Ratings Disaster: Ignore It. Talk Radio Hoping It Goes Away

kevin_bacon

A few years ago, a talk host at a very “Big” (hint ONE) radio station told me, “I just want another 20 years.”  My reply, “20 years?  You’ve got 5.”

alfred_e_neuman

I’m an optimistic guy by nature.  I always think positive, maybe to a fault.  I’m also a realist and a competitive son-of-a-bitch who has no other goal other than to be number one.  Coming in second is being the first loser.  Losing sucks!

But, competitiveness, on the one thing that matters (Rule #1 – Ratings and Revenue), seems to have been forgotten in today’s so-called “(Conservative) Talk Radio.”

Day in and day out I read excuses and quotes in industry trades with fingers of blame being pointed because no one in the radio industry wants to take any responsibility for culturally disconnected talk programs.  Or worse, there are the people who have consigned themselves into thinking low ratings are OK because they’re here for the higher cause of guiding the country and saving it from the Kenyan national we have as President or those who have just given up hoping not to be the next victim as corporate radio, struggling to make its next loan interest payment, executes its latest round of air personalities.  Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!

The June PPM ratings are rolling in and outside of a few stations, the ratings are a disaster.  The monthly ratings for many talk stations are in a free fall, displaying a product detached from all but an old, small, shrinking and worthless audience.

Have Low-T, want to buy some gold or need some male enhancement?  I’ve got a radio station for you!

I know.  It will get better as money rolls in for the mid-term elections this fall.  More on that later.

Here are some June 2014 PPM results.

STATION                  RANK     6+ M, A, M, J    (March, April, May, June 2014)

WKRC/Cincinnati     #16     2.5, 2.4, 2.2, 1.7

WLS/Chicago           #19     2.0, 1.7, 1.6, 1.4

WFLA/Tampa           #13     3.6, 3.6, 3.6, 3.3

WIOD/Miami            #22    1.2, 1.1, 1.1, 1.1

WABC/New York      #20    2.4, 2.2, 1.6, 1.3

WOR/New York        #18    1.5, 1.7, 1.6, 1.5

KEIB/Los Angeles    #26     0.5, 0.5, 0.6, 0.8

KABC/Los Angeles   #28    0.6, 0.5, 0.5, 0.5

To be fair, credit goes to WSB in Atlanta and 700WLW in Cincinnati for being ranked #1, but for many other stations?  As Reds’ broadcaster Marty Brennaman would say, “How we lookin’?  Not good.”

The above is what few in corporate radio or talk radio will speak of, a format dying by the day and no one willing to call the baby ugly.

“HEY.  THE BABY IS UGLY.”

Today, I read a piece from Harker Research, a group that does a fine job analyzing media and trends confronting the radio industry.  I love their insights.  Excellent stuff.  Their piece entitled Lesson from New York and LA: Content Matters pointed out how important content is in talk radio and all formats. I couldn’t agree more.

They indexed the gains and losses of KEIB in Los Angeles v. KFI in Los Angeles, both Clear Channel stations.  The Rush Limbaugh show moved from KFI to KEIB in January 2014.  The research gathered from Nielsen data shows the audience increase of KEIB indexes at 265.  That means KEIB’s audience has almost tripled, while KFI’s audience has dropped slightly.  Here’s the problem.  When you have no audience to begin with, tripling the audience isn’t all that hard.  0.0 to 0.3 is a 300% increase or an index of 300.

Harker Research also compared the move of Limbaugh from WABC to WOR in New York this past January.  They pointed out WOR indexes at 370 for the first 6 months of 2014 and during Limbaugh’s time slot the index has tripled (or 300).  They fail to mention, however, much of the total station increase is due to an increase in cume from New York Mets baseball.  Don’t believe me?  Check this out.

WOR   6+ CUME    6+ SHARE

JAN    568,800       1.7

FEB    565,600       1.5

MAR   649,900       1.5

APR    968,300       1.7

MAY  1,031,100     1.6

JUN    967,300       1.5

At no point is Harker Research cheering the anemic ratings for these stations in their piece.  They are simply pointing out content matters by showing, using Nielsen data, one station going up and the other going down.  Ratings are a zero sum game, after all.

Me?  I’m pointing out we’re cheering for the tallest midget and accepting mediocrity or worse abject failure in the talk radio industry.  We’ve got a problem and the first step is realizing it and accepting it.

I wonder if Rush Limbaugh, ego in check, fine businessman and exceptional radio performer that he is, feels good about being on the #26 station in Los Angeles.  I’m thinking no.

And one more thing, the November mid-term elections.  If you’re one waiting for a ratings lift and waiting for those political dollars to fill the program logs, I have one question to ask.  “Do you really think it’s a good business model to have a station designed for success one month every two or four years?”

Noodle that one.

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  33 comments for “Ratings Disaster: Ignore It. Talk Radio Hoping It Goes Away

  1. July 11, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    The demise of Talk Radio and the concurrent meteoric rise of Sports Talk radio demonstrates what actually happened. “Conservative” Talk Radio forgot how to be entertaining! When Rush Limbaugh revitalized the talk format, he included fun, entertaining elements into the show. It was fun to listen, even if you disagreed with him. The “fun” has moved to Sports Talk. Radio programming has to be compelling. And, ‘conservative’ talk radio just isn’t ‘fun’ anymore. Too many hosts just yelling at their political foe. Too bad.

    • July 11, 2014 at 7:01 pm

      All I can say to the above is “Amen”…

  2. July 11, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    It is better to milk a million cows one time than it is to milk one cow a million times. The powers that be at the helm of talk radio don’t get this. They rationalize the fact that they only own one cow by milking it a million times and then coming up with excuses for why their cow has imploded.

  3. Hans von Balkovsky
    July 11, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    Yeah, well in the 1960s, i could hear a wide variety of religious shows on WLW on Sunday.
    Now, it’s all The Church of Sports Talk.
    Of course if you wanted a hellfire and brimstone version, Bob Trumpy would be your man.
    Never apologized to a single caller he berated for uttering the Heresy, yes, Rose bet on baseball.

    Then again, Mike McConnell never apologized to Scott Ritter.

    Listen, I’m trying to sort out the wheat from the chaff. If I find a Clear Channel Talk Host who is now saying he or she wants to save America from the Kenyan national we have a president, who also opposed the deceitful Iraq War
    and at the time said he or she wanted to save America from the lying buffoon we had as president, well I would
    recommend he take over the Sloan AND Cunningham time slots.
    No such person.
    Maybe there was one in the era of Fulton Sheen. When the US was worth saving and talk radio was just a nightmare in Randy Michaels Mammon-worshipping reveries.

  4. unitron
    July 12, 2014 at 4:41 am

    “Ratings are a zero sum game, after all.”

    Are you talking about no one getting more than 100% of those actually listening, or an industry-wide inability to get non-listeners to listen?

    • July 12, 2014 at 1:08 pm

      There are 100 share points. As an example, in theory if there were only two stations competing, if one goes up, the other goes down. That’s the game.

      • unitron
        July 13, 2014 at 2:56 am

        And if those 100 share points only reflect 100,000 people, ads won’t sell for as much as if they reflect 1,000, 000 people, so it’s only zero sum if everybody gives up on getting non-listeners to listen.

  5. Nick
    July 12, 2014 at 7:44 am

    23 years ago when I was just a couple of years out of college and thought that political correctness and rampant liberalism were just something I’d have to get used to, I discovered a guy named Rush Limbaugh. I was hooked instantly, and couldn’t get enough of him or talk radio for several years. It was something you couldn’t hear anyplace else, and I was grateful to have it, after years of PC brainwashing and media mediocrity. I loved it so much that I eventually went on myself to work in news/talk radio for nearly 7 years. I even got to meet Neal Boortz a couple of times, who was even funnier in person than he was on the air.

    However, even I grew tired of the format eventually. It has grown long in the tooth. I think talk radio faces a number of problems. One is that it’s predictable. We already know what any conservative talk host is going to say before it comes out of their mouth. It’s stale. Another problem: it’s no longer the hot, unusual, edgy new kid on the media block. It was novel in the late 80s and early 90s when the media landscape was almost fully lock-step left-wing. Now with hundreds of talk radio stations and scores of nationally syndicated and local hosts from coast to coast, as well as Fox News and the 24/7 omnipresent internet, I’d say the media playing field has finally leveled. Conservatives can no longer scream and rant that they’re on the fringes. For God’s sake, they’re all over the place, and if you want their viewpoint, you know where to find it.

    Talk radio is also competing with podcasting, online video, blogs and websites. The media landscape has splintered even more. If that’s not enough, demographics have changed, and younger people have different expectations. Talk radio needs to cater to a younger audience, and I don’t think it knows yet how to do that. I suspect when Rush eventually hangs it up, there’s going to be a serious day of reckoning in the political talk radio industry.

    I think it’s time for the next major overhaul in radio. I don’t know if that takes the form of a new, more appealing younger personality who can be the next Rush Limbaugh, yet connect to a younger audience and deliver talk radio in a new way. I don’t know if it means a tweaking of the format. I’m not sure where it goes. And frankly, I don’t think any of those strutting, pontificating “consultants” that write so often in the talk radio trades know either.

    • Hans von Balkovsky
      July 16, 2014 at 7:25 pm

      There is a difference between Establishment faux-conservatism and populist conservatism, the latter truly being
      politically incorrect and exciting, as it is always going against the entrenched Elite.

      Limbaugh was originally a two party-skeptical Perotista, which latter would have made him also anti-war and protectionist. THAT’S populist exciting anti-Elite conservatism.

      Gingrich the Corrupt and a crew of dual loyalists lured him into the Elite-controlled wing of the GOP and he became a useful willing tool of the system ever since. Of course if you believe Chabot, Boehner, Wenstrup are among the “conservatives” “all over the place” (police staters all, NSA-Patriot Act-defending Snowden-haters all) you’re really still among the indoctrinated politically correct.

  6. July 12, 2014 at 10:01 am

    Broadcast radio’s overall AQH has completely collapsed. The most recent year – 2013 fell off this chart to an all time low of 9.2. Google, Amazon, Apple & Microsoft are now in the radio business but broadcast radio has yet to acknowledge and respond to the extremely serious threat.

    • July 12, 2014 at 10:02 am

      Broadcast radio’s overall AQH has completely collapsed. The most recent year – 2013 fell off this chart to an all time low of 9.2. Google, Amazon, Apple & Microsoft are now in the radio business but broadcast radio has yet to acknowledge and respond to the extremely serious threat. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B_pxKkiQlibyZkE5cENQOXJhUTQ/edit?usp=sharing

      • July 14, 2014 at 1:28 pm

        Did you know radios highest AQH was achieved in 1983 and has been going down since? That’s not a typo.

  7. July 12, 2014 at 8:04 pm

    When you talk about talk radio, you mean right-wing-whacko talk radio, because that’s all there is in most markets. In an age when things can be fact-checked instantly, a increasing number of listeners are realizing that these bloffos are just making it up as they go along. The lies just get tedious after a while. And mean. And racist. And sexist. And yes, completely un-entertaining.

  8. Denver Land
    July 12, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    So, the question in MY mind is, what are the ratings based on? I get that the ratings represent the percentage of listeners that are tuning in to a given station at a given time. But, where do they come up with the total number of listeners, which would be the common denominator used to turn the number of listeners into a percentage? How do they know how many people in their cars are listening to broadcast radio, and not their iPods, IHeartRadio, Spotify, or a number of other media formats now available? How do they know how many people sitting in their offices have the radio turned on and tuned in to a particular station, and stayed in their office to listen?

    Since the 1930’s, the Nielsen Corporation has made a fortune by telling the world who is listening to what, and who is watching what, based on voodoo science that nobody believes, but everyone is a slave to.

  9. Joe
    July 13, 2014 at 6:29 am

    I’m not a radio guy, but I did recognize that a few years back, WGN in Chicago tried to move from middle of the road to hard right talk. They got rid of people, brought in guys like Mike McConnell, and clearly told their previously mild mannered mid day & afternoon people to push right wing attitudes. Well now those guys are gone, and they are going back to some of the on air people they had canned. My point is that there is a movement here that goes beyond a few stations going up or down. And what I have heard about sports radio is not that it is the new golden child, but in many cases a face saving measure when a station is moved from talk, particularly right wing talk.

    • Hans von Balkovsky
      July 16, 2014 at 7:30 pm

      Mike McConnell “right wing?” Yeah, the right wing of the Bankster-Free Trade/Outsourcing Warmongering
      Elite.
      Besides, whenever I checked his podcasts on WGN, Michaels seemed to have him talking about non-political trifles.

  10. John Terhar
    July 13, 2014 at 11:16 pm

    Darryl, I thoroughly agreed with your post that got you jettisoned from CC. It was so true and so obvious. I couldn’t believe the fallout. It is great that you can now speak freely, as you have done here. I always say that if the content is compelling, the listener will find you. If it isn’t compelling, you can’t get them to listen, even if you take it door-to-door.

    • July 14, 2014 at 1:25 pm

      Don’t know if that had everything to do with it, but I do think I hit too close to home with one angle that was unintentional. 🙂

  11. Mark Elliott
    July 15, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    A very well written post by someone I respect in the radio business. My biggest concern is not about radio’s politics – it’s about entertainment. Find a Rush aircheck from the late 80’s – listen to the song parodies, sound effects, recorded comedy bits. Then listen today. Same message, but the messenger got so caught up in the message he forgot how to entertain. It’s almost the movie Network – with Rush playing the Howard Beale part, and now the only way to turn around the ratings drop is to….

  12. July 15, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    Darryl,
    Doubt that you remember me, I’m an old friend of George Lehner, with whom you worked in Columbus. For the last six years I’ve been doing a weekly golf show now running in nine markets. I would love to pick your brain, can you e-mail me so that we could talk
    John

  13. Mathew Pearson
    July 15, 2014 at 7:47 pm

    Radio used to be fun. Now, it is not. In Chicago, I enjoyed listening to personalities that were funny, not angry or mean. Programs that were entertaining and stations that were committed to intelligent talk radio. Steve Dahl and Garry Meier, Jonathan Brandmeir, Bruce Wolf and Buzz Kellman, Kevin Matthews (forgive my spelling, guessing here, LOL). They certainly pushed it as far as they could, but they made people laugh out loud. They had big audiences, too. Now, I listen to my iPod in the car. But, I would listen to radio again.

  14. July 15, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    Radio has been too focused on technology and not enough on the product. I do believe that talk radio still has a great future but just like Rock and Roll has changed over the years talk radio has to evolve. You can’t rely on calls anymore since people just text and tweet instead of talking on the phone. Topics have to be more relatable and less political. I think talk radio can survive but only if we get beyond the “all liberals suck” mentality, be more involved in our communities, and bring back fun and creativity.

    • Nick
      July 16, 2014 at 4:48 am

      Tom, I agree that talk radio needs to evolve. No one seems eager to talk about this yet, but one day Rush Limbaugh will be a memory, just like Paul Harvey and Casey Kasem. And when that day comes, talk radio ought to reassess itself. Of course someone will assume Rush’s mantle of #1 Conservative Talk Radio Guy — probably Hannity. And that’s okay. One big-time right-wing talk host is fine with me. Keep that in the spectrum of what’s available.

      But after that, I’d ask: do we really need another dozen or so nationally syndicated right-of-center talkers? In my experience in radio, it seems like when Rush got big, there came a bunch of “Me Too” hosts, both nationally and in all the local markets. I’ve heard my share of Rush wanna-be’s on the local level, and it’s enough to make your head spin. Do you need conservative talk all the damn time? I remember one woman who had a Sunday night show at 10 PM — and she did the conservative ranting bit. No one wants that on a Sunday night, after hearing it all week long.

      I suspect it would be a good thing if talk radio began to do the broadcast equivalent of some “weed whacking” and thin out the ranks a little bit. Purge some of the Little Rushes and clear the field for some new blood.

      I think Limbaugh was a much needed product of the times; he emerged just when a strong conservative voice was needed to combat the monolithic left-wing media bias. But now times have changed. Now we have a crowded, noisy, fragmented media world where everyone is fighting to be heard, and on multiple platforms.

      How does talk radio find the person or people who will thrive in a post-Limbaugh era? I’d suggest that you start by not trying to find the “next” Limbaugh. There will only be one of him. A better use of time and energy would be in cultivating someone who can simultaneously rise above all the noise and synthesize and make sense of all the dissonant voices out there. Someone who can recognize that there’s plenty of material all across the political spectrum. Someone who can straddle terrestrial radio and new media, and bring a fresh approach.

      • Tom
        July 22, 2014 at 1:07 am

        I used to love to listen to Bruce Williams while he was syndicated by Westwood One. I learned a lot from that man. Once he had the falling out with W1, the much inferior syndicators he went with were awful. He had more topic freedom and got a bit more political, but he finally gave it up a few years ago. I wish he would return, age permitting.

      • July 22, 2014 at 3:51 pm

        Important phrase “age permitting.”

    • Hans von Balkovsky
      July 16, 2014 at 7:34 pm

      Of course if we had an educated ratyher than complacent citizenry, the political would be the relatable, and the relatable would be putting people in the streets when necessary.

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