Little Numbers

The goal at KBCS in Seattle back when we started this blog a year ago read, “The stated intent of these changes is to create a more consistent sound so that listeners will stay tuned longer throughout the day.” So is it working out well for them? Not so much. The latest Arbitron ratings for the station limped along at a 0.1 AGH, trailing several Christian, Regional Mexican, and all-talk stations — and whumped by jazz station KPLU (which scored a 3.1), a music dumped by KBCS in its remake. (Listings are last three, in this order — Holiday 2010, January 2011, February 2011 — with AQH% and Cume for each.):

0.1    31,600    0.1    35,500    0.1    23,400

In Detroit, WDET has also struggled in the ratings.

0.7   173,400    0.7    167,500   0.7   138,100

In Boston, ‘GBH still lags behind WBUR, which also is talk-talk NPR. WUMB? Way down there:

1.2   258,800   1.7   269,200    1.6    256,200

WBUR’s numbers: 3.1    416,800    4.0    485,900    3.7    458,800

WUMB’s numbers:  0.3    55,200    0.4    56,200    0.5    47,200

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Public Radio Stations as Bob-FM

Jeff Boudreau of Boston posted up about the new Facebook site “NPR Ate My Local Public Radio Station” (link on right), where you can commiserate with others whose stations have been assimilated into the borg. He also discussed what has been the hot topic for Jerry Del Colliano’s Inside Music Media blog of late — the automation of radio programming — as it applies to our local public radio stations. The perfect example, of course, is WUMB:

When human hosts pre-record programs for later play: WUMB in Boston has recently done this. Meg Griffith is doing so from her horse estate on the North Shore, and I just got confirmation from the volunteer answering the phones that George Knight is doing this for the afternoon shift.

And a post on this topic received this comment:

Radio One already did that here in Boston a couple of years ago. The entire airstaff of urban WILD-AM 1090 was “let go” (except for one “manager” just to keep the station on the air), and they also run Joyner and other syndicated “urban talk” shows in the daytime, then an automated watered-down “Classic Soul/R&B” music mix and infomercials after that and on weekends. They also briefly had WILD-FM 97.7 a few years ago, they sold that to Entercom, Inc for $30m(!), who made it into a repeater of their formerly Worcester-based hard-rock station WAAF to give it better Boston signal coverage. These changes left Boston with no (legal) live, local full-time African-American programming outlet.

Radio One was also not the only one here. A couple of years ago, Greater Media let the entire airstaff of WBOS 92.9 go and went to a full-time automated commercial “alternative” rock format, and Entercom, Inc. went automated full-time with their “adult variety-hits” “Mike-FM” on WMKK 93.7. Some others are only keeping live staff in morning and afternoon drive-times and are using automation or “voice-tracking” at other times. It’s all about reducing payroll overhead.

Our public radio stations pursue the same course. KUT’s Hawk Mendenhall lamented that there had to be any music at all on Austin’s station (found in FOI documents obtained in a release sought by Austin Airwaves), this in the “Live Music Capital of the World,” as Austin styles itself. Last month, in a tiny baby step in that direction — a lesson learned from the firestorm created in their blunt-force “resignations” of the free-form stalwarts that made the station — a new canned program from PRX, “Sound Opinions,” was quietly introduced into the lineup.

Then, of course, is the example of WGBH, which has gone all-talk with canned content from the mother ship, NPR, at the expense of local folk and blues shows. Of the WUMB situation, Jeff notes:

Like John Laurenti, George [Knight] is another former WBOS DJ who was “let go” from a full-time weekday shift when Greater Media purged their airstaff and changed the format from commercial AAA to a fully automated “alternative” rock format. George has been doing fill-ins on both WUMB, and some of Greater Media’s other commercial stations in their local cluster. Meg and George are “voice-tracking” their shows on WUMB. They pre-record their announcing breaks, announcing the songs that will be played from the music computer at WUMB. The breaks are programmed into the automation computer in the proper sequence so that the correct announcements match the songs played at the correct times.

It’s common practice in commercial radio nowadays, to reduce payroll by reducing the amount of time required to produce a radio show, and/or allow the host more time to perform other off-the-air work at the station during their same shift.

And whether the playlist is determined by a stay-at-home deejay or a “committee” at the station, as at KUT in Austin, the salient question still remains: Why do they believe that this playlist is more attractive to, for instance, a young audience steeped in iPods and Pandora and the like? Why wouldn’t they prefer their own “playlists”?

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