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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After years of running WGST/Atlanta into the ground, Clear Channel gave Rush to WSB, which carries other CC/Premiere programming. For 6 months, WGST ran Spanish sports before reverting back to an all syndicated lineup which only included Glenn Beck from CC’s Premiere Radio. The rest of the lineup consists of 3rd and 4th tier talkers and the ratings prove it. WGST, which had been a heritgage top 10 station with its AM and FM signals now barely averages 0.1 in the ratings. It’s starting to look like Clear Channel is abandoning the talk format in most markets.
WGST’s decline began with Jacor’s infamous flip of the station to “Planet Radio.” They never recovered from that. And in 2006, they fired all of their local hosts, taking the station to an all-syndicated lineup. Local hosts were eventually brought back, but the audience long ago defected to WSB.
By the time WGST flipped to ESPN Deportes, the format was deader than dead.
After years of being confined to AM stations, Progressive Talk radio has been virtually destroyed by Clear Channel. The entire West Coast is now devoid of liberal talk radio. I personal went through this in both CA (San Francisco station) and here in OR (Portland station) and the same thing happened in Seattle and Los Angeles. Liberal stations with decent ratings were booted off, usually in a most unceremonious manner, replaced with Rush and then TANKED. So that showed that it was NOT a business decision, it was a political decision. I was a devoted fan of progressive talk radio for years, both in Silicon Valley and after moving to McMinnville. I had radios all over the house tuned to the station so I could go about my “chores” without missing anything. I loved all the talkers but most favorite is Stephanie Miller, whom I get by podcast now. But I can’t afford to subscribe to a bunch of podcasts nor to buy a satellite radio. I am appalled and mystified by the lack of interest in and support of progressive talk radio by the Democratic Party and those wishing to promote a more progressive agenda. And PLEASE don’t tell me to listen to NPR! There is a proven audience for progressive radio and that was despite being confined to the lowest powered AM stations (let Rushbo now learn how great that is). I want to hear Stephanie Miller, Thom Hartmann, Norman Goldman, Ron Reagan, Mike Malloy, Randi Rhodes (if we could get her out of retirement), Ring of Fire, and all the others I used to listen to virtually all waking hours.
The failure of liberal talk is analogous to the current failure of conservative talk. When the host preaches at you their world view and decries the other side on a daily basis, there is no entertainment value to speak of. Stephanie Miller is probably the only one in the liberal talk pack who has given some effort into being entertaining. It was a chore to listen to, just like WPGB’s final half hour as a talk station was water board-like torture (especially as Rush droned on and on about “low information voters,” like he has every single day since November 2012).
If the content is compelling enough and entertaining, people will make an effort to tune in, regardless of the signal strength of the station. Right now, it isn’t, on either side of the spectrum.
You ignored the basic issue that the “liberal” stations had decent ratings, and were replaced by poorly performing conservatives. I think I heard Beck replacing Ms. Miller earned an immeasurable audience rating. It appears to be more of a political than economic decision, except that the more stations he is on, the more potential revenue he can generate (or lose.) Perhaps it was a chore to you to listen to people like Thom Hartmann, who not only disagreed with you, but had facts to back them up. But clearly there is an audience for them. What is missing from the main story is whether this will really cut into Limbaugh’s audience in a serious way. When I drive about the country, I can often pull in multiple stations playing the same Limbaugh or Hannity program. While this Pittsburgh signal may be lost to some, I would be interested to know what Limbaugh’s fans do about it. I know a lot of West Coast progressives now stream from WCPT AM & FM in Chicago. Will many of Limbaugh’s fans even need to go to that length?
Phil, regardless of the ratings, was the demo salable? Modern rock radio has run into that problem… they get decent ratings, but bill horrendously because it targets an audience with less buying power (18-24 males).
I’m not trying to disprove you… rather, asking the question for the sake of asking. Ratings aren’t the only thing… ratings and billings are.
And the question should also be treated as a ceteris paribus … all things equal.
Then you obviously never listened to Marc Maron’s shows on Air America. The guy was hilarious on all of his AAR shows including Morning Sedition, The Marc Maron Show, Maron v Seder and Breakroom Live.
And Thom Hartmann may not be funny but the guy is brilliant. Brilliance is always entertaining.
If you have a computer, I’m proud to say you can listen to WCPT out of Chicago all day long. It streams on your computer. Google it. Then you can listen to those you want to all day long Good Luck!
Thank-you Carla! I live on the east coast and was crushed when progressive radio disappeared. I was told the crap about bad ratings and bought it. It just didn’t feel right. Now I know and I will be pointing this out to my conservative friends. Well said, Carla. Well said indeed!
Sorry but this is delusional. Progressive Radio doesn’t work. Show me on case in a Top 100 market where it was successful. Quit the crying about a format that was DOA a decade ago. Mike Malloy, oh yeah great act. He would call GW Bush out as a SOB night after night. Can you imagine if Rush said that of President Obama?.
Plus, at some point Limbaugh forgot he was an entertainer, not a “thought leader” or a leader of a political movement. In the lat 1980’s and early 1990’s, he was using right-wing politics as a vehicle for his humor much the way Stephen Colbert used it as a basis for his character. But somewhere along the line, he started buying into his our press and was surrounded by and contained in a right-wing echo chamber. That was the beginning of the slide. He no longer was funny and his appeal was no longer broad enough to attract folks that were outside of his core audience.
The Medveds, Savages, Hannitys and Ingrahams of the world never understood that Rush’s success stemmed from entertainment. They instead just echo the right wing talking points, and screech and scream and belittle. While that may play to a narrow segment, it’s not a formula for good radio.
Rush’s original employment of top 40-like gimmicks – the “da-da-lup-da-da-lup” updates du jour led in by an inappropriately placed song (such as, “homeless updates” preceded by the song “Ain’t got no home” ), parody songs written by Paul “In a Yugo” Shanklin, and a pointed irreverent nature – made Rush entertaining. Back in 1996.
At some point, either when he had lost his hearing or when he had the infamous Oxycotin kerfuffle (and rehab) brought on by his ESPN faux pas, or just being worn out by the endless parade of Bush criticism, that entertaining part of Rush started to slowly decline.
It is also possible that in another 10 years, we may look back and reevaluate as to whether or not Rush really was entertaining in the first place.
It is amazing to me that right wing talk radio lasted as long as it did. People (i.e. listeners) must realize that they have been wrong on virtually all major issues over the last 15 years. Examples: They were all cheerleaders for the Iraq war in 2003. They all wanted Obama to send troops into Libya. They all said Obamacare would fail. How many times can they be wrong without loosing creditibility?
The failure of liberal talk didn’t represent the death knell for liberals. Nor should the failure of conservative talk represent the death knell for conservatives.
What the failure of both formats should represent is the death knell for polemic, angry-old-man talk, regards of the political affiliation.
There is one undeniable thing that conservatalkers were dead wrong on, though. A vast majority of hosts predicted a President Romney, and told listeners that polls don’t matter. Few people are looking at that as being the Waterloo for angry-old-man talk.
Conservatives wrong? Not about ObamaCare. Anybody who pays their own premiums can see what a debacle it is. Not about mortgage loans to people without incomes. Democrats pushed that. Besides, who other than Reagan has been “conservative” over the last 30 years? NOBODY.
Progressive talk did have some ratings successes, Portland most notably. And Madison – where it’s on an FM. But even when I’m sympathetic to the views of the hosts, I find very little talk radio of either side compelling enough to devote much time to. I like Stephanie Miller. I especially like when John Fugelsang guests on her show, and that’s because he’s FUNNY. Entertaining. There is very little truly entertaining talk radio. And it’s not that liberals can’t entertain – Jon Stewart, Fugelsang, any number of comedians, actors and media personalities could carry a liberal radio program but radio never recruited or aggressively supported them to begin with. And no one who votes liberal is looking for it on AM. Put it on FM, invest in talent, and give it time, and perhaps other ideologies or non ideological talk could grow but looking to any of the major broadcast companies to do that is hope misplaced. I like Michael Smerconish because he’s at least thought provoking, polite and has some decent guests, but terrestrial radio never warmed to him either.
I’m not sure at this point anyone will do what it takes, and if they don’t, talk radio will remain the 50+ shorts in a knot format for people who shoot through their front doors at anyone or anything. I used to listen to talk of all ideologies when it was live, often local, and wasn’t 24/7 raving about how one group of people is “destroying America” and the enemy. It’s just not fun anymore.
Re The Boston Marathon bombing, in Bos. itself there was massive focus of course. On the day it happened, WRKO 680 simulcast on their sports sister station WEEI 93.7 (and a New England-wide network) for a time. CBS’ WBZ 1030 simulcast on four different CBS-owned FMs and on the following Fri, when Tsarnaev was captured, there was additional coverage via local TV stations simulcast. But hey, on that same day, the city of Boston and other parts of the metro area were literally shut down…but yes an FM signal is no guarantee of success for conserv talk, etc. But Boston’s NPR stations do fairly well in the ratings, and say what you want, do not lean right…
My guess is that the new country format won’t play Toby Keith. They’ll play Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and all of the other pop country acts that make country abysmal right now.
They’ll play both types of music. “Country and Western!” Old joke by still a classic. 🙂
Actually, it’s not such a joke Daryll. Country music these days is pretty lame these days because all they play is country. Country music is about as interesting as syndicated talk, It was the Western music that made it interesting to listen to and there is virtually none of that being played these days.
Back in 1988, I was running a small-town AM/FM station in the Ozarks, outside of Springfield, MO. We ran into a legal dispute with ASCAP & BMI about music licensing. So, we decided to subscribe to one of the new-fangled all-talk networks. Because we were small & cheap, we chose the Sun Radio Network, a startup from Florida run by a former New York host Chuck Harder. Chuck had been a consumer reporter for the struggling NBC “TalkNet”. He started his own network with his own brand of liberartian/semi-conservative/occasionally ‘black helicopters’ talk. His message was “the country is going to hell-in-a-handbasket, and no one is listening”. Within days, our phones were ringing like crazy. I’d never seen anything like it. We had a comparatively small signal, but we were getting calls from the fringes of our coverage from people who were passionate about the programs. It was fresh, it was new. It was FUN. And, we were the only ones doing it. Within a couple of months, a station in Springfield picked up Rush Limbaugh. He was only two-hours then, and was followed by Alan Colmes! It was compelling listening.
But, several of the commenters above have it right, it’s just not FUN anymore. FUN has been taken over by Sports Talk Radio. And, lo-and-behold, the audience has moved where the fun is.
Lesson? It’s still about entertainment.
I remember Chuck Harder, Sonny Bloch and the Sun Radio lineup. You’re right, the tin-foil hat/gun talk and the scam investment talk was a hoot. I used to listen to a rimshot AM 1550 which barely put a signal out over the area because they were so entertaining to listen to.
It seems to me that with the prevalence of cheap .mp3’s, streaming radio, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Instant Video, both broadcast radio and television are slowly dying on the vine. People can now target their listening or viewing at a time convenient to them. Why wait around for a broadcast station to put on what you want?
I never listen to the Fat One, but I do listen to Bill “voice of the Indian Hill common man” Cunningham.
And talk about toxic!
This guy who called for bombing Iraq back to the Stone Age, lamenting that carpet bombing couldn’t get the job done
as it did in Dresden, has had on many occasions lamented we didn’t get Hillary rather than Obama.
This guy who claims he saw the light and apologized for his warmongering now says Hillary could have handled the Mideast much better than “Hussein Obama.”
This is the Hillary who voted for the Iraq War, whose vote and the unanticipated resilient (to this day)
Iraqi insurgency kept her out of the White House.
So why would hate radio favor Hillary over Obama? As hawkish as Obama has been, drone bombing recklessly and surging to no gain and plenty of dollars and blood in Afghanistan, for Hillary and hate radio’s Cunningham it has not been enough.
I’m sure you’ve all heard by now El Rushbo couldn’t help himself again and decided to ask the pondering question: “What is the politics of Robin Williams’ suicide?” Talk about toxic radio. Just remember, Williams was in Afghanistan entertaining the troops while Limbaugh stayed at home in Palm Beach mansion.
Speaking of Minneapolis market, I’ve wondered if people are aware of the Jason Lewis fiasco. You want to talk about a talk show hosts and a whole format imploding, here’s Example A: http://thursdaysblog1.blogspot.com/2014/08/radio-radio.html
Rush is killing us with these ill advised rants on Robin Williams, baby boomers. the drive by media, etc. He is slow to react to breaking news, his odd tics are getting worse each day. Meanwhile TSL is in the toilet across the board.