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IF YOU CAN'T BEAT HIM, RECRUIT HIM: CLEAR CHANNEL HIRES JOURNAL'S LEE

Andrew Lee, the program director who launched Journal Broadcast Group talk station KQTH FM 104.1, aka "The Truth," has accepted the same position with KTLK FM in Minneapolis.

The Minneapolis talker is owned by Clear Channel, and the hire gives Clear Channel an opportunity to improve its positioning in two markets. First, KTLK gets a program director who has succeeded in the FM talk format; second, Clear Channel gets the guy who succeeded in that FM talk format—largely at the expense of Clear Channel's Tucson talk station—out of the Tucson market.

The performance of KQTH is among the most impressive success stories in modern Tucson radio.

The fierce and burgeoning battle for the Hispanic and Spanish-language demographic aside, legacy formats rule the roost in this market. KRQQ FM 93.7 is the Top 40 station; KIIM FM 99.5 is the country station; KMXZ FM 94.9 is the milquetoast inoffensive-music station; KLPX FM 96.1 dominates the classic rock format (even though there are significant changes in the offing there); and KNST AM 790 is the talk station.

Or at least that's the way it was until The Truth went online a little more than three years ago.

Before The Truth's launch, the limited-range signal at 104.1 FM floundered with a variety of music-format efforts, from classic rocker The Hog to watered-down alternative The Point. And a point was about all it was drawing in the ratings.

Finally, Journal made the jump to FM talk—an attempt that was long overdue in the market—and that decision has paid dividends. KQTH has yet to best KNST in the overall 12-and-older ratings race, largely because of the AM station's dominance among elderly listeners. However, The Truth is pummeling KNST in the coveted 25-54 demo.

"It takes a vision," said Lee. "... You can't just put the format on FM, walk away and say, 'OK, here comes the audience.' You have to execute the format correctly. You have to be local. A lot of these stations are putting a full syndicated lineup on an FM signal without any local presence or local daypart—without any local news, in some instances. Then, when it doesn't work, they're giving up and going back to some music format.

"That perpetuates the idea that talk doesn't work on FM. When you do it wrong, it stinks. When you do it right, like here and in a handful of other markets, you see that not only are you able to take audience away, but you get in a good battle with the heritage talk stations. You also introduce new people to the format, new people who have never bothered to flip over to the AM dial. You get them to sample the format, and they realize this is pretty good.

"You convert a lot of people who are just becoming politically aware—that age group of 25- to 35-year-olds who are just out of college and getting into the workforce, starting up families, getting real jobs and starting to understand it's important to pay attention to these political issues. It's important to pay attention to the news around you and what's going on in your city, your county, your state, on a national level, and then they find this station, and they never even bother to go to the AM dial. We have our events where we go out and meet our listeners, and we have a pretty young demographic that comes out and tells us that. They've probably never even heard of KNST, in some respects."

The Truth approaches local coverage largely in the same way that KNST does, and many stations in smaller markets do: The morning show is local, while much of the rest of the lineup is nationally syndicated, with local news drops during programming breaks. For KQTH, the morning show, hosted by Jon Justice, has been a boon.

"We would not be where we are without Jon Justice. Jon sets the day," Lee said. "He brings a lot of people to the table. We are able to introduce them to the rest of our lineup via the Jon Justice Show. Jon's legwork and being out on the streets and getting involved in issues that he cares about and actually being out there on the front lines—showing up at City Council meetings and rallies and all the things he does—that's brought more people to the table than any syndicated show we could ever carry."

In Minneapolis, Lee will square off against one of the nation's most recognizable legacy AMs in WCCO, in addition to another talker on the FM band that is dabbling with a format that focuses on the female demographic.

Ultimately, he hopes Minnesota politics can stand up to the lunacy that makes Tucson special.

"I love Tucson. Tucson's a great city," Lee said. "The weather can't be beat; the scenery is amazing; and fortunately, the local government never fails to provide us with great talk-radio fodder."


FLICK SETTLES WITH GANNETT

Former Tucson Citizen reporter A.J. Flick has reached a lawsuit settlement with Citizen parent company Gannett.

Flick filed the lawsuit in Pima County Superior Court last fall, alleging "detrimental reliance" upon Gannett's closure-announcement promise in January 2009 that if she were still employed on March 20, 2009, and Gannett didn't sell the newspaper, she would receive one week's pay for each year that she worked at the Citizen as severance.

Gannett didn't sell the newspaper, but nonetheless announced on March 17, 2009, that employees needed to keep working at the paper in order to get severance. Acting publisher Jennifer Boice fired Flick in April 2009 for failing to return to work.

Gannett eventually closed the paper in mid-May 2009.

Details of the settlement are confidential.

More by John Schuster

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