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Radio ratings: MPR hits 3-year low, WCCO rises

A year ago, I did a story on “Why the Current’s ratings are soaring.” Since then, the number has been cut in half.  MPR News' share of Twin Cities listeners is off 30 percent — a record low for the 39-month portable people meter (PPM) era.

As of July, The Current claims 2 percent of total Twin Cities radio listeners, down from the low 4s a year ago. MPR News is at 3.9 percent, after posting 5s or better most of the past three years.

What’s up? An MPR spokeswoman did not return an email for comment. As a data geek, I have to acknowledge measurement weirdness as a possibility. During the boom times, commercial competitors groused that MPR had a favorable “panel” — a mere handful of public-radio addicts among the 1,300-or-so meter-carriers providing a sharp boost in “time spent listening” (TSL), one of the two ratings components along with audience size. The worm can turn when panelists leave.

Another factor: ratings, which were quarterly when people filled out paper diaries, are now monthly. That increases variability, which is why the charts below show 13-month trends. And in MPR’s case, that trend is firm:

MPR Chart

In the “demo” (25-54 for most stations), the Current has dropped from 6th to 13th place in a year. MPR News, which skews older, fell from 7th to 11th.

You might wonder if Gary Eichten’s retirement played a part in the news-side decline. I looked at the ratings of “Daily Circuit,” which swallowed Eichten’s 11 a.m.-noon hour in February. The March and April 2012 ratings were up over 2011, May was flat, and June and July ran substantially behind. Only in the last two months has “Circuit’s” decline matched the station’s, so I think whatever’s happening is bigger than one show.

It should also be said that ratings aren’t as big a deal at non-commercial stations. Member-supported stations don’t depend as much on ads, though bad numbers can hurt sponsorship income. Ratings don’t measure reporting quality, at least not directly. And with the exception of very minimal local live-stream listenership, they also don’t account for digital transition: an Arbitron meterer who reads a web version of a radio story wouldn’t count in the audience.

WCCO soars

While MPR News contends with a (possibly panel-inspired) drop, something magical has happened at WCCO-AM. In the mornings, Dave Lee’s crew is now third among men 25-54 … an age group younger than the Good Neighbor’s traditional 35-64 target. (You can read more on what women and everyone 55+ listens to here.)

Put another way: a year ago, KFAN’s Power Trip beat Lee by a share point among this group; now Lee beats Mike Morris’s crew by two. The entire daylight lineup of John Hines, Chad Hartman and John Williams is up.

One sign this is panel-induced: WCCO’s TSL has almost doubled. But maybe the Good Neighbor has built a better line-up now that Michele Tafoya is gone and they’ve moved their other hosts around.

1500ESPN sinks; KFAN steady

Almost as dramatic is what’s happened to 1500ESPN, now slogging through its second year as the flagship of the desultory Minnesota Twins, and its first with rival KFAN on the more powerful FM band.

Among all listeners, 1500 fell from a 3.9 to a 2.8. But men 25-54 delivered the real battering.

From 9 a.m. to noon, fewer guys listened to Judd Zulgad and Joe Anderson in July than lefty station AM950. That’s nothing compared with the bludgeoning Pat Reusse and Phil Mackey suffered. The noon show’s July-to-July share among men 25-54 fell by two thirds, sliding from 6th to 15th place. Joe Soucheray fell from 11th in the demo to 13th, with roughly a third of his male demo leaving.

July was an exceptionally bad month. For example, “Judd and Phunn’s” share was almost triple in June, and Reusse’s and Mackey’s was twice as high in May. It’s tempting to suspect panel in the first case, though lead-in “Mike and Mike” doesn’t show slippage. For the latter, you’d think Twins day games, but the team also stunk last year.

While KSTP has to hope it was a bad panel or bad few weeks, KFAN’s shows held their own. Power Trip, Common Man and Dan Barreiro were all up — Barreiro holding onto No. 1 among men 25-54 — and Paul Allen was stable.

Vikings season is just around the corner, and even a terrible NFL team gives KFAN a lift, as last year’s data shows:

Sports Radio Wars

K102 regains country dominance

At the top of the charts, the post-Christmas arrival of country Buz’n 102.9 knocked late-2011 ratings champ K102 as low as No. 4. The incumbent country station always does worse in the winter but regained the top spot in July with an 8.6 share.

Country stations aim at women 25-54, and K102 is off about 3 share points from July 2011 while Buz’n is flat from its WLTE days. Nearly twice as many men are listening to Buz’n as a year ago, but they are like drones to the queen bee; CBS programmers had to be hoping for better among women.

Country Music Battle

Pop soars

The country competitors might be held down by the past year’s enduring story : the absolute dominance of pop music, which has lifted KS95 and KDWB. The duo have been one-two among people 25-54 all year.

KS is now third among men 25-54, after leading them in May and June — that’s stunning for a female-skewing station. KD is up from 11th to 5th in a year among the younger guys.

Elsewhere, two Clear Channel stations, KOOL108 (5.9) and Cities97 (5.1) are at long-term highs — Cities suffered when the Current soared. KOOL has modernized its oldies (aka “greatest hits”) and Cities has incorporated older songs in its more mainstream definition of “new and/or local” artists.

Even KQRS — the PPM-era decline's poster child which just re-signed Tom Barnard — has shown growth of late. The station regained the top spot among men 25-54 after falling behind KS95 and 93X in June, and is slightly above a year ago.

The biggest loser remains KTWN, the former B96, which fired morning guy Tony Fly a few weeks ago. The music station’s share hit a new low  (1.4) after years in the 3s and 4s — and the 25-54 demo isn’t much better. Other programmers seems convinced it’s only a matter of time before the Pohlad-owned FM gets Twins rights; 1500’s contract expires this season, perhaps none too soon.

Top 5 Radio Chart

Right-wing talk stumbles

With WCCO up and MPR News down, what of the former KTalk, the right-wing bomb-throwers exiled to the AM band in the KFAN switch? Topline at Twin Cities NewsTalk shows definite erosion, from a 4 share to 2.5. The Davis and Emmer morning show — a ratings rocket a year ago  —  has lost about a tenth of its share juice among men 25-54; the rest of the daytime lineup is down a third to a half.

News Talk Radio Trends

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Comments (31)

The ``Current Effect''

David, I always love these radio summaries. Somebody's gotta do them. I also love that this overview undercuts the notion that 89.3 had something to gain from tightening their playlist and rotating some bizarre A-list of perceived hot tracks. I've admired your work for decades, but the ``Current Ratings Soar'' piece seemed like a conclusion in a desperate search for evidence. I grant you, the ``facts'' are very elusive around this unusual venture, and opinions unlimited, especially from us Thursday Morning Quarterbacks.

"Current Effect"

Jim, all I can say about the year-ago piece is that there WAS powerful evidence - the Arbitron ratings. (The Current rose from a 1.5 percent share to 4.5 percent.)

As I wrote at the time, the Arbitron people-meter system has critics, who think a few panelists can skew things unreasonably. A year later, I'd say those critics have more ammo. That's why I included more on the caveats higher up.

All that said, this is still the best evidence we have beyond opinions, so I'll keep covering it - with perspective, I hope.

New Ratings

A couple of things to contemplate, even as bad as the Twins are Corey Provus (sp?) is an awful play by play guy, He continues to state the obvious and misses play after play because is in enamored with his own voice. John Gordon at least had his age to blame.

Barreiro is by far the best in local sports talks (although at times a bit difficult), the Power Trip is bunch of man-boys that play with their food while looking at girlie magazines (better conversation can be heard in a mens room).

Soucheray is too right-wing for a sports talk station and needs to retire.

I cannot listen to Tom Barnard and company for more than a couple of minutes without some reference to a bodily function, do Junior High listeners count in the survey?

And finally with the TC NewsTalk channel (KTLK), I can get more coherence out listening to a infant babble than any three hours put together on this station.

What about 105?

No mention of how ratings have increased or decreased since the format change of 105 FM. I'd be curious to find out.
Tom Barnard ??? Ugh! Is he still around - one might as well listen to Rush Limbaugh.

105

Down overall, but up from 19th to 15th place 25-54

MPR Ratings

I don't know how much this affects ratings but I noticed beginning in January that the Current (especially) and MPR have a lot more commercials for sponsors. I know they do not consider them commercials, but there really is no difference. They advertise beer, several restaurants, ect. I found this to be a big turn off and actually dropped my membership.

What about the Women?

I have a few questions about your report:

I'm curious why you didn't report more about what the women in the demo of 25-54 have been listening to, and how that's changed over the past year. Other than the country stations, this segment was barely mentioned. Why should the men get all of the attention?

Who is tracking what the Baby Boomers are listening to in the 55+ demo? We keep hearing that this segment of our population is growing larger every year. So it stands to reason that they would make a significant impact on the ratings numbers. What are they listening to?

How is MyTalk 107.1 doing? They lost a key show during their 10 - noon spot and I have to believe that's taken a toll on their ratings.

Fair point

Working on getting you an update now. PS I think MyTalk overall is basically flat since the fired Colleen Kruse.

50+ Demo

Try AM 1220. If only it were FM and not sunrise to sunset.

Maybe listeners are finally

Maybe listeners are finally wising up to the corruption at the heart of NPR/MPR:

http://shameproject.com/report/adam-davidson-corrupt-wall-street-booster/

Adam Davidson’s Journalistic Corruption: NPR Host Boosts for Wall Street, While Taking Undisclosed Banking Money

Anomolies

Is it reasonable to compare KTLK since they changed frequencies? The sunset AM drop-off affects the outstate listeners dramatically, and the changeover obviously had a huge effect as well.

KTLK

Don't know about "fair" (don't conservatives argue that's a relative term?) but all of their daytime shows are down - some by as much as half.

Any chance you can check WPR

I am a WPR fan because of their closer connection to UW Madison and their extension college. They have more diversity in their programing.

Wisco

I don't get Wisconsin numbers but will check if they are available for the Twin Cities market in the future. (I don't think so or they'd be listed.)

How is online presence measured?

MPR has an online presence that allows podcasts and access to its programs in various formats. Considering the number of individuals who call into the programs from other states and countries where Minnesotans have relocated, I also believe many listeners stream the programs live. Are these listeners included in the numbers?

Online presence

As far as I know, podcasts are not included in the Arb numbers. There is a separate ratings line for streaming, and in the past has added 0.1-0.3 percent share. Nothing listed in July, and including streaming wouldn't change the trend long-term. It's still a niche technology, even nichier than public radio, but I'm watching it.

Online listener asks

Do the Arbitron radio ratings take online listeners into account?

Online

Streaming listeners are counted in a separate line item (similar to a separate station). The totals are quite small, though, not enough to make a material difference in the overall analysis, yet anyway.

I wonder if the fact the news

I wonder if the fact the news has been pretty boring has much to do with numbers? Most of the big stories have been international stories, which are not a big draw in the U.S., which is pretty much under the spell of the presidential campaign, which most people don't actually pay much attention to.

As for the music, I find everything can be blamed on Mumford & Son if you try hard enough.

News

M&S aside, the trend seems longer than a few recent low-news months. I'd lean toward Arbitron panel if I was going outside MPR's walls.

MPR

I recently tried to listen to MPR in the morning and I couldn't take it for more than ten minutes. They sometimes talk about interesting things but for some reason they just don't have interesting conversations. They were talking about MA's cost containment efforts the other day but the whole conversation was bereft of information and boring as toast. I think one problem they have is maybe MPR is still having difficulty with it's guest selection and "balance" issues. They never seem to locate legitimate critics so the conversations are always skewed towards centrism, and boredom. Another problem is Miller's annoying practice of announcing who she wants calls from. She did it the other day, I can't remember what the topic was because I turned the channel but she said something like: " So if you're a lawyer or a plaintiff in a case like this we want to hear from you" at which point I tuned in some Jazz over on KBEM. The whole point of a call-in show is to get a diversity of opinions, questions, and responses... doesn't Miller know that? Don't these people over at MPR realize that the more "exclusive" they are the fewer listeners they'll have? The whole point of talk radio is to OPEN the conversation to a wider audience, not restrict it to a small number of people who are personally affected.

Now that 96.3 is on board I can sometimes leave my satellite radio at home for short trips, between the Current and 96.3 one can usually find something to listen to, but I'm more likely to leave the dial on 96.3 than the Current. For one thing, the DJ's on the current don't seem to understand a basic principle in radio, whatever your saying- unless is necessary information, needs to be more interesting than the music you could be playing. To be honest I find the commercials on 96.3 are more interesting than whatever it is they're saying on the Current most of the time. One day I listened for over two minutes as a Current DJ described going to the park with a bunch of CDs... I kept thinking the story would come to a conclusion but after two minutes I realized it wasn't so switched over to something else. I don't know about anyone else around here but I tune in music stations to hear music, not DJ's telling me about they're morning. I'm not interested in feeling like I have a relationship with the DJ's, and they're lives aren't much more interesting than my own, so I want to hear music not yakka yakka yakka from DJs. And I'm sorry but these DJs rarely have anything interesting to say about the music or the groups except they saw them in concert and they were great.

Speaking of music, another reason I spend more time with 96.3 is the music selection. I still find myself scratching my head at the music they'll play on the Current. They seem to be playing a lot of pointless covers lately. For instance one afternoon they were playing a cover of "spirit in the sky" that was identical to the original. Why? It's not that great a song in the first place but you may as well play the original unless someone has done something interesting with the song. There's that chic band version of the Mary Tyler Moore song and that's kinda cool, but it's re-worked. Why play a version that just duplicates the original?

Yep

This is really, really, really, really right on. I used to listen to MPR a lot but now I find myself turning the dial because the conversations are really not all that interesting. They are very predictable. In addition to Miller restricting the calling pool, she also tends to let callers ramble too much. I can only listen to minute details of a caller's situation for so long. Kerri needs to push and guide the conversation and particularly the callers much more firmly.

Actually, upon reflection, the most interesting conversations lately have been around non-political things. The Curiosity story is a good example. I was fascinated by a peek behind the scenes, to learn about what was really at stake for the scientists. I think the lack of the "balance problem" is a big part of it.

I don't generally listen to music radio because I have a huge CD collection and the stations aren't generally playing what I'm interested in anyway. When I do listen it is usually KBEM. My wife is astonished that I don't know the latest-and-greatest songs. :)

Boring news?

The news is out there, and there's plenty of it. Does anyone know why their broadcasting the BBC this afternoon instead of Science Friday?

MPR has always spent way too much time on financial market news, and business news which fails to inform, enlighten, or predict, and is just plain boring.

About this sampling distortion David keeps pointing to, there may be a way to compensate for that statistically. David, do you know if these are raw data or if they sample and process the data statistically?

The Current: what beige sounds like

Maybe people are starting to understand what actual music fans have always known: the current is an abysmal radio station. Watered down indie rock lite with an occasional random hip hop or like Bob Marley song you've heard a million times thrown in for some semblance of cred.

It always surprises me that people think the current's bland programming is somehow eclectic - a sad commentary on the terrible state of Twin Cities radio in general.

Thankfully Radio K is still alive and kicking - and now available on the FM dial (no static at all) 24 hours a day. Amazing, considering they had their staff, format and a significant chunk of donor cash poached by the Current.

Money and Books

Not to rag on MPR just for the sake of it, but Miller seems to be obsessed with money and books. Money is boring, you can only talk about it so much, and although books can be interesting, again they just don't seem to be able to have interesting conversations about books. Someone actually wrote in and complained about the all the money shows, apparently they've had a bunch of shows about student loans... just typing that almost put me to sleep.

The other problem with MPRs money talk is it is notoriously ill informed and unreliable. They reatedly offer bad advice from "advisers" who are never identified as the financial product sales people that they are, and "analysis" from stock market hacks who are by an large clueless, they just make stuff up using a variety economic metrics or numbers. We're told what to "expect" but we never see what was "expected" so what's the point? In short, if you're look for financial advice or information the last thing you want to do is listen to MPR- I'll save you the trouble: we expect a recovery so stick with your long term plan. Regarding student college financing, shop around for lenders, check out the schools financial aid offerings, and save as much as you can for tuition. Unemployment remains high, interest rates are low, and the housing market is slowly recovering. Just print that out and put it on your refrigerator and you're good to go for six months.

Miller's a bad replacement for Eichten

I miss Gary Eichten. They couldn't have gone to a more polar opposite than they did by replacing him with the officious-sounding self-important Kerry Miller.

And the point made earlier about the effect of her pre-limiting her callers was a good one. Great way to distance yourself from your listeners rather than drawing them in closer!

Pandora killed the radio star

Only the elderly, the technologically challenged and the low buck work force listen to broadcast radio any longer.

Does RadioK ever play Marvin Pontiac; Norton Buffalo; Bukka White? And even if they did, what good does that do those who must venture away from the 10 sq. mile radius of their blowtorch?

I'll catch Davis and Emmer in the morning unless Bob is in tirade mode, and I'll listen to Sooch once in awhile for old times' sake but why would anyone agree to listen to the tired, banal pap being offered on radio when it is possible to have the custom lineup of your dreams with Pandora, IHeart & their ilk?

Not so fast...

"Only the elderly, the technologically challenged and the low buck work force listen to broadcast radio any longer."

That doesn't explain the rise in WCCO- AM though. I don't buy that as the real reason. The primary place to listen to the radio is still the car and most drivers are still driving vehicles not equipped with satellite or wireless.

In wonder how fast these numbers would change if we have another 911-type crisis, though. I still think MPR would rule in those situations.

A True Sign 2012 is Real!

I couldn't agree more with TS about Pandora, and for that matter, XM/Sirius. (By that opening sentence, I now feel the Mayans are truly onto something.) The AM/FM dial is a tired, antiquated outlet for news, sports, music, etc... Satellite radio is all that exists on my car, save for the occasional forays into Patrick Reusse's show, and only then it is to listen to his stories and the badgering the righties (as well as the general sports fans) in the studio.

In times where news is of importance, it's the BBC World Service or the NPR National feed, without being subject to the parochial, amateur stylings and opinions of the local presenters. When music is called for, we're not hamstrung by Mary Lucia's self indulgent and confusing playlists. If I want '80's alternative, Canadian alternative, or 60's Mowtown, it's right there. When the Twins are stinking up the airwaves, I can turn on Vin Scully and listen to his eloquent call of a meaningless Dodger/Padres game.

In only a few short years of having XM and utilizing Pandora, my disconnect to the local radio scene is profound and lasting.

I had the opportunity to use

I had the opportunity to use Sirius in a rental car and I was surprinsgly impressed. The stations seem fairly well thought out. I think it will end up replacing a lot of FM radio, but there's still value in local news and sports, and also in radio stations that skew local (KFAI, radio K, the Current).

Terestrial Radio?

I generally only listen to Sirius these days. I used to be a huge MPR fan but I find myself tuning in less. I think it's a double edged sword. With the new 'Daily Circuit' they seem to be running programs that are very specific to a small interest group. There's just not a lot of general interest stuff. The information I think is still very good and the quality of commentators is there. This morning I found the insights into the independent voter's mind interesting but wasn't interested at all in the talk about big thinkers or in how journalism school are struggling to adapt. It's in depth reporting that goes on forever and ever. It's awesome when it's a topic you are into, but if not, you're tuned out for the rest of the day.

I do agree with other commenters that they seem to be letting callers ramble on and on about their personal situations when they take calls.

Also, I've found TED talks to be amazing. Occasionally they run them on MPR but I've also been downloading the podcasts. I love the Aspen Idea talks too that MPR airs. It's really just that they go into so much depth on a topic, that if it doesn't interest you, you have no poiint in tuning in for the rest of the morning, whereas with more variety you might wait around to see the next segment.