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KWFM FINALLY MAKES FORMAT TRANSITION

When Alan Michaels agreed to a stint on the crazy cruise that is Hudson Communications' radio station KWFM 1330 AM last spring, it seemed likely that a transition from progressive talk to a more musically driven format was inevitable.

That format would be one that Michaels, a 30-year veteran of Tucson radio, would be familiar with, probably with a classic hits bent, featuring music that spanned the '60s, '70s and '80s.

After months of a progressive talk format, then a month of nothing but Michael Jackson music before transitioning to a menu of holiday classics available in the public domain (perhaps to avoid having to pay licensing royalties), and months after Michaels' short tenure came to a close, KWFM has finally transitioned to something like what was expected.

The latest incarnation of 1330 launched shortly after the first of the year. It's almost as if the station has attempted to borrow from the KMXZ MixFm 94.9 playbook: a fairly inoffensive mix of '70s and '80s hits. And with a bit more R&B tossed into the mix, it's sort of a hybrid of Journal Broadcasting's Mix and 106.3 FM The Groove.

So far, the advertisers are flocking around. It sounds as though 1330 has three sponsors, and it's entirely possible that clientele is based largely on trade. When Michaels was in the building, there were rumblings that he might attempt to localize the product, i.e. hire actual DJs for actual shifts. That obviously never materialized, so KWFM has opted for what a lot of music stations are these days anyway: what sounds like an iPod set up near a transmitter site with convenient ID sweeps tossed in on occasion.


KIIM ROLLS TO ANOTHER RATINGS WIN

The winter 2012 radio ratings period turned out to be a good one for Cumulus Broadcasting, which landed two stations in the top four, according to the latest Arbitron 12-plus compilations.

There were no surprises among the top three. Cumulus' country juggernaut KIIM 99.5 FM led the way with a 10.3 share. It's the second time in three ratings books that KIIM has bested the 10 level. Journal-owned KMXZ 94.9 FM was second with an 8.4 while top-40 format KRQQ 93.7 FM, owned by Clear Channel, registered a 7.8.

Cumulus also held the No. 4 position, with once-struggling 100,000-watt KHYT 107.5 FM. KHYT has climbed steadily since transitioning from classic rock to classic hits. It has topped the 5 threshold in three of the last four books, and now consistently outperforms the market's lone classic rocker, KLPX 96.1 FM, something it was never able to do when the two went head to head.

Although KLPX rebounded with a 5.2, it wasn't even Lotus Broadcasting's highest-rated station. That distinction belongs to regional Mexican format KCMT 102.1 FM, which, with its 5.3 share, continues to deliver strong numbers in the Spanish-language demographic. Clear Channel's urban hit format KOHT 98.3 FM registered a 5.3 as well for its best ratings cycle in recent memory.

Other numbers of note: Not surprisingly, political talk took a significant dip. That's common following an election, when listeners tend to be politicked out. However, since adding an FM signal, Clear Channel's talk format KNST 97.1 FM/790 AM has been able to again separate itself from Journal competitor KQTH 104.1 FM. KNST's 3.7 was its worst number of the year, and lowest rating since it transitioned to FM, but it still more than doubled the 1.8 delivered by KQTH.

KQTH lost nearly half of its audience from the fall to winter book. That swing may be more dramatic than actual listenership reflects—the Arbitron diary model is well short of an exact science—but the station's share has been below 3 in three of the last five books. At its peak, KQTH surpassed KNST when KNST was only on the AM band. And KQTH was trending well in key demos against KNST. But it wasn't able to hold the gains and the slide began before KNST finally recognized it needed to be on FM.

I'm a believer in the potential of talk radio on FM. And if trends in larger markets are any indication, FM talk, most notably FM sports talk, is experiencing major gains. But so far Tucson has largely bucked the trend. On the political talk front (to call a station in this market news/talk is usually laughable because KNST's Paul Birmingham pretty much carries the news-reporting banner alone among privately owned Tucson radio outlets), KNST seems to be the only station reaping the rewards. Jon Justice remains a popular—and polarizing—figure in the morning position on 104.1, but if KQTH continues to deliver paltry numbers, some examination may be necessary.

Sports talk also continues to deliver uninspiring ratings. Journal-owned KFFN 104.9 FM/1490 AM bested KCUB 1290 AM (the station that employs me for UA football and men's basketball pre- and postgame shows) 0.9 to 0.7.

Other lackluster efforts: Clear Channel-owned KMIY 92.9 FM has floundered in the low 3s and experienced no noteworthy improvement since transitioning from its AAA format as The Mountain; modern rocker KFMA 92.1 FM (Lotus) registered a 3.2, a decline of more than a point from its fall numbers; and Cumulus-owned top-40 experiment KSZR 97.5 FM has yet to take hold. It checked in with a 12-plus number of 1.5.

It's important to note that Arbitron has gotten rather pissy about how it calibrates ratings. You have to subscribe to the service to show up in the numbers. That's why the NPR affiliate KUAZ 89.1 FM isn't included, even though it routinely garners listenership among the top four in the market. And why numbers aren't available for a well-run AM talker like KVOI 1030, the addition of Michael Savage notwithstanding. And why we don't know whether a total of 33, or 36, listeners are tuning in to whatever 1330 is doing this week.

More by John Schuster

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