Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Talk Radio is King in the Bay Area: KGO, KTRB, KNEW, KCBS, MANCOW, RONN, KAREL

News trumped Christmas in the Bay Area ratings, as news/talk KGO-AM (810) finished first for the Fall ratings for listeners over 12, just above KOIT-FM’s (96.5) nonstop Christmas music.

“I was worried we might not do it this time,” says KGO program director Jack Swanson, whose station has been number one for 27 years by the Arbitron ratings service. “But the election is getting more interesting and I think, even during the holidays, people had insecurity about the economy. That all tends to be good for talk stations.”

Radio stations are ranked by how many people tune in every 15 minutes, the length of a standard commute in some places, and by how long they spend listening. So, a station that broadcasts Christmas music that people leave on all day long, can score big during the holidays.

Here’s your Bay Area Top 10, and their percentage of the 5.9 million listeners over 12: news/talk KGO-AM (810) , 5.7; easy listening KOIT-FM (96.5), 4.7; classical KDFC-FM, (102.1), 4.0; news KCBS-AM (740), 3.8; Mexican music KSOL-FM (98.9/99.1) 3.6; urban music KMEL-FM (106.1) 3.5; conservative talk KSFO-AM (560), 3.4; adult rock KFOG-FM (104.5/97.7) 3.0; urban music KYLD-FM (94.9) 2.7; sports talk KNBR-AM (680), 2.5.

So, four of the top ten stations feature talk, a trend that is growing in radio, as people find other sources for music. It would be five, if you add in KQED-FM (88.5), the public station that isn’t rated quarterly by Arbitron, but is usually high in the Top 10.

Two other talk stations haven’t been as lucky. Conservative talk KNEW-AM (910) is 23rd and its Clear Channel-owned sister station, liberal KKGH-AM (960) is 27th.

KTRB-AM (860), which started its talk lineup almost a year ago, doesn’t crack the top 40, with a weekday bullpen of nationally syndicated shows, including Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham, Phil Hendrie; and Neal Boortz. It’s sad that a local station with a big 50,000 watt signal, can’t invest in local shows.

Manager Jim Pappas says there may be more if the station gets more advertising and ratings. But that seems to be a cart leading the horse argument. Why would people want to listen to a station that is carrying the same type of cookie-cutter conservative hosts as KSFO and KNEW?

Former San Franciscan John London dropped off the air, after a dispute with his syndicator, which gave Pappas a four hour notice to replace him. And former San Franciscan Mancow’s show is picked up live from Chicago from 3-6 a.m.

I’ve been up at those hours and tuned in, and have to say Mancow is better than ever, a ringmaster with a seven ring circus, switching themes like a teen with attention deficit disorder and a 1,000-station remote.

Conservative radio hosts who spent the past 16 years making a living bashing Bill and Hillary Clinton, are falling all over themselves and showing their true colors, now that Barack Obama is gaining serious traction in the presidential primaries.

He’s just not an easy target for them, and the callowness of their thought doesn’t include smears for an articulate man who is inspiring a new generation. But try, they do.

Rush Limbaugh, the dean of Republican messages on the airwaves, makes a point of using Obama’s middle name, Hussein, as often as he can, as if he is trying to scare his Midwestern loyalists with the same creeping Muslim fears that have cost trillions in Iraq.

His imitators, including Sean Hannity and Brian Sussman, have picked up the cry: Husssein, Hussein, Hussein.

Michael Savage doesn’t imitate anyone. He just lives on as the lowest common denominator; his biggest insight sounds like elementary school name calling from a child left behind.

This week, he said that the candidate looked like “Alfred E. Newman from Mad magazine” and like the Eddie Murphy character, Norbert. Deep, man, deep.

The more banal their criticisms, the more it seems like Obama could surge.

Do me a favor, because this stuff is toxic in large doses: please monitor some talk radio for me and send in the best and worst smears you hear.

Obama’s biggest critic on the other side of the dial seems to be KGO-AM’s Karel, who has been filling in for Bernie Ward, while Ward awaits a June trial on child pornography charges.

Karel has been telling listeners that he thinks Obama is unelectable because the Midwest won’t vote for an African American. But he’s started to soften, after the South Carolina victory.

“It’s a fairy tale, and every so often, one comes true,” says the host, who has been lobbying for a part in Sean Penn’s upcoming movie about former Mayor Harvey Milk’s murder.

“I”ve been openly gay far too long in the straight world taking the slings and arrows to not be in this movie,” he says. Sean, if you are reading, he’ll settle for a 10-minute interview.

With all this talk about talk, let me add one more critique. KGO’s Ronn Owens has been on fire for months. He’s cut down on the corny jokes and been hammering guests with insightful questions.

I picked up on this, almost unconsciously, as I found myself unable to get out of my car and get to appointments during his show.

When I asked him, he said that since his hospitalization for an episode of amnesia last September, he’s found a renewed passion for the show.

I’ve heard it, even in throwaway shows, like his “instant guest,” where he drafts audience members to appear, and had a fascinating woman talking about being a mystery shopper.

Then, this week, on the serious side, few could have been better than when he had Barbara Boxer and Dan Lundgren critiquing the State of the Union address.

And there was no sign of amnesia, when he instantly came up with the name of the Italian Prime Minister in another interview, with no help from Google.

He really sets the standard for talk in the middle of the spectrum, something getting rare in these days of shouters who don’t check facts, and come off like pro wrestlers.

Read and comment on Brad Kava’s radio blog at .

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've been meaning to email Ronn for a few weeks ... He is really on a roll. He so sharp these days. Guests can't get away with any sloppy thinking or unchallenged opinions. He's even that way with guests he agrees with. Ronn is really bringing his "A" game to work.