I picture this scene, something like you would see in the “Godfather,” as the family is gathered together for business. The room is dimly lit and decorated with dark wood walls. The carpet is thick and the paintings are oils from the Italian Renaissance era. The furniture is hand crafted 19th Century Gilded Age. Grouped together are Rush Limbaugh, his representatives, and executives from his syndicator Premiere Networks. They are there to tell Limbaugh his show is being removed from another longtime affiliate, this time in Pittsburgh. After the bad news is broken, the smoke from a lone cigar lingering in the air and without saying a word, Rush calmly gets up from his chair, walks into an adjoining empty room and gently closes the door. The door knob latch clicks into place and echoes in the silent room.
“I think he’s upset,” says someone in the room.
“What do you think he’s doing in there?”
“He’s probably thinking that in times like these I’m glad I have $400 million in the bank,” another replies.
Another FM station has abandoned talk, this one after more than 10 years, and Rush and the usual group of conservative talk hosts have been moved to an AM station in Pittsburgh at 1320 on the dial and this one’s not even owned by Premiere Networks’ owner Clear Channel.
I heard the rumors, but didn’t believe it. Wow.
Here are the coverage maps of each station. Pay attention to the red line. That’s the important one showing the core coverage area and where the signal is best. Once you get out to the blue line, it’s fringe listening.
WJAS-AM (Daytime Pattern)
WPGB-FM (Fulltime Pattern)
This shows a big decrease in signal coverage for Rush and the other hosts following him.
I got a lot of reaction from recent blogs pointing out the horrible June 2014 PPM ratings for talk stations. I heard from consultants, market managers, programmers, talk hosts and even from the owner of a group of stations. Most agreed with my thoughts that conservative talk radio had run its course and is hopelessly disconnected from and irrelevant to much of America in 2014. To those that disagreed in private messages and posts on message boards, the July PPM’s are in, they’re just as bad and now stations like WPGB-FM in Pittsburgh are cutting bait.
The Pittsburgh station isn’t the first FM station to bail on talk. It’s happened in San Diego, Minneapolis and Tucson to name just a few cities. There were other markets where struggling AM stations were given FM translators and even those have been taken away, some translators now juke box repeaters for an FM HD-2 channel.
I had lunch a few weeks ago with a very powerful radio executive and he asked me if I was surprised how Limbaugh is failing to gather audiences on his new stations in Los Angeles and New York. Back in January Limbaugh was moved from his longtime homes on KFI and WABC to the newly named KEIB and WOR.
“Not really, ” I said.
There was a time the Rush Limbaugh Show could launch a talk station. Hell, there were even radio stations named after Limbaugh, WRNO-FM in New Orleans for example. Over the years, I was pretty vocal about this being a bad longterm idea. To launch a station 10 or 15 years ago, sure name it after Rush. The important word here is “launch.” After a few months though, a transition should have started to another moniker to broaden the appeal of the station away from a small group of ultra right wing listeners, attract more politically center and center-right listeners and to better reflect the market these stations operated in.
I hate using the word “heritage” because it means old, but so many former market leading heritage AM stations forgot they were “news” stations first and allowed the irrelevant right-wing propaganda spewing from syndicated and non-thinking local hosts to redefine the images of these stations. They were supposed to be the market’s news station, but when people tuned in to hear breaking news, all they got was the same tired right wing narrative, making those incidental listeners quickly decide, “Hey. This station is not for me.”
You see when there is breaking news, the idea is to provide the information and back off on opinions and blame. There’s plenty of time for that later.
The day after the Boston Marathon bombing, I happened to be listening to the former talk station WPGB-FM in Pittsburgh. The human tragedy, the horrible pictures of innocent people missing limbs, the issues of safety at a truly American event left people confused. We as a people focused on the horrors and our collective tears and emotions poured out to the victims. Radio’s job was to reflect this pain and try to provide some comfort.
You know what WPGB was talking about the next morning? The evil “Kenyan” Barack Obama and Obamacare. The narrative couldn’t stop for even one freaking day.
WPGB deserves to be playing country music today. Long live Toby Keith.
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