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Citizen Continues Publishing for Now; Future Hazy at Best

Some of the folks who work at the Tucson Citizen will tell you that limbo just might be worse than unemployment.

The announcement last Tuesday, March 17, that the Citizen wouldn't close on March 21 as planned came as a shock: Just as some staffers had come to terms with moving on, the 11th-hour declaration that, indeed, there might be a couple of interested buyers for the struggling afternoon daily threw many of the paper's 65 full-time employees into turmoil.

The St. Patrick's Day surprise came when news leaked of possible purchasing interests--which popped up after Gannett's self-imposed deadline for serious offers, but on the heels of a Department of Justice investigation into whether the company pursued a sale with due diligence.

As of the Media Watch press time, the Citizen, the state's longest running daily, remained little more than day-to-day, with an assurance only that it would hit the streets through March 27.

Meantime, Gannett, the Citizen's parent company, announced yet another employee furlough earlier this week, in an effort to trim its ever-struggling expense profile. Gannett has already embarked on two major layoff swaths within the last few months, and is hopeful the furlough--which will affect most of the company's employees--will help the company avoid a third staff cutback. It's the second time this year that Gannett has required its more than 41,000 employees to relinquish a week of pay.

The furlough announcement's impact on the Citizen is impossible to gauge, given the paper's anything-but-clear outlook.


KQTH, KNST ADJUST AFTERNOON TALK OPTIONS

Journal-operated talker KQTH FM 104.1 has nabbed another syndicated show from a market competitor: The Mark Levin Show, which had aired on KNST AM 790.

"Mark Levin is a rising star in talk radio," said KQTH program director Andrew Lee in a press release. "We couldn't be more proud that he decided to jump to static-free FM on 104.1 The Truth."

Levin airs weeknights from 7 to 10 p.m. on KQTH. He had aired at KNST during the afternoon drive as the replacement for Michael Savage, which KQTH half-lifted from KNST: Half, because Savage airs on both stations, but through contract manipulation, The Truth garnered the preferred afternoon time slot, whereas he's rebroadcast on KNST in the succeeding evening hours.

So to review: Levin replaced Savage on KNST, to go head-to-head with the Savage broadcast on KQTH. Now Levin is broadcast on KQTH, going head-to-head with Savage on KNST.

Meanwhile, KNST has countered by adding the finance-talk-motivated Dave Ramsey Show.

"We were already interested in bringing Dave Ramsey into the lineup," said KNST program director Josh Leng. "He airs weekdays 3 to 6 (p.m.)."

The Truth has moved Jerry Doyle to 2 to 4 p.m., weekdays, in place of Bill O'Reilly, who discontinued his radio program.

KQTH has made a significant dent in KNST's longstanding talk-radio ratings dominance. KNST registered a 3.9 compared to KQTH's 3.6 in the fall 2008 12-plus Arbitron ratings book.

In the short-term, there will be some pre-emptions at KNST: It is broadcasting the NCAA college basketball tournament through its contract with Westwood One.

"We had to be a little flexible," said Leng. "I read an article that referred to Tucson as the nation's No. 3 market for interest in college basketball. Boy, does it show."


GOOD NEWS BROADCASTING GETS A BIGGER PIECE OF THE TALK PIE

Good News Radio Broadcasting, which operates conservative talker KVOA AM 690, is in the process of purchasing KCEE AM 1030 from Jim Slone, pending the formality of Federal Communications Commission approval. Once the $1.3 million sale goes through, KVOI will use KCEE's stronger signal for its talk format, shifting KCEE's current adult-standards format to 690.

"Over the years, there have been a couple of guys who have been real mentors to me," said Good News head Doug Martin. "One of them, Jim Slone, has really helped me out over the years. A couple of months ago, I called Jim. ... I see broadcasting as less of an outreach and actually diminishing over the next five or 10 years. I thought it would be very important for us to really strengthen our position. I think groups that have more stations, even if the audience shrinks over time, have a better opportunity to succeed.

"I asked him if he would sell us the station. I appealed to him on the basis that this is something that would help us. Times aren't good now, but this is something that could benefit us. After he thought about it, he agreed to our terms. That's how it came about; Jim wasn't looking to sell his station. He hadn't listed his station. It was his desire to help us."

Slone purchased KCEE largely to broadcast his pet adult-standards format, and ratings-wise, it had made headway against competitors. You can do those sorts of things once you've sold your radio conglomerate to Citadel Broadcasting for more than $60 million, as Slone did in 2001. And when the time is right, you can afford to be a bit altruistic, although the sale price is similar to what Slone paid for the station a couple of years ago.

KVOI's weekday lineup includes two staggered hours of the local John C. Scott Show (6 to 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. to noon), along with syndicated talkers Dennis Miller, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved and Hugh Hewitt. It registered a 1.4 rating in the fall 2008 Arbitron book, a representative number for most AM stations in the market. Slone's KCEE received a 1.6.

"I kind of see talk radio as the one thing that is going to grow over the next few years," Martin said. "I talk to my kids--they're in their 20s--and they don't even listen to radio. They download everything they want to listen to. ... There's a problem there for music radio over time. With talk radio, there seems to be an interest. I think it's a growing thing that will be a strong format over the next few years."

More by John Schuster

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