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State Of Talk: Moldy & Anthony

Lance's Line RadioInsight Blog

Talk Radio Ratings Drop Plummet Anthony Cumia Ratings Rush LimbaughIt’s been a record setting year for many Talk stations as some of the biggest stations in the format continue to set records for the lowest ratings in their format’s histories.

  • Cumulus’ 770 WABC New York has dropped from a 2.2 in April to a 1.3 in June, while Clear Channel’s 710 WOR registered a 1.5 thanks to a little bit of a boost from New York Mets baseball.
  • In Los Angeles, 640 KFI was leading the market as recently as 2012, now its down to 12th with a 2.8. Sister 1150 KEIB added Rush Limbaugh in January from KFI and has risen all the way up to a 0.8.
  • 890 WLS Chicago was down to a 1.4
  • 810 KGO San Francisco was the market leader in every ratings period for 27 years until 2010. By the end of 2011, the station shifted to mostly News as ratings continued to drop but that hasn’t helped as it currently places 21st in the market with a 1.9.
  • Many other Talk stations across the country are down,. KFYI and KTAR-FM in Phoenix, WRKO Boston (despite losing two of its in-format competitors), KDKA Pittsburgh, KOGO San Diego, WJR Detroit, WBT Charlotte, and many others are at or near station lows.
  • There are exceptions of course. Heritage News/Talkers like WSB Atlanta, KMOX St. Louis, and WTMJ Milwaukee are at or near the top of their market rankings as are Public News/Talkers WUNC Raleigh, WAMU Washington, and KOPB Portland. Public stations are the most listened to Talk stations in such markets as New York, Philadelphia, and Nashville.

    Why are these stations surviving and even thriving while the majority of the format is struggling? The successful stations are shockingly locally oriented as opposed to relying mostly on syndication. WTMJ is local 5am to 9pm. KMOX is local outside of Rush Limbaugh and overnights. Even smaller market stations that are succeeding such as WHO Des Moines and WNIR Akron aren’t as reliant on syndication.

    What’s the last syndicated Talk show to become a ratings success across the country? Every politically oriented show is nothing more than a clone of every other right-wing directed show that cloned Rush Limbaugh in the early 1990’s. Nothing new has been done nationally, especially as the Hot Talk format dwindled down to just WTKS Orlando and WHPT Tampa.

    Just like cable TV news, demographics have become a major problem for Talk stations as the median listener age creeps higher into their 60s. What about all the younger listeners who would gladly listen to Talk programming? Outside of Sports, commercial radio has completely abandoned general talk.

    The era of the shock jock is over with SiriusXM’s firing of Anthony Cumia being one of the final nails in its coffin. Some traditional radio expatriots like Don Geronimo and Tom Leykis have found niches with streaming shows and podcasts. Six of the current top ten podcasts on ITunes are from Public Radio, whike aany of the top Comedy podcasters have radio backgrounds including Adam Carolla, Marc Maron, and Chris Hardwick. Perhaps its time to dig into their world to find people like Pete Holmes, Bill Burr, or Aisha Tyler that can do a different kind of Talk show and bring younger listeners back to commercial Talk radio nationally. Make the format have mass appeal with entertaining topics other than repeating “I Hate Obama” for 24 hours a day.

    Pair some of these broader talk shows with local issues shows and general Talk shows like “New Jersey 101.5” does and you have a way to create a station that people in a sales demographic actually will listen to.

    Trying to find the next Rush Limbaugh has proven to be a recipe for disaster. The current national talk radio talent pool has been down to former politicians and aging music jocks for years. Relying on the same-old/same-old for years has done nothing for the industry. It will take some risk taking, but if nothing is done to the format there will be nobody with a pulse left listening.

    Profile photo of Lance Venta
    Lance Venta is the Owner and Publisher of RadioInsight.com and a consultant for RadioBB Networks specializing in integration of radio and the internet. Lance has two decades of experience tracking the audio industry and its use of digital platforms.

    22 Comments

    1. Profile photo of maytableinc


      correct me if i’m wrong, but doesn’t KFI currently have mostly local programming? they only recently got rid of rush but that was when their rating dipped. rush was on when they were number one, 2 years ago. i agree, most stations don’t do well if they are going to rely on syndicated programming, but KFI doesn’t seem to match this formula…?

    2. Profile photo of raccoonradio


      Yes WRKO Boston did lose its competitors WTKK 96.9 and WXKS 1200 but recently they gained a competitor with WUFC 1510, brokered-pending-sale, running Dr K, Beck.,Mohr, Hannity, JT the Brick, Dennis Miller, and Alex Jones. I don’t know how well they’ll do, honestly…WBZ offers them competition at night and there’s various news and talk shows on public radio.

      • Profile photo of Nathan Obral


        A few points:

        WUFC is a time-brokered effort that keeps altering the schedule for whatever reason. That and it’s on the lesser of Boston’s 50kW signals (which says something considering the massive deficiencies 680, 850 and 1200 all have). And they have no marketing department to get themselves known, which would be kinda important as WUFC has been a brokered programming dumping ground for many years now. No one knows it even exists, and thus almost exists as a plaything for Dr. K.

        WRKO has no local news department (CC’s Total Traffic Network handles it, last I checked). Plus their talk programming is shockingly slim: a D-list morning host (Kuhner), a brokered business show in middays, and an afternoon host (Howie) that has openly expressed his utter contempt for his own employer for years. Even for being the lone full-time talk radio station in the market, WRKO is one of the poorest performing talk stations in the U.S., with minimal upswing.

        WBZ is still strong as a legacy station because it super-serves with news content throughout the entire day. WSB is the same way… in spite of having a staid, boring, partisan talk lineup, they have a large news department that should be the cornerstone of an all-news format, or at the very least a WBZ-type of lineup.

        • Profile photo of raccoonradio


          True about WUFC though I did see a billboard on the “Southeast Expressway” last night for them. It probably won’t make too many waves but RKO can now no longer claim to be the only all-talker in town. Agreed on the sched changes, but maybe it’ll settle down now.
          Agreed about WRKO, WBZ, etc

          Speaking of brokered, Boston has WILD 1090 running Chinese Radio Intl programming–at about 20 per cent volume. Money renting a station and not much being done.

    3. Profile photo of StogieGuy


      I am not arguing the overall trend of talk radio (most of which is on AM), but I will state that I think the trend has been exaggerated by a few factors that have come together to make things look even worse than they are.

      For one thing, 2013 was a non-election year and I think fatigue had set in – this started the drop. Then, earlier this year, Cumulus and Clear Channel started monkeying around with some of their largest talkers. Problem is: AM listeners do tend to be older and the do tend to be creatures of habit. Inevitably, listeners were lost.

      Now we’re into summer, which traditionally produces a softening of talk radio listenership. In the past, diaries often reflected loyalty over actual listening habits. With PPM, there’s no place to hide. Not to mention that the types of people who listen to (especially) conservative talk are not the sorts who will readily participate in a PPM sample. PPM is bad for talk radio in general. Not to mention that online listening to podcasts often isn’t captured at all – and an increasing number of people are doing their talk listening via podcast/on-demand platforms.

      The endless spots (most of which are just dreadful) also don’t help matters and do encourage the aforementioned on-demand listening.

      If talk doesn’t take an upward blip this fall, then I’d be in total agreement with the above obituary. But at this point, I think it’s a little premature. There’s a lot more going on here than some kerfuffle over Sandra Fluck and a backlash over “I hate Obama” talk.

      • Profile photo of johndavis


        It’s simple: if you’re still talking to the same core that listened to you 20 years ago. Red meat to that base is all culture war stuff. Except the culture war is being fought against the generation coming up behind them… the same people who now are 25-54. Do you think they find any of it relevant?

        End result: sports talk, which doesn’t always talk sports, has captured a good chunk of 25-54 men. News/talk now has the choice of driving away the 55+ core in search of 25-54 or just living with a 55+ core. Factor in that many of these stations have sister stations doing sports, and you have to ask yourself if you want to cannibalize your well performing sports station to help your news/talk skew younger, and you’re in quite the pickle.

        Back when times were good, people like Perry Michael Simon at All Access warned this day was coming and everyone laughed him off. And as he points out now, any bump you get from the election, both ratings and revenue-wise is a temporary bump.

        This is not a sudden development. This is a case study in neglecting a format. Just as with a sports team that hangs on to its stars for too long and didn’t develop the farm team until the stars were past their prime (*cough* Astros *cough*) it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

        • Profile photo of Nathan Obral


          Many talk hosts (especially Rush) used the phrase “low information voters” to describe younger voters who don’t get their ‘news’ from talk radio and voted for Obama. And listeners believe them.

          But even if someone under the age of 30 were to stumble upon the AM dial (a stretch, but bear with me) and heard such an insult lobbed against their own generation, that would prompt said person to never listen to that station again, even if it got a translator or FM simulcast. And this generation is abandoning radio listening for audio content delivery as it is, so why not have the old guard chase them away with a farewell swat and a DLTDHYOTWO?

          That the echo chamber and groupthink among those hosts is so massive that they can’t even consider labeling the most important demo as effectively stupid is mind-boggling. But it also explains why the Sandra Fluke Incident even took place… no one in Rush’s camp – as far has children within that demographic. Rush never had kids. He can’t relate, and thus, comes off as tone-deaf and hollow.

          And piggybacking off the endless spot loads… the fact that direct-inquiry spots are now the norm on talk shows (not that hard to figure out why) is something that should alarm programmers. It makes their respective stations sound more and more fringe than ever before, thus putting gasoline on an open fire.

          • Profile photo of Jack Bayes


            the fact that direct-inquiry spots are now the norm on talk shows (not that hard to figure out why) is something that should alarm programmers.

            it’s silly to think that programmers aren’t already alarmed. any talk pd worth their salt has already been trying to crank their demos down for some time. but when the national hosts just preach to their own choir…when there has yet to be a left-leaning host that’s figured out that it’s entertainment first and ideology second…when there’s no money to develop your own talent…when there’s no farm system…when corporate is demanding 18 minutes of spots an hour…and all of this before tackling the delivery system problem…well, that doesn’t bode well for the future.

            as i see it, the difficulty with lance’s idea about bill burr, aisha tyler, etc. is time. let’s say for the sake of argument that premiere bites and goes after burr. he’s interested until he figures out how much time would really go into doing four hours of radio every day, and passes. so, to get him, premiere backs up the truck. they build him a nice studio (probably with video), ram the show down cc’s talk stations, twist the arms of some of the other companies, maybe broker in a couple of markets. they spend a lot of money, so they need a return. however, to build an audience for a different type of talk show, it’s going to take three years, minimum. they’re making every play they can to get advertisers, but it’s tough when the numbers aren’t there. no numbers means it’s hard for local stations to sell. burr is working his tail off and seeing no success, and that’s a dream killer. eventually, all those things come together in a venn diagram of failure, right about 18 months in and it’s over before they’ve even given it half a fair chance.

            i love talk, but until someone puts on an entertainment-based show…not shock jock stuff, but not joe franklin, either…and has the balls to wait out at least three years of sub-par results, there is no reason to believe the end isn’t near.

            • Profile photo of Nathan Obral


              That and, when taking Daryl Parks’ latest blog post into account, most PDs have minimal input into their station. If it’s CC owned, that station is very well likely going to carry Glenn, Rush and Hannity. If it’s Cumulus owned, that station will carry Savage, Red Eye, Levin and other Westwood One product.

              Regardless of the ratings, those shows won’t be dropped because it represents a major clearance for ad sales purposes. (The one lone exception to this rule was when WTAM dropped Glenn Beck for Jerry Springer back in 2005, which turned out to be a colossal failure. Eventually Glenn was added back to the WTAM lineup.)

              Whatever little time left on the lineup for local programming is what those PDs have a say in. They are nothing more than glorified board-ops. So even if they are alarmed by the hemorrhaging ratings and direct inquiry spot loads, they can’t do anything about it.

    4. Profile photo of Sean Alan


      Maybe if talk stations had hosts on the air that were actually under 50, they would attract young listeners. However talk stations refuse to employ ANY young talent. You can’t attract young listeners without young talent. These talk stations are receiving the low ratings they deserve.

      • Profile photo of Nathan Obral


        There aren’t that many younger political hosts to begin with. Andrew Wilkow is on satellite (he was on WGY and WABC for a few years) and Ben Ferguson is on WBAP in Dallas. Both of them have the same perception issue that the older hosts face… it’s the same boilerplate talk that you’d expect from any other generic conservative talker.

        To be fair, there is an influx of younger talent into the spoken word arena. They are just going into sports talk or “Mancave” talk instead.

    5. Profile photo of StogieGuy


      Local hosts are far more likely to be under-50 and there are quite a few around. WISN Milwaukee has a couple of younger hosts and WLS’ Roe and Roeper are both under 50. Still, it hasn’t seemed to matter much as far as ratings go.

      One other thing: this is the one format where station management usually gives up without an effort on weekends. Most talkers feature brokered (crap) programming over most weekend days. Those that don’t do this tend to do better. The successful example of “New Jersey 101.5” was cited: aside from being one of the few LOCAL voices serving the state of New Jersey, they also play classic hits over the weekend while maintaining a live news and traffic (vital in congested NJ) presence throughout.

      What do WLS or WRKO do all weekend? Brokered talk that nobody listens to. So you start your week at 5/7ths. For diary markets, this may not be as noticeable, but PPM knows that your listeners avoid those colon blow and quick buck infomercials like the plague.

      Again, I believe that the ratings from September and October will tell us a lot. If the ratings remain moribund, then the situation is indeed dire. But don’t be surprised if they bounce back somewhat. Post election for talkers is akin to late February for sports; even the biggest fans tend to take a break.

    6. Profile photo of Beachguy


      One other thought…….

      When Rush started, and for many years, his stuff was edgy but also humorous. Now, all you hear from EITHER side is just unpleasant anger. That, to my ears, is what hurt talk on the left side of the spectrum. Too strident- and over the last 10 or so years, the right has become that way also.

      I’m a 60 year old guy, but I agree- there needs to me more young hosts without all the MEAN anger. Anger is fine if it isn’t mean. But guys like Mark Levin and Savage are horrendous, whether they represent my views or not. The right has forgotten what the left didn’t think of when stuff like Air America started up- there has to be an entertainment factor.

      And for crying out loud- don’t LIE to me. Don’t spin me. Don’t mislead me. I’ve gotten where I despise ALL the “information” sources because they all want to put their spin on it. LET ME DECIDE WHAT I THINK!!!! I’ not saying don’t have opinions, but when you tell me a news item, tell me what it is without the spin. I’ve gotten ticked off more than a few times at hosts I knew lied.

      Although they aren’t ratings getters, I have found the hosts for Salem’s stations to be a bit more restrained. None of the bizarre outbursts of Levin and Hannity, for example.

      I love talk radio. And I am getting tired of the ones who just shout louder and with less courtesy than whoever is the topic. Shrill is irritating.

      • Profile photo of StogieGuy


        As I’ve indicated earlier, I think that these woes have been caused by a combination of factors. The talent is getting tired (the point about Rush not being as entertaining as he once was is an excellent example). The spot load is horrible and filled with spots that are absolutely unlistenable. Cumulus and Clear Channel’s monkeying around with heritage AM talkers, which has been unanimously unsuccessful. Audiences are driven away from their longtime habits and away from AM talk entirely.

        And, there’s another two-pronged factor that hasn’t been discussed here yet: fallout from the November 2012 election. For one thing, all of these hosts told their audiences that Romney was going to win – for sure. That lost them quite a bit of credibility. Not to mention that listening to a litany of ‘bad’ and ‘depressing’ news and frustrated talk gets fatiguing. I honestly think that the core audience for talk has shifted away for a break – they can just only take so much.

        There’s no question that the format needs some new blood. A new version of the 1992 Rush Limbaugh, someone who is informative AND entertaining.

        • Profile photo of Beachguy


          I pretty much agree. I remember a few years ago I noticed I was in a very bad mood by the time I got home from work. I noticed I was listening to a shrill talk show host that while I agreed with many of his views, he just wound my clock up when I listened.

          I stopped.

          And I got home in a better mood.

    7. Profile photo of stinger


      Nathan Obral says: “Many talk hosts (especially Rush) used the phrase “low information voters” to describe younger voters who don’t get their ‘news’ from talk radio…”
      This is inaccurate! “Low information voters” , as Rush refers to them, are ANY age voters who get their news from the MAIN-STREAM MEDIA! We have carried Rush on our station for over 20 years, along with Laura Ingraham and Hannity, and our business has gone UP–broken all records–every year since 2007!! Even during the big nationwide economic downturn!

      In addition, he has many younger listeners that are calling him, realizing their bleak future, and wising up to the damage of big government!

      • Profile photo of Nathan Obral


        But going back to a point made earlier, many hosts were completely convinced that Romney was going to win in 2012… so much so that it became a “Dewey Defeats Truman” moment of infamy. (This wasn’t completely attributed to Rush, but Hannity and Salem’s Hugh Hewitt hung their hats on it… the former with Dick Morris and Karl Rove’s ridiculous predictions on both his radio and TV shows.)

        It only takes a bad apple or two to ruin the bushel. And when people predict something so wrong, so gobsmackingly wrong, it harms the credibility of the format. So for many hosts to use the “low-information voters” insult on MSM viewers is pretty much the pot calling the kettle black.

        As for the ‘younger listeners,’ I put on my skeptical hat (replete with a cynical tassel). Talk radio, and AM radio in general, is completely unknown to millennials. At least the previous generation was aware of AM as the legendary top 40 stations were dying off, and Rush started to take off with his presentation that was the original combination of entertainment and information.

        As Rush is a national show, the production staff can screen and filter out calls to where they aren’t reflective of the population at large… it’s just the nature of the beast. Who knows if those calls really are indicative of the millennial generation? I withhold judgement on that.

        That being said, your station is almost the exception to the rule, along with the powerhouse talkers that Lance and Daryl Parks have cited.

        • Profile photo of StogieGuy


          Yes, there was credibility loss and, I think, listener fatigue in the wake of the 2012 election. For the politically conservative audience, I think that the litany of ‘bad news’ gets depressing after a while and some are choosing to take a break and tune out. I think that each of these things contributes to the recent swoon in talk radio ratings.

          Summer is traditionally a slow ratings period for talkers, which is why baseball is often a good mate for these stations. However, I maintain that we’ll learn a lot about the future of this format by watching the ratings for Fall 2014 and for much of 2016 in the lead-up to the presidential election. If ratings don’t rebound for those events, this format is in trouble.

    8. Profile photo of radiod


      Hi Guys,

      I’ve been a radio media buyer for years.
      I found this article very interesting, and Im glad somebody put all of this in writing.

      Here is my quick take:

      Radio ad spend has been dropping each year since 2010. People might be LISTENING to the radio, but they aren’t buying products. I’ve come to believe that people are listening to the radio FAR LESS FREQUENTLY than they ever have.

      I also believe that there’s no real inherent need to listen to the radio anymore.
      A person can get their news (on their own terms!) at SO MANY different places. There’s no need to choose the radio and “hope” you get what you wanted.

      Radio ratings are down (and will continue to go down i my opinion) because people really don’t need what radio provides.

      This is the best analogy I have right now:
      “Radio and physical newspapers are the VCR’s of the communication industry right now.
      They are available (and they still work!) if you CHOOSE to use them….but there are so many better and more efficient options.”

    9. Profile photo of stinger


      My old boss told me back in the late ’70’s, “Stinger if you rely only on music (pre-Rush days) there is coming a time when the people can get their music anywhere!” He was a genius and a prophet. The same can be said about News/talk. If you rely only on syndication, with out local input, of course you are going to be toast! But if you supply your own news, local news that people can get no where else, if you provide local information that people can get no where else, you the recipe for 6 straight years of record breaking billing when the industry is going south. Don’t blame the medium – – – it is all about content, content, content and mix that with great syndicated talk shows and you have a winner. Now add to that the fact that so many people writing commercials today are more interested in winning some award for their entertaining commercial than they are about moving the product or service or are just too lazy to put together a great message that it is no mystery why most commercials don’t move the product. Great product (marketing bridge) Great message, with plenty of frequency will move the product on the worst radio station! It’s just a fact! People like you have been writing off Radio since Television came on the scene in the 40’s. Unlike so many mediums that demand your eyeballs, Radio is a companion that goes with you everywhere, while working driving, resting, and fishing. When the internet goes down Radio goes on. What happens when the power goes down in an emergency. Radio is still there like a close friend. Radio is a companion not a slave master! Radio is here to stay! >Stinger

      • Profile photo of Nathan Obral


        Radio in itself is not dying. Heck, I see it thriving when online platforms finally come into fruition to either supplement or wholesale replace the current method of OTA transmission. It will be the long-awaited revolution in the industry which has sorely needed one for the past 20 years.

        Talk radio, though, is caught in a trap of their own making. It is very well likely that polemic talk could literally evaporate, as the audience is simply disappearing (or refusing to participate in PPM surveys, which then begs the question if that audience is even worth it).

    10. Profile photo of radioperson


      As I have said before, MOST talk radio (right or left) is just affirmation radio. That is to say, simply affirm that everything that the listener believes is correct and affirm that all counter arguments are wrong. Throw in a good measure of “every problem that we have in this country is the other party’s fault”, conveniently forget about similar behavior in your own party’s history and you have a tired, old formula that (especially) younger people are not buying, as evidenced by the simultaneous activity of the demographics of talk radio getting older and older and older, and the overall audience shrinking.

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