It’s no longer The Truth. It’s no longer “Right Talk for Tucson.” But it is more local, and it will hope to use that local appeal to improve its standing against the nation’s top talker.
KQTH 104.1 FM, the market’s lone news/talk FM, will on Monday follow the lead of stations in other cities and move its best known talent out of morning drive in hopes a local presence will cut into KNST AM 790’s mid-day talk advantage with Rush Limbaugh. Jon Justice, who has locked down KQTH’s more traditional morning talk slot since its launch seven years ago, will broadcast his program from 8:30 to noon weekdays.
Limbaugh dominates other syndicated talk programs, but has experienced ratings lags in some markets that have countered with local programming. On the surface, it’s a counterintuitive move. The thought has been putting the station’s most listened to element in morning drive, but whereas morning drive—the roughly 5:30 to 9 window when people prepare for work—has been radio’s traditional hotspot, of late that has applied more to music based formats than the talk model.
To my recollection, this is the first effort a Tucson talk station has made to go with live, local programming in middays opposite Limbaugh.
In place of Justice in morning drive, 104.1 will add a news block hosted by Program Director Bill White. The news block, a series of reports that generally includes national, state and local news, weather, sports and traffic, also features opportunities for the host to chat about the day’s topics of note before returning to the next block of headlines.
The news block is generally fast-paced, and if done well, times nicely with listener driving habits, which tend to average in the neighborhood of 20 minutes in Tucson. It’s also a format that has been dreadfully underrepresented in this market, largely the result of cutbacks.
Tucson hasn’t opted for a morning news block since KCUB 1290 AM jettisoned an effort last decade. During that time it was an aggressive effort to model 1290, which had just wrested the UA sports contract from KNST AM 790, to transition into a news/talk oriented station that broadcast UA games. Basically, it wanted to out-KNST KNST.
Chuck Meyer, Mike Rapp and Betsy Bruce, among others, put together the best radio show in Tucson that nobody heard. When the expensive effort came up short of expectations, it was scrapped, along with 1290’s news/talk designs, which played a role in laying the foundation for the station’s current all-sports format.
But instead of copying KNST, 104.1 FM is offering alternative programming. Now listeners won’t have to choose between the market’s top-rated morning talkers Garrett Lewis and Justice (KVOI AM 1030 and KEVT AM 1210 have local morning talk shows as well, but their numbers don’t generate the same audience comparisons), the new battle will be how effective a news block is against Lewis’ talk format. It helps that the station can utilize news resources from its television counterpart, Journal owned KGUN TV 9, an advantage not available to any other media cluster in the market.
Tucson’s Morning News will air from 6-8:30 weekdays. All told, KQTH will offer nine hours of local programming every weekday. In addition to Tucson’s Morning News and the Jon Justice Show, James T. Harris will continue to broadcast his talk show weekdays from 3-6.
However, they will no longer do so as “The Truth.” That moniker, and “right talk for Tucson” are being scrapped in favor of “104.1 KQTH, Tucson’s News and Talk.” A new website domain, kqth.com, was purchased a few weeks ago. The talk show tone will remain conservative, so the programming change doesn’t affect the content and approach for Justice and Harris.
Nationally syndicated programming will include Dave Ramsey from noon-3 weekdays and Laura Ingraham, who will move into evenings from 6-9. Mark Levin will continue in his 9-midnight time slot.
Adding more local on the schedule also helps with limitations in syndication. KQTH was hurt when some of its programs suffered contractual snafus related to problems with syndicator TRN, or the Talk Radio Network.
While heavyweights Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have been able to weather the storm, the Sandra Fluke controversy has taken a significant toll on the smaller players in the talk radio syndication landscape.
Even KQTH seems leery of political polarization. While the change in moniker and addition of a local news clock won’t affect the tone of Justice and Harris’ shows, 104.1 could have simply maintained a conservative feel during its day parts by transitioning Ingraham to afternoons. It opted for Ramsey’s financial advice show in that slot instead while moving Ingraham to evenings, where listenership dips dramatically.