07 February 2006

The final radio picture

Greetings from Odessa, TX, where I am on an unusual business trip. No meetings, no appointments, just a lot of driving around for testing purposes. Believe it or not, I encountered a tumbleweed 30 seconds after I exited the parking lot this morning. West Texas really is like that.

The rental was already tuned to a local ESPN radio affiliate, which was a relief. As my route took me further and further away from the bustling Midland-Odessa market, the station became more difficult to receive. I had my iPod with me just in case, but I decided to flip through the dial first to see what was out there.

I hit the SCAN button on the radio, and to my dismay, every single time the radio stopped the same thing came out of the speakers:
  • Rush Limbaugh
This happened six times, on six different frequencies. Since I tend to avoid any kind of talk radio outside of sports (regardless of political bent or content), I plugged in the iPod and kept driving until I found an area with more variety. That didn't happen until I got back to Odessa a few hours ago.

The lesson, besides the fact that no one should get stuck in Eunice, NM? Talk radio rules. Especially the conservative flavor. Christian radio is gaining a stronger foothold in the Bay Area with each passing year. That's what the A's are up against, even on the stations they currently inhabit. Let's take a look at the three stations that will carry A's games in the Bay Area for the next three years:
  • KYCY-1550 (San Francisco/Belmont) - I would say that CBS/Infinity should be lauded for taking a chance with the podcast format on "KYouRadio", but I have to temper that with the thought that the format could change overnight to more talk, or some other overplayed concoction. To me, the curious thing about KYCY is that they had an application to relocate to San Jose and become a 50,000-watt station. That application was rescinded in November without a peep. It's not realistic to think the A's will push any of its affiliates in one direction or another because of the historically low ratings. But if you're looking for a Exodus-to-San Jose angle in the radio dealings, Infinity's retraction doesn't help the case.
  • KNTS-1220 (Menlo Park) - The station's parent company, Salem Communications, has until now had a mixture of conservative talk and college sports. Salem has apparently taken a stance that gives their talk programming a priority over the A's. Since their weekday/weeknight schedule does repeats after 6, it's quite convenient for them to shoehorn the A's into repeat time. It's possible that if the A's do spectacularly well on KNTS, they could add full Eastern Time Zone broadcasts to the schedule, though the producers of Dennis Prager's daily show wouldn't be too pleased with their show being preempted on a semi-regular basis. The problem with the KNTS situation is that the current nighttime signal is so weak, many listeners will be turned off by the static and tune in to KYCY, XM, or the streaming feed instead. Ratings won't look impressive on KNTS as a result, which means the A's wouldn't be able to truly prove themselves on weeknights on KNTS. I asked A's VP of Broadcasting and Communications Ken Pries if Salem had told him when KNTS plans to build that 50 kW facility in Hayward. He said they didn't.
  • KVON-1440 (Napa) - One of few independently-run stations in the market, KVON has a somewhat center-left talk lineup rounded out by more eclectic programming. KVON has been carrying the A's for some time, but their role becomes significant because KYCY doesn't reach the North Bay.
Obviously, there's room for growth. Pries indicated that the team is working to add more affiliates. Hopefully, the targets will be Sacramento and the Central Coast, the two remaining (and gaping) holes for the A's to cover. With radio dominated by certain types of programming, it's a tough sell. Maybe there's a station willing to do an equity exchange the way KNBR and the Giants work with each other, but even then, there have to be ratings to back the A's placement on any station. The new setup is problematic in that the three stations could cannibalize each other to a degree.

P.S. The new affiliate list is now up.

P.P.S. I'm going to take a peek at Midland's quaint Citibank Park while I'm here. The Midland Rockhounds are the A's AA affiliate.


Anonymous said...

One thing I personally get tired of. The A's ruminations about the Bay Area Market. This is not stirictly a radio issue. The A's have been here for nearly 40 years. If they cannot manage to place their product strongly in the marketplace, they have no one to blame but themselves.


Georob said...

I'm surprised you couldn't pick up KNBR out there :)

Actually, I've driven I-10 through West Texas many times. The first time I did it, I hit the scan button on my radio and it came up with nothing. THAT was a scary feeling, almost like waking up and finding out that everyone else on the planet had disappeared.

Susan Slusser in yesterday's Chron alluded to the fact that there could be more opportunities for A's cross-promotions with the other CBS owned stations(KCBS 740, KFRC 99.7, and KIFR 106.9) She specifically alluded to the possibilitiy of talk shows on the other stations

I also noticed that Ken Pries said that he looked forward to working with "CBS" ,which is not a lie since KYCY is owned by them. Like "making lemons out of lemonade", he's looking at the big picture and seeing what a relationship with CBS might bring down the road.

I still say look for a move towards HD sooner than later. If there's no other station out there to buy, perhaps Lew Wolff could be an equity partner with CBS towards getting the A's on an HD-2 multicast of KCBS 740.

That would put us on par with KNBR, power-wise.

oaktowngreen said...

Pretty soon the world of radio will be running through XM and Serius. You can already hear every game wherever you want. Internet also gives this to me I think that its not a big deal...the format will change very soon. These will be the rough years for A's radio...but it wont be that bad. Throw down a little cash and get a SAT radio...a little delphi from XM...and DRIVE ON.