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BUCKMASTER FINDS SUCCESS AS AZ ILLUSTRATED STRUGGLES

It was three years ago this week that Bill Buckmaster started discussing a rather radical change. Buckmaster sat down with longtime local radio talk-show fixture John C. Scott to talk about taking a big chance. It involved abandoning the program through which he had become a known commodity, the program he had helped to launch a quarter-century earlier. He was ready to leave Arizona Illustrated on PBS affiliate KUAT Channel 6 and give the brokered radio talk-show venture a go.

After leaving Arizona Public Media six months later, he endured a bit of rough sledding as one of a number of hosts dealing with the management debacle during KJLL 1330's (later KWFM 1330) final days as a talk station. But once he jumped to KVOI 1030 AM, Buckmaster's show was on solid footing. He used his name recognition and a tried-and-true approach familiar to listeners from his long stint in the Arizona Illustrated anchor chair to gain strong advertising support and solid listener numbers. His hourlong show airs at noon weekdays.

"I'm so proud of what we've put together. The show is going very well," said Buckmaster, whose staff includes producer Rosemary Brandt, and former KVOA and KMSB news director Bob Richardson in a part-time sales capacity. "It's Tucson's midday town square. All voices are welcome. It's a noncombative environment, and as a result most people are willing to come on the program. Many of the elements I had at Arizona Illustrated I took to the radio. I've been very blessed. My roster of sponsors is a very impressive group of people. We emphasize that I'm a trusted voice with an audience of highly educated people who are in many cases decision-makers in the community. It's not about ratings. It's about people who really care about their community."

Conceivably, KUAT could argue the same thing: good revenue numbers and a highly educated viewing audience. But the revamped program at KUAT certainly can't boast of healthy ratings.

Even taking into account the shoddy nature of the television ratings system in this market, it's clear that the new-look Arizona Illustrated is not resonating with viewers. Numbers are, at best, stagnant. And in the two ratings books that have come out since the show began a theme-based approach, there is no suggestion of any meaningful uptick soon.

There could be a variety of reasons, including an inability to lure younger viewers (Arizona Illustrated skews heavily to readers 50 and older). A lack of focus during a lengthy transition period following Buckmaster's departure could also be a factor, as could the new theme-based programming that many regular viewers are unfamiliar with.

Like many things, television viewing is habitual, and if viewers depart, it's tough to get them back. But Arizona Illustrated has opted to go with metro news on Monday, science on Tuesday, nature on Wednesday, the arts on Thursday and a political round table with the Tucson Weekly's Jim Nintzel on Friday (the only holdover from the Buckmaster-era format).

The problem is that you're asking viewers to make the effort to decipher on which night your topics of interest might be discussed.

"Arizona Illustrated is obviously searching for its identity," Buckmaster said. "They believe a theme show is the way to go. That is so opposed to my philosophy of news magazines, whether it was on the television or what I'm now doing on radio. That philosophy is, if you don't like what you're listening to or watching, stick around for five minutes and there might be something you'll like."

In short, if you're watching on arts night, but you don't care for the arts and would prefer to hear about science issues, how likely are you to make a concerted effort to watch on science night (which is already on its second host; KUAT recently added Alan Fischer to the Tuesday night program). Based on Arizona Illustrated's numbers, it looks as though a lot of abandonment is taking place.

The theme-based approach also has KUAT using anchors who have limited broadcast experience.

"Because they're public broadcasting, they believe an anchor can come in from the public and do anchoring," Buckmaster mused. "(Arizona Public Media general manager Jack Gibson) has a philosophy that he believes the host should be someone from the public, not necessarily professional broadcasters. After spending 45 years in the media, it's fascinating that some people think you can just do this job off the street."


KNIGHT, AUBREY BACK IN THE RADIO FOLD

The Journal Broadcast Group has added radio veterans Valerie Knight and Chuck Aubrey to its roster. This is Knight's return to the business after a few years away to deal with family issues.

"I'm really excited to be back on Tucson radio again and very grateful to Journal, Jim Arnold, Shaun Holly and PD Leslie Lois for giving me a chance to do what I love doing the most again," Knight said via email.

Aubrey has been in Tucson radio for the better part of 20 years. Among his stops are KCUB 1290 AM, KTUC 1400 AM and KJLL 1330 AM.

More by John Schuster

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