?

In the sad world of liberal talk radio, where years of underperforming shows have led some to write off the format, long- simmering tensions between rivals have finally boiled over.

And leading the way is non- Air America talker Ed Schultz, who has taken his beef with Clear Channel / Los Angeles affiliate public. After losing his prime daytime slot on KTLK-AM to AAR talker Thom Hartmann, Schultz turned to the Los Angeles Times, alleging a "pay- to- play" deal bumped his show.

While this form of quasi- payola has become commonplace throughout the talk radio industry, Schultz brought forward no smoking gun evidence to prove his case. While the station denies taking payments to add Hartmann's show, Radio Equalizer readers know that before its recent bankruptcy, Air America had always paid large sums for KTLK airtime.

Meanwhile, KTLK's ratings continue to sag, turning in terrible numbers this month: a 0.6 overall audience share in Los Angeles, compared to a 1.0 a year ago.

From today's Los Angeles Times:

Fans of liberal talk radio were no doubt baffled in recent weeks by the decision by KTLK-AM (1150) to relegate its popular midday personality Ed Schultz to the lesser time slot of weekday evenings and replacing him with a host with a lower national profile.

But while listeners may be puzzled, Schultz himself thinks there's a conspiracy at work, one involving "progressive talk" station KTLK and struggling liberal radio network Air America.

"It's not a radio decision," Schultz said by phone. "It has nothing to do with ratings or sales. To say I'm upset about it is an understatement. Air America is screwing things up."

Executives at L.A.- based KTLK, which is owned by Clear Channel, deny that the decision to bump Schultz to the lesser time slot had anything to do with Air America, which provides programming for KTLK and other liberal talk stations.

Station General Manager John Quinlan said no special financial arrangements have been made between KTLK and Air America as was alleged by Schultz. He said that the station, in fact, is striving to break free of the identity of "being the Air America station" in Los Angeles. He noted that the programming decisions for KTLK were made by the station and not Clear Channel.

Schultz, who does his daily three-hour show from Fargo, N.D., had recently been ranked by the trade publication Talkers Magazine as the top "progressive talk" host in the nation. Nationally, his audience had grown to an estimated 3 million, based on the most recent Arbitron ratings, more than double the numbers calculated for Randi Rhodes, the New York-based Air America host whom KTLK inserted in Schultz's old noon-to-3 p.m. slot, and far more than Air America's professorial Thom Hartmann, who has replaced the departed Al Franken, 9 a.m.-to-noon.

It seemed improbable that KTLK, a laggard in the ratings since adopting the progressive talk format in 2005, would jettison from radio prime time the host many regard as the left's strongest mainstream challenge to the long dominance of conservative broadcasters Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. (Schultz has beaten Hannity head to head during past ratings periods in San Diego, Seattle, Portland, Denver and Miami.)

A rivalry intensifies

The realignment has aggravated Schultz's not-so-friendly rivalry with Air America, the liberal network recently rescued from bankruptcy by New York real estate magnate Stephen L. Green. Schultz, along with KTLK-based early morning talker Stephanie Miller, is distributed by Jones Radio Networks, which has no connection to Air America. Schultz claims Air America has offered KTLK a cash premium to reserve the 9 a.m.-to-3 p.m. period for its own talent, in effect shutting him out.

Quinlan said the decision to move "The Ed Schultz Show" in early March was precipitated by Schultz's decision in January to change the start of his live broadcast from 3 p.m. Eastern time to noon. To continue carrying Schultz live, KTLK could have moved his show to the morning slot formerly occupied by Air America headliner Franken but instead chose to begin carrying Hartmann in the time period because of listener preference, Quinlan said.

Schultz, crying foul, said Quinlan, in fact, initially applauded his time change and indicated to him before Christmas that he planned to move Schultz's show into Franken's spot. "Then Air America wrote them a check," Schultz said.

Quinlan denied any payments were made. Instead he said, "Our listeners preferred Hartmann to Ed," though Hartmann was not being carried regularly on KTLK except as an occasional sub for Franken. "The response we got was convincing," Quinlan said.

At the end of the day, it boils down to this: love him or hate him, Schultz is one of the only libtalk hosts who has come even close to succeeding in this still- struggling format. By contrast, Hartmann is a snoozer with little upside potential.

As a result, if Schultz wasn't performing for KTLK, Hartmann isn't likely to do much better.

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  • almost three hours into the post and even the usual ankle-biters aren't at each other over this one...

    Alas, it's good/easter/almost holiday-like Friday.

    ho-hum :p

    By Blogger TJ, at 06 April, 2007 16:58  

  • I'll bite. I'd like to see more evidence from the bankruptcy claiming to show Air America payola to Clear Channel to run their programs. If it's there, then I'll believe Ed. Until then, I'm giving John Quinlan the benefit of the doubt because KTLK still comes across as passionate and determined as progresives are right now.

    I was sure they'd give Al's slot to Ed, but I think it is judicious to give Thom Hartmann a fair hearing and he seems to be doing well.

    New local drive host Mr. K is smart on politics but seems to spend half of his time on celebrity gossip and banal topic talk which drives me away. But heck, it's not as though rightwing monsters have taken over the country using the AM radio dial, so why not handicap American Idol on our one alternative station, right?

    A perfect KTLK would have Ed in a better slot (certainly not pre-empted by B League sports) and rebroadcast superstar Stephanie Miller in the evening for the majority listeners who don't get up at 6 am.

    I even listen to Alan Colmes now at midnight because never has a better display of hick redneck callers gathered to re-enact the Civil War on radio. Give a listen to what happened to America.

    By Blogger gregrocker, at 06 April, 2007 19:26  

  • schultz is a buffoon
    and aar is run by moneychangers

    move along, folks
    nothing to see here

    By Blogger hashfanatic, at 06 April, 2007 22:31  


    By Blogger The Real Bob Anthony, at 07 April, 2007 08:22  

  • I've heard Ed speaking some blasphemies against liberalism the last couple of weeks, maybe Ed and Savage are experiancing a "Freaky Friday" effect.

    By Blogger Lonewatchman, at 07 April, 2007 08:22  

  • Hey you, this is a very interest site! I come from germany and my Business is Feuerwerk I will visit these Blog soon again to look all the news. Regards Busch

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 07 April, 2007 09:51  

  • It's especially bad for Ed - that 7-10 pm slot is often filled with Kings hockey during NHL season.

    IF this isn't fixed by October, he'll only have half-a-presence on what has to be one of the top progressive format stations remaining in the country.

    By Blogger Robert Spuhler, at 07 April, 2007 13:19  

  • with neocon infiltrators at the helm
    no progressive talk radio can survive

    By Blogger hashfanatic, at 08 April, 2007 10:30  

  • Yeah down with the progressively stupid(AAR).

    Way to go neocon money changers

    By Blogger pf1, at 09 April, 2007 07:27  

  • it is judicious to give Thom Hartmann a fair hearing and he seems to be doing well.

    Uh... by what measure? KLTK's last rating was 0.6. They haven't been that low in 2 years.

    By Blogger BF, at 09 April, 2007 08:56  

  • Thom Hartmann is extremely knowledgable regarding US history and our Constitution. He is considerate and a gentleman. That is more than I can say for 50 conservative radio hosts. I am very glad he is on the air everyday where I can hear him. Al is wonderful, and I miss him. I will, also, miss Big Eddy and I will try to find him no matter where he goes. Randi and Rachel are very informed. In fact, all of those so called "Liberals" are very intelligent people and I learn something from them everytime I listen to them. It is time well spent. HOWEVER, "Mr. K" is another story. He is rude, opinionated, uniformed. He cuts people off (unless they are gushing about him) and his subject matter is a waste of my time. In short, I feel that whoever is making the programming decisions since KTLK has changed hands, is no Progressive. I try to utilize the sponsors who are supporting Thom, Randi, Rachel & Big Eddy ---but, I won't go out of my way to support Mr.K. In fact, he could be giving away gold and I wouldn't know about it, because I just change the dial when he comes on. I am hoping you replace Stephanie with someone who is worth listening to.

    By Blogger Diva, at 03 May, 2007 22:55  

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