Air America

Scott Fybush
Wed Apr 27 20:23:54 EDT 2005

At 07:41 PM 4/27/2005 -0400, Daniel Billings wrote:
>The things that stood out to me was not the comparisons to other stations, 
>but Air America's numbers being down from earlier ratings periods.  That 
>would not be explained by signal problems.

I haven't - full disclosure - looked at the NRO article yet. But I've seen 
the NY numbers, including some demo breakdowns that aren't released in the 
12+ numbers that the media get.

Here's what I think, at least where NYC is concerned:

1. It is, for the most part, too soon to issue any sort of definitive 
verdict on whether AA is a "success" or a "failure." What most radio people 
want to see, as both Donna and Dan know full well, are not book-to-book 
(or, worse, trend-to-trend) numbers but year-over-year numbers. AA has only 
been on the air for a year, and that means that the winter books that we're 
looking at now are the very first winter numbers the format has ever posted.

I vividly remember a time when Limbaugh, Savage, et al were posting 
mediocre ratings on less than full market signals. When I came to Boston in 
early 1990, Rush had a weekend-only "best of" clearance on WHDH, and I 
think he may have been on one of the Providence AMs. It took at least a 
year after that for him to get weekdays on WHDH, and later WRKO.

2. Even if not quite a full year of ratings were enough to judge by under 
ordinary circumstances, it's been an extraordinary year for talk radio in 
general. AA had some pretty severe teething pains at the start, as we're 
all well aware, and almost immediately plunged into one of the most 
divisive political campaigns in recent memory.

Here's where things get interesting, at least in my reading of the NYC 
numbers. WABC showed a very distinct ratings spike in the months leading up 
to November, followed by a very real levelling-off right afterward. So did 
many stations around the country with similar programming, like WHAM here 
in Rochester.

WLIB, interestingly, showed no such spike. That meant it lost out on some 
of the election-driven gains that the WHAMs and WABCs showed, but might it 
also suggest a more stable and loyal audience? Again, too soon to say, and 
I'm not comfortable speculating on the basis of the numbers currently 

3. There seems to be an expectation that AA will do especially well in 
"blue" markets like NYC and Boston. I'm not at all sure that I agree with 
that. If you're a left-leaning listener in a city where most of the people 
you meet with agree with you, are you especially inclined to want to spend 
much time with a station that pretty much tells you what you already know? 
You'll draw some audience that way, of course - but the message I read into 
the "successes" liberal talk has shown so far (again, with the caveat that 
it's really way too soon to tell) is that it may do better in places like 
San Diego, where left-leaning listeners exist in measurable numbers (the 
city of SD is actually majority Democratic, or so I'm told by my cousins 
there) but are outnumbered by a vocal conservative majority in the market. 
For those listeners, the "progressive talk" station can theoretically draw 
some pretty intense loyalty in a way that would be less likely in New York 
or Boston, where left-leaning viewpoints are a dime a dozen.

The best example I can cite for my theory is actually the flip side of this 
argument: look at KSFO in San Francisco, a bastion of hard-line 
conservative talk in a market that's anything but. ABC took a big risk when 
they launched the format on KSFO in the mid-nineties, but it's been a very 
consistent success, launching Savage into national syndication before he 
ended up across town at KNEW. ABC has a great thing going in San Francisco 
- the conservatives have KSFO, and that frees up KGO to be that rarest of 
breeds, a moderate talk station. Couple in to that two really good signals, 
and you've got by far the best AM pair in town.

4. The signal, the signal, the signal. I don't think WLIB will ever post 
more than a fraction of the numbers WABC gets, simply because it can't 
reach the audience WABC does. Just as Rush moved from rimshot daytimers 
(here in Rochester, he started on WYSL, then a 500-watt daytimer on 1030 25 
miles south of town) to WHAM and WRKO, progressive talk will move up the 
signal chain *if* it succeeds as more than just a niche. But...

5. It's still too soon to tell. Did I say that already?


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