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August 22, 2005

Wishful Thinking In The Strib

Deborah Caulfield Rybak at the Strib writes about the Strib's fondest dream.

Sorry to pop your bubble, though, Deb Anders. You're reading it all wrong.

(Kool Aid Report also wrote on the subject)

Caulfield-Rybak:

Twin Cities listeners have been tuning out political talk radio.

Locally, conservative-talk icon Rush Limbaugh's show has lost 43 percent of its audience among 25- to 54-year-olds in the past year. Sean Hannity's show is down a whopping 63 percent. The shift is serious enough that "we're weighing where these shows fit for us in the future," according to Todd Fisher, general manager at KSTP (1500 AM), which carries both syndicated programs.

Unstated: KSTP-AM was never comfortable with the "conservative" label, anyway. Ginny Morris - the station's General Manager, and a scion of the Hubbard family broadcasting empire - has always been skittish about having the station identified as "conservative". Sources of mine inside KSTP have reported to me that Morris frequently chews out hosts who push conservatism too far; "We have to live in this town!", is, according to these sources, a common imprecation.

And if you look at the lineup, it shows. On the overtly conservative side of things are the local Bob Davis, and syndicated hosts Limbaugh and Hannity. Midday dynasty Joe Soucheray is "conservative" in a social sense, but he's more a curmudgeon than an ideologue. On the other side - Ron Rosenbaum and Mark O'Connell are center-leftish, Kris Krok (whose ratings the article goes on to sniff about) has damped his initial conservatism into more of a crabby, all-assaulting dyspepsia, and Tommy Mischke (brilliant a talent as he is) has never been mistaken for anyone to the right of John Marty. The station's only overt, "out", firebreathing conservative, Jason Lewis, is long gone; Hannity is a dicey radio talent at best (although his show is very well-produced) and Limbaugh...

...we'll come back to Limbaugh.

So when Caulfield-Rybak says "Conservative radio is losing listeners", she really means "KSTP is losing listeners.

Many Americans also are switching the dial. While ratings for political talk radio typically drop the year after an election, experts around the country sense something else in the air. Many metro listeners are turning to local, often sports-oriented shows.

"We're not sure yet what's really going on," said talk radio veteran Ken Kohl, Clear Channel's director of news and talk programming for northern California. "In general, the talk shows that are succeeding are ones that haven't been reliving the election, or constantly harping on the polarization between liberals and conservatives."Kohl doesn't give any context (or, at any rate, Caulfield-Rybak doesn't pass any on to the reader); we don't know what shows work or don't in Northern California for Clear Channel.

Kohl thinks many listeners have tuned out because of "war fatigue. I don't think a lot of people want to talk or hear about the war at this point"
Let's stop for a moment.

We're eight months past the roughest, most divisive election in living memory. People - by which I mean "people", not reporters or media consultants (or bloggers who write about both) are tired of politics. It's natural for them to tune over to entertainment or sports, at the moment.

Locally, listeners tuned into sports in greater numbers this spring. Weekday ratings at sports-talk station KFAN (1130 AM) are up 37 percent among listeners ages 25 to 54 compared with a year ago, while KSTP-AM is down 33 percent.

A look at individual shows reflects much sharper contrasts. Limbaugh's show, which airs Monday through Friday from noon to 3 p.m. on KSTP, dropped from a 7.6 percent share of listeners ages 25 to 54 in spring 2004 to 4.3 this spring. Sean Hannity's 6-8 p.m. show dropped from 6.3 to 2.3 percent.

In contrast, KFAN has seen its afternoon lineup of Dan (Common Man) Cole, Chad Hartman and Dan Barreiro post audience gains of 24 to 32 percent. Both WCCO (830 AM) and KFAN have made gains in the 26 to 29 percent range during the 6-8 p.m. time period.

[Note, Ms. Caulfield-Rybak: What were KFAN's actual numbers? I mean, I know them - but your audience doesn't. They know Chad and Dan gained 30 percent - but you didn't deem fit to tell them that KFAN's numbers - a 2.8 in adults overall - are still only about 60% of KSTP-AM's overall share - or that that KSTP-AM's advertising demographics are still better than the Fan's. These things matter!]

And it's not like this is new, either; sports radio got its start as a national phenomenon during the late nineties, when people tired of the Clinton Impeachment scandals. It bores me still, of course, but it's escapist entertainment for some. As to me? Hell, I'm even starting to find where the music stations are on my radio, for a change. Even I look for an escape from politics and war talk, sometimes.

For now.

Now - in a year, when all the '06 campaign is in full swing?

Hold those bets.

By the way, Caulfield-Rybak either doesn't research much, or doesn't think you need to know that this bit here...:Local partisan talker Chris Krok, whose show follows Hannity's, has less than 1 percent of the age-25-to-54 audience, too low to even register a rating point....ignores the fact that Krok's numbers are indeed atrocious - but he's been crab-walking away from that "partisan" label for a while now, as he noted in the comments for this thread on this blog last spring:

I'm not a Conservative. I approach each issue as everyone should: Open-minded. Imagine that!

Chris Krok
"KROKTALK"
Weeknights from 8-10pm
AM 1500 KSTP St Paul/Minneapolis
Listen Online at www.am1500.com
Posted by: Chris Krok at March 19, 2005 12:57 PM

Of course, it's all about money:
It isn't just a matter of politics, said Carol Grothem, broadcast manager for the Campbell Mithun ad agency. She suggested listeners may be turning more toward local talent and issues, and away from syndicated shows.

She pointed to healthy ratings for WCCO and its afternoon and morning drive-time hosts: "Don Shelby had good numbers and Dave Lee is consistent. I think local is what listeners want."

Well, Ms. Grothem, I'd like to introduce you to some friends of mine.

By the way, the article notes as an afterthought:

The ratings shift hasn't affected partisan radio stations such as WWTC (1280 AM), known as the Patriot, or KTNF (950 AM), home to Air America programming, including Al Franken's weekday show. Both have maintained relatively stable, if small, audience shares of about 1 to 1.5 percent.
Caulfield-Rybak leaves out a lot. For starters, the Patriot's advertising demographics are the best in town - the audience has money, which trumps numbers to a huge extent. Air America Minnesota's numbers are about half the Patriot's, and the demographics are even worse - the liberals with money already tune into MPR.
Franken is an exception, however. Locally, the Minnesota native has increased his audience share to 2.4 percent of listeners ages 25 to 54, compared with 1.3 last year.
Unmentioned: Franken's numbers, for a network that's gotten endless fawning hype since it's debut, catering to an audience that has boundless ability to listen during that time of day, in a state where 51% of the people voted for John Kerry, are miserable; a complete embarassment. Janet Robert should hide her head in shame that her flagship "talent" is getting numbers comparable to the syndicated, unpromoted Michael Medved show.

Behind the news - and this is opinion, but I'll stand by it; the Strib wants conservative talk radio to wither away. It wants to create an impression that it already is. But look back in the Strib archives; I'll bet Mars Bars to M&Ms that if you look six months after the '92, '94, '96, '98 and 2000 elections, you'll find similar stories about similar dips in the numbers.

There is nothing new under the sun. Less so in radio.

Posted by Mitch at August 22, 2005 05:38 AM | TrackBack
Comments

Good post, Mitch. I thought the whole article kinda smelled of what-we'd-like as opposed to what-is.

I seem to recall the article also mentioned that Garage Logic's numbers are falling. And just for my own pissing and moaning, I'd like to say that I think it has a lot to do with the apparent escalation of The Rookie as co-host. He has nothing to contribute, he is irritating in his lack of anything intelligent to say and his need to constantly showcase that lack. I spend much less time listening to Soucheray than I have in the past. Other people I know have commented on this as well.

Posted by: jdm at August 22, 2005 11:58 AM

KSTP hasn't been the same since Don Vogel (rest in peace) and Jason Lewis left. Irreverent humor and political expertise are sadly lacking there, IMO.

Rush has mentioned similar MSM stories that resurface after elections time regarding ratings. It's part of their "template", and the Star Trib is trying to justify Air SCAMerica's sewer-level ratings with Rybak's out-of-context numbers for conservative shows.

Posted by: Nancy at August 22, 2005 12:34 PM

Agreed on the Rookie. Extremely Annoying.

Posted by: Kevin at August 22, 2005 01:50 PM

I must object to the Rookie bashing. I don't listen to a ton of GL, but when I do turn in, I like to hear the Rook. He makes the show what it is. Can imagine Soucheray solo for three hours? Unlistenable.

Posted by: the elder at August 22, 2005 02:39 PM

Sorry, but I find both Souch and the Rook unbearable when I get into my SUV at 5:00. They both are riffing on something said an hour ago and Souch is well into his punchy, long laugh stage.

Jason Lewis was perfect for PM drive time. Rosen in the AM sucks and I'm not a Laura Ingram fan.

I also switch to music stations when there is a dominant topic that every talk show covers. Prager is an island of sanity on the weeks with one all consuming issue.

Posted by: Tracy at August 22, 2005 04:41 PM

Rush and Sean Hannity are losing listeners. KSTP lost big time when Jason Lewis left - who was an excellent host because he focussed locally, rather than regurgitated talking points.

Rush has always come across to me as a pompous ass, and I have never understood his appeal.

KSTP is concerned about this story. Joe OBrien was taking calls on this. I started listening to NARN but you all were talking about a topic that bored me so I switched to Joe's show.

I called in to tell them to flush Rush.

Posted by: Eva Young at August 22, 2005 11:08 PM

Soucheray solo?? No way!

But Rookie can be improved.

Posted by: Kevin at August 22, 2005 11:57 PM

Mitch as always you nailed it. You are the only one telling us the whole story. O'Brien the one who got rid of Jason and Souch who hated him, both crowed over the news, They do not like conservatives. When you delay Rush and Hannity and then have an air-america type lead in they do not help matters. If the Patriot had a better signal they would wipe out 1500.

Posted by: Brian at August 23, 2005 12:34 AM

Mitch as always you nailed it. You are the only one telling us the whole story. O'Brien the one who got rid of Jason and Souch who hated him, both crowed over the news, They do not like conservatives. When you delay Rush and Hannity and then have an air-america type lead in they do not help matters. If the Patriot had a better signal they would wipe out 1500.

Posted by: Brian at August 23, 2005 12:34 AM

You can dump both Rush and Hannity. Like one of the above comments, Rush is a pompous ass and so full of himself it's amazing he can stand it. I would really like to see Bob Yates brought back (if he would apologize to the "powers that be") to the line up. He is a great show host. I would listen to him more on WMGT, but their signal is so poor you have to be on top on the transmitter to hear him. Besides, he is against Davis.

And leave Joe alone. The Rook is good and needs to grow a bit more. They should do a bit more with Heigt the news guy and have Reusse on more. Perhaps they could find a bigger role for Mr. Olson.

They had better not touch Mischke either. He is the best thing on 1500.

Posted by: Buzzy at August 23, 2005 08:47 AM

You can dump both Rush and Hannity. Like one of the above comments, Rush is a pompous ass and so full of himself it's amazing he can stand it. I would really like to see Bob Yates brought back (if he would apologize to the "powers that be") to the line up. He is a great show host. I would listen to him more on WMGT, but their signal is so poor you have to be on top on the transmitter to hear him. Besides, he is against Davis.

And leave Joe alone. The Rook is good and needs to grow a bit more. They should do a bit more with Heigt the news guy and have Reusse on more. Perhaps they could find a bigger role for Mr. Olson.

They had better not touch Mischke either. He is the best thing on 1500.

Posted by: Buzzy at August 23, 2005 08:47 AM

Very good points.

Hey Mitch, I used to listen to your show on KSTP and found it to be very ahead of it's time. Shame that management hid you at such a horrible time slot.

I still listen to Jason frequently over the internet (http://www.wbt.com). Sometimes I'll switch to Medved if he is on a local topic, but overall Jason is still on his game. WBT's production quality is really ameteurish with their Ted Baxter clone official voice of the station, but Jason still rocks.

KSTP made a huge mistake in delaying Rush. I don't know how much it skews the number of actual listeners in the Twin Cities, but I (and several people I know) listen to Rush live on the internet from WLS (Chicago) or WBAL (Baltimore) and listen on KSTP only while in the car. If you have a good radio you can also get his show live from a Wisconsin station (River Falls, I think). Though his ratings via KSTP may be down, it may not involve as many listeners as one might think.

I predict that KSTP will continue to decline. Between Rookie slowly taking over the show and the loss of Rush as a lead-in Souchery's numbers will drop. Bob Davis is the best thing going on the station for political talk and I wouldn't be suprised if he left for KTLK if they keep true to their commitment to surround Rush and Hannity with quality local talk. Krok is a very ordinary host, not terrible but nothing special. Mischke is great, but his timeslot is a throw-away as far as ratings go anyhow.


Posted by: Steve Taylor at September 10, 2005 09:02 AM

After Steve Cannon, I stopped listening to my car radio, so there.

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