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Friday, May 08, 2009

How Many Sports Stations Does One Market Need?

The answer is........FIVE! Yes, five. Five sports stations, for a town that does not give a shit about sports. Hell, the Marlins can not even sell out a game unless it is a series playoff. But even so - and in spite of a dismal economy that is forcing every County department to cut back, the Marlins are getting a new stadium.

Anyhow, it all began with deregulation. Deregulation allowed media companies to own as many TV and radio stations as they wanted in any given market. In time, this resulted in the plague known as Clear Channel Communications. They are the largest of the radio companies, owning thousands of stations in hundreds of markets.

The effect of this was the death of local radio. Local radio is expensive. You have to hire on air talent inside each market. And this is just the start. You have to hire support staff for each station in each market. Now if you only run one station in one market - no problem.

But it is FAR CHEAPER to just have a switch board monkey flip a switch, and pot up a show that is syndicated nationally. Under this model, you can pretty much run a station with 4 or 5 people on the staff.

For a very long time, there was one sports station in South Florida. And that was enough. People that wanted to hear sports talk all the time knew where to go. All was good.

The rest of the dial was news or talk commentary. If you wanted to listen to that stuff. Few did. FM ratings were always better than AM ratings.

Sometime in the mid to late 90s, the last station that still carried local talk radio pulled the plug on that format. I used to listen to this station - 610 AM - as my job at the time had me stuck in a commercial van that was equipped with a push button (no digital tuning) AM/FM radio with two speakers in the dash. No CD player, no tape player.

940 AM was "all news", but this was a dead format. Nobody really needed "all news all the time" and what happened was that if you listened for 1/2 hour you heard the whole days programming. Sometime in the 90s Clear Channel bought 940 and made it the outlet for shows like Rush Limbaugh and so on.

When the last of the local programming was pulled from 610, the programming on 610 was the same as 940. They just used both stations to broadcast the same thing. I went back to the FM dial - where honestly I spent most time anyway.

At this time, ratings for the local programming was higher than the ratings for the nationally syndicated stuff - but the plug was pulled on the higher rated shows anyway. The ratings were not much higher, but still - they were higher. My guess is that 940 did make more money than 610, even if 610 had the better ratings because 940 had lower operating costs.

Now lets fast forward a few years. 610 and 940 are still airing the same shows at the same times. But a new network is born. Air America. All the AM dial is pretty much one big right wing radio show at this point. Not because of ratings - just because there is nothing else there. Stations stack shows - so you have Rush competing with Rush. This is how it was in Miami anyway.

Well sort of. There was a time when you had Bill O'Reilly's radio show on some horseball station. But NOBODY listened to it. Seriously. His show would pull in 0.1 and 0.2 share numbers. Sometimes even 0.0. Yet his show could be heard (by nobody) for at least a full year.

But other than that there was not really any competition for the format.

Clear Channel decided to syndicate Air America. They put that on 940. 610 remained right wing.

At around the same time, I was discovering satellite radio. So I really did not care about the AM dial. Plus, the job I had did not have me stuck in a vehicle for most of the day. I would drive to work at 4 AM when there was no traffic, then return home at 1 PM when there was no major traffic conjestion. 10 minutes to get to work, 20 minutes to get home.

But over time, I started to go back to the AM dial. Sometimes. For short periods of time. I still had the satellite radio in for most of the time, but when I wanted a break from the same 5 or 6 channels I had the habit of listening to on Sirius,

As the political bullshit heated up - I listened to more 940. There were two shows I would listen to. Not the whole shows - who has time for that. But I would tune in.

I had a desk job. And on this desk I put a radio. It had a CD player, and that was good. But when I was tired of the CDs I brought in and sick of the endless commercials on the FM dial I would kick it on 940. Mostly it was just a little background noise. The purpose was to claim my little cubicle. Somethine to keep invading noises at bay. I could not blast music, so talk shows filled in decently enough. I did not spend all the time in the cube - a good deal of my day was actually spent outside the little space. So it was not like I was sitting there, actively listneing and taking notes and calling in and stuff. No time for that.

I also listened to NPR - mostly on the weekends, and when I was working before and after normal office hours.

VERY recently - there was a major change however.

940 ceased to air progressive shows. They went all sports. The format change was announced by someone using a very fake Rush Limbaugh voice, saying something that since Obama won the election and it was because of progressive radio - the format had to go. And it was going all sports because there is a black president and since black people like basketball, 940 would be the new home of the Miami Heat. 940 was then The Sports Animal. Just like that.

Of course it was all ratings. The fact that it is a Clear Channel station - and Clear Channel loves the right wing format - can not possibly have anything to do with it. It was the ratings!

It is true 940 did not have awesome numbers. These are the ratings for 2007 and 2008. WIOD is 610, and WINZ is 940. As you can see, WIOD did have better numbers for both years. Of course, WIOD shows were also better promoted. Clear Channel also owns a bunch of billboards, and when nobody wants to rent the space the company puts up an ad for a radio show. Uusually on WIOD. But be this as it may, WIOD had better numbers. In 2007 WIOD ranked 12 overall and WINZ ranked 23 overall. But as far as numbers go, in 2007 WIOD had a high of 3.2 VS WINZ high of 1.7. The top FM station had a 6.4 share.

WQAM, the highest rated sports station, ranked 22nd in 2007. And the highest rated show on WQAM is Neil Rogers - which is not a sports show. Neil is the last truly local show in the market that is in English.

In 2008, there was not a lot of difference in the trends.

The other sports format stations do not even register on the ratings. They are ranked below 25th place. The number 2 sports station has less than half the audience of WQAM. And there are two more sports stations under that.

NO audience. WQAM is the only sports station that this market needs. It is the only sports station that has any audience.

Which brings up the question - and the point of this long pointless post.

Why change formats? It could not possibly just be numbers. WINZ with the progressive talk shows was already doing as well as WQAM - the number 1 sports station in the market. WINZ was kicking the ass of the other three sports stations. There is no way possible that changing the format to sports is going to see better ratings for WINZ.

So then - why?

If you ask me, it was not just a business decision. If it were, I would expect that the format change would be to something that would have a hope of producing much better numbers. Since WIOD already carries the right wing stuff, it would not make sense for WINZ to just adopt this format.

But switching from a format that at least got you in the top 25 to a format that will NOT be in the top 25 seems like either a terrible business decision - or one that was politically motivated.

WINZ will now air the Fox Sports syndicated stuff. That nobody will listen to. Nobody. Ratings will drop.

Now I do not think this is going to be a surprise to Clear Channel and station management. So this leaves only one option.

It was political. Clear Channel will syndicate more Fox stuff, giving more money to Rupert Murdoch. And to do so, they will dump the progressive format in South Florida.


I really do not care. I was not a die hard follower of WINZ. I would occasionally tune in from time to time just to hear what was being said - providing I did not want to listen to music instead. But the format change did get me to thinking of what the reason behind it was. Not being able to make sense of a format that would at least get you a 1.5 or 2.0 share would be dumped for a format that almost guarantees a 0.5 share (or lower) - I had to assume it was a political move by the parent company. Fox sports??? As opposed to any other sports network?? Seems a little strange to me.


Blogger Scarlet W. Blue said...

FOX. It's like Swine flu, only way more deadly. Hates it, precioussss.

Blogger Lily Strange said...

Clear Channel blows. However, I guess I am somewhat over on the dark side as the classic rock station I listen to is owned by these asshats.


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