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Leng Takes Reins at KNST

KNST AM 790 has one of the market's most tried-and-true formats, but station management hopes new blood can boost stagnant ratings.

At 30 years of age, admitted talk-radio junkie and new KNST program director Josh Leng has spent more than half of his life listening to Rush Limbaugh. Now he wants to better separate the station that runs Limbaugh from the rest of its Tucson competition.

Leng got into radio in 1999 in Grand Rapids, Mich. Shortly thereafter, he joined the military--"I left to save the world after Sept. 11"--but his flight-navigator goals were sidelined due to a shoulder injury. Leng took another position with the military, in Los Angeles, that allowed him to double-dip in radio, this time with Clear Channel-owned conservative talker KFI and its progressive-talk sister station.

"That was kind of weird: L.A. liberals to Orange County conservatives, and they're really only 50 feet down the hall from one another," Leng said. "I got both sides of the story with that, and it was a great place to see how radio is done right."

Leng returned to Grand Rapids for a few months before accepting a talk-radio producer's gig in Baltimore. While there, he learned about the KNST opening.

"I talked to (Clear Channel Tucson operations manager) Tim Richards, and he said, 'I want to see your market, station and show assessments, and lineup changes you would make.' I turned it into him early, and he said they wanted to get me out (to Tucson), and when they did, they put on the full-court-press sale," Leng said. "I liked everything I heard. ... There are a lot of people who have big-market experience who could be working elsewhere, but the fact they're working at Clear Channel Tucson says a lot about the positive working environment they've built there."

KNST has long been the city's ratings leader in a crowded news/talk market, but its 4.5 winter 2008 rating was its lowest number in more than a year--even though it still accounts for more than half of Tucson's recorded talk-radio audience.

Radical moves like jettisoning Limbaugh or Sean Hannity seem unlikely, but KNST's afternoon-drive offerings are not as stable. KNST runs Mark Levin from 4 to 6 p.m. and repeats an hour of Hannity from 6 to 7 p.m., and then airs Michael Savage from 7 to 10 p.m.--immediately after he airs on competitor KQTH FM 104.1 from 4 to 7 p.m., the timeslot KNST lost during a contract dispute.

"There's no major overhaul coming," Leng said. "KNST is the format leader for a reason. There will be some tweaking."

Leng said he would look into adding more local conversation: "Definitely. ... Anybody who catches my attention with a personality and a drive to create and be creative in this medium, I'll definitely listen to what they have and work hands-on as a talent coach to develop and create unique and original programming."

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