Media Watch

Punching and Counter-Punching in Talk Radio's Ever-Changing Landscape

While it made for a week's worth of great talk-show fodder, the long-term implications of the Don Imus firing will be felt most at KJLL AM 1330. The Jolt has had a long-running relationship with the Imus in the Morning program, and while ratings have never been stellar, the feverish nature of its devoted fan base had played a significant role in keeping the program on the air locally.

For a couple of years, KJLL even found a spot for Imus' brother, Fred, who teamed with Nicole Cox in a weekday-afternoon capacity.

"We were greatly disappointed that the Imus in the Morning program has been canceled," said Jolt station manager Kimberley Kelly. "The station owner expressed (the sentiment that) KJLL was willing to give the program the opportunity to repair any problems by continuing to air the program after his suspension."

KJLL has had a tough go of late. Imus was the third show stripped from The Jolt in the last two weeks. Contracts ran out on Bill O'Reilly and Jerry Doyle once KZPT 104.1 FM The Truth launched April 10.

KJLL has countered with a live talk-programming approach, whereas most syndicated programs currently airing in the market are actually delayed to some degree.

The Jolt now airs live broadcasts of Stephanie Miller from 6 to 9 a.m., Ed Schultz from 9 a.m. to noon, Dr. Laura Schlessinger from noon to 3 p.m., local host John C. Scott from 3 to 5 p.m., and brokered programming from 5 to 7 p.m. It even runs Alan Colmes live from 9 to 11 p.m.


When KZPT FM 104.1 scrapped its modern hits format in favor of FM talk, it marked a format milestone for Tucson radio, defined by a station that wrested a total of three shows from other news/talk AM stations, representing its only locally produced talk block with an out-of-towner, and firing most of the Z 104.1 on-air staff.

Still, general manager Diane Frisch has high hopes as Journal Broadcast Group-owned KZPT attempts to bring an end to underperforming ratings.

"Radio is a very competitive market, and the landscape of the market changed. There were new formats coming in. There was more competition, and quite frankly, maybe we didn't execute it as well as we should have," Frisch said. "

The result: a station banked wall-to-wall with conservative talk radio, which--other than the obvious difference of being on the FM band--closely mirrors AM stations KVOI 690 and KNST 790.

"This station was developed with local research ... looking for the kind of radio stations people were looking for, whether it was musical, nonmusical, spoken-word, what kind of elements they wanted, and what kind of people they would like to see on it, and that included some local people also," Frisch said.

While news personalities from Journal-owned KGUN Channel 9 and Journal traffic reporters provide local updates throughout the day, the only local host to date is Casey Bartholomew, a well-traveled radio personality who spent two stints with KFI Los Angeles in the late '90s and had a strong three-year run in New Jersey--but has lasted just three months each at recent stopovers in St. Louis and San Francisco.

"He has not been named the permanent host," Frisch said. "We're trying him out and seeing what the market thinks, what the people think, and how he covers the issues. We did a national search. There's a big old stack of people we're looking at, and we're going to find the best host that works for the station in Tucson."


Citadel-owned KCUB AM 1290 The Source (yes, I still work there), which has gradually moved from all sports to sports/news/talk since landing the Arizona Wildcats contract three years ago, is making headway with Mike and Chuck and the Morning Source, but in the process, it is also garnering a reputation as a liberal counter to conservative fare at KNST AM 790.

It's a reputation program director and morning co-host Chuck Meyer denies is accurate.

"The show is not purposely liberal, nor do (co-host Mike Rapp) and I tackle topics based on whether we're compatible," Meyer said. "We're two people spilling their guts about what we feel. We weren't paired for a reason that has to do with the political makeup of our show, and there's no attempt to put what some might call a liberal bent on the news compared to the usual, which is very conservative talk."

Whatever the approach, it seems to be paying dividends. 1290 trended better than AM ratings leader KNST in the 25-54 age demographic in the January ratings cycle (going from a share of 2.9 from 1.1). That's a two-point jump from the December trend, while KNST remained steady.

"There's a little traction going on. I suspect it's mainly due to the fact there is a market for talk radio in the morning in Tucson, and there's a market for talk radio that's better than what's on the air in Tucson right now," Meyer said. "I would attribute our recent success mainly to the fact we're putting on a good show as opposed to the political bent on the show. It is absolutely not positioned to do that, or be that. What you're hearing is what you're getting."

Even if what you're getting has put Citadel GM Ken Kowalcek in the position of calming some fairly vocal listener disenchantment.

"If at any time, you tell a talk show what their opinions are, then it isn't a talk show; it's me telling them what their opinions are, and if that's the way it's going to be, then I might as well go do the talk show," Kowalcek said. "It's their show, and as long as they are morally and ethically in bounds with (Federal Communications Commission) regulations, they can talk about whatever they want to talk about. If I was to go down and curb their thoughts, then it wouldn't be a very good show."