Media Watch


Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway wanted to keep a certain major stock buy quiet, but the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission forced the release of the information last week.

That info: The company purchased 1.66 million shares of Lee Enterprises after its exit from bankruptcy.

That stock buy accounts for about 3.2 percent of the Davenport, Iowa-based newspaper publisher, which owns the Arizona Daily Star. The reason for keeping the info quiet? There's a likelihood Buffett wanted to buy more shares on the cheap, but once the word got out about Buffett's interest, the cheap got more expensive: Lee's shares ballooned from the $1.13 range to $1.56 before settling in at about $1.40 by the week's end.


When a friend asked if I'd like to help drive to Michigan to pick up some family articles, I probably should have mentioned upfront that as the Media Watch guy for the Tucson Weekly, and as something of a radiophile, I would spend a good portion of this journey checking out the various radio stations.

As ludicrous as it seems to me, others might consider constant radio-dial-twirling to be annoying on a drive that's the better part of 30 hours each way.

I remember when radio was more than corporate-cookie-cutter stations, when some frequencies had take-no-risks formats. So in addition to getting to see 11 states, the trip was an opportunity to discover whether there is still some hope on the terrestrial bands.

I mean, how many times, and in how many different ways, can I repeat a fact that many of us have known for some time—that radio in Tucson pretty much sucks? This is especially true among the higher-rated music stations, which, despite consistently losing listeners to other technologies, are still rewarded by an archaic (and, fortunately, soon-to-be-changing) ratings system that allows the corporations to remove any semblance of local flavor and replace it with a healthy dose of preprogrammed bland.

Perhaps, I thought, it is different elsewhere, especially in smaller towns where the corporate influence isn't as prevalent. Maybe radio in Tucson sounds different than radio in Oklahoma City, which sounds different than radio in St. Louis, which sounds different than radio in Chicago, all the while actually reflecting a bit of the supposed character of each city. Maybe there's something unique, good or bad.

The verdict: There were occasional quirky pockets, but for the most part, what we get here is what everyone gets everywhere.

Once you hit the open road, and the number of stations starts to dwindle, classic rock and country becomes well-represented. Part of said representation: Every classic rock station from New Mexico to Illinois is named after an animal. We encountered the Wolf, the Eagle and the Bear. Inevitably, some dude with a "Sunday, Sunday, Sunday" voice announced the summer-concert series, or the next Two for Tuesday selection.

No wonder KLPX FM 96.1 occasionally lags in the ratings: It isn't named after something cool like a wolf, eagle or bear. But then it would be going head to head with the Fox, that mysterious Southern Arizona signal at 98.5 FM that occasionally reaches parts of Tucson.

Classic-rock winner: Something not named after an animal—"The Boss" in Springfield, Ill. In addition to steering away from crappy Bruce Springsteen songs, a danger given its moniker, the station bills itself as "the next generation of classic rock." I'm not entirely sure what that means, because it seems paradoxical, but the music selection did include a number of songs by familiar artists that transcended the tired, daily, beat-to-death rotation that has rendered the format stale.

For some reason, the coyote is not the animal of choice for classic rock. The coyote is strictly a country animal. For those who miss "Coyote Country" in Tucson—that short-lived Clear Channel effort to compete with KIIM FM 99.5—fear not: The coyote is alive and well and enjoying generic country music in at least two locations along Interstate 40.

For those of you who also Bob, replaced recently at 97.5 by a Top 40 format, there's good news. Bob just packed up and took his music elsewhere, and joined his friends Mike and Jack and Sam along the way.

Why are all these stations named after guys, and why do they all play pansy-ass music?

There's a lot of God music in Texas, which is a nice tie-in as you drive by the largest cross in North America near Conway. There are the typical watered-down Top 40 God selections, but there's also hip-hop God music, rock God music, and the all-important sermons, which I guess counts as the God talk format.

The most-unique station, without a doubt, is "The Lion," which claims to play Santa Rosa, N.M.'s favorite hits. I'm not all that up on Santa Rosa, but its hit list appears to be a collection of classic Journey, angst-ridden teeny bop, ball-so-hard (yes, I just typed ball-so-hard) rap, Spanish-language accordion-based classics, and crossover country. Additionally, the commercials seem to be read by local high school students who hijacked the studio, which could also account for the eclectic music selection. And it's named after a badass animal, yet it does not play classic rock, which is the kind of unique I want in my terrestrial radio.

I was also appreciative of the station in LaGrange, Mich., that led its news with the Lyme Disease Report.

The most-disappointing radio reality check occurred while driving outside of Chicago on Memorial Day weekend. A station was celebrating its 40th anniversary by sharing many of the great interviews with artists it had conducted over the years, and how it experimented with various formats as musical stylings changed rapidly. So, basically, the station spent the entire weekend talking about how awesome it once was, and how radio used to be a medium willing to take chances—with some cool results.

But when we tuned in to that same station on Tuesday, after the Memorial Day weekend celebration was over, we were reminded what so much of modern-day radio is, even in the nation's No. 3 market, or in St. Louis or Oklahoma City or Tucson: a milquetoast collection of corporate castration.