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Radio ratings: KFAN and KS95 surge; KQRS and KDWB drop

Like Rip Van Winkle, I’m waking up after eight months of not checking the radio ratings. What happened while I was asleep?

♦ KS95 eclipsed traditional pop-music powerhouse KDWB for the first time in nearly two years and has kept it up. By the way, KDWB programming director Rob Morris, a 17-year vet, is leaving the station.

♦ Among men 25-54, KQRS lost the monthly ratings war for the first time in a quarter century. Overall, KQ continued its spectacularly inexorable decline, down to a 5.5 percent share of local listeners. A year ago, it had 8.4 percent, and a year before that, it had nearly 10 percent. (See chart at right.)

♦ Related: KFAN’s move to FM has been a fabulous success. Let’s put it this way: in March, the KQ Morning Show tripled KFAN’s “Power Trip” among men 25-54. Now, KFAN is within 3 share points of Tom Barnard’s crew, only about a 20 percent share gap.

♦ At least in November, 1500ESPN was not hurt by KFAN’s FM switch, helped by the new 9 a.m.-noon local show with Judd Zulgad and Joe Anderson that quadrupled numbers for Colin Cowherd’s ESPN yammerthon.

♦ The former K-Talk, now Twin Cities NewsTalk, wasn’t hurt either. The right-wing station, which swapped dial positions in August, is down a bit from a summer spike, but the trend is still up.

♦ Not to be ignored: Women-talker MyTalk107, up nearly a full share point from a year ago.

♦ As some competitors predicted, The Current has come back to earth a bit from a six-month surge, but remains at a level well above 2010.

So what are some of the back stories, back-biting, and back-room speculation?

After chatting with several execs who are looser-lipped when anonymized, everyone agrees the KS95-KDWB switcheroo has a lot to do with Hubbard Broadcasting pressing a cash advantage over debt-strapped Clear Channel.

The Hubbards, who also own MyTalk and 1500ESPN, aren’t overleveraged like Clear Channel and Cumulus, which just swallowed Citadel (KQ, 93X). So they’re promoting the hell out of their stations when others can’t, and the ratings reflect that. Among women 25-54, KS95 was third in the market in May; now the station leads by three full share points.

On some level, this sort of pop music is like selling Lite Beer — you’d better advertise because the points of distinction aren’t great.

KQ’s slide is steep and durable: The station has never improved a monthly rating compared to the previous year since portable people meters replaced diaries in April 2009.

All kinds of theories abound, including KQ’s audience has finally aged out of the prime, advertiser-coveted demo. Now, KFAN is right there on the FM dial, one fewer button-push away on many car radios.

Because KFAN has Vikings rights (and the Gophers, for what they’re worth), it’s a little harder to tell right now how much of the surge is FM and how much is the seasonal boost. But among men 25-54, KFAN’s 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. shows are either first (Barreiro, Common Man) or second (Paul Allen, Power Trip) — and that has not been the case until November.

KFAN might have done better had 1500ESPN not dumped the insufferable Cowherd for ex-Star Tribune reporter Zulgad and radio veteran Anderson. Elderly-skewing WCCO was beating 1500 from 9 a.m. to noon among men 25-54. Now, “Judd and Phunn” have nearly half of Allen’s double-digit share.

The former KSTP-AM’s other local shows (Reusse/Mackey, Soucheray) don’t look hurt by KFAN’s switch, at least not at this early point. Still, among men 25-54, 1500’s share is down 4 percent (two-tenths of a share point), but that’s barely a flesh wound.

Clear Channel’s confident position that K-Talk would not be hurt moving to AM is looking good. The station’s share of Men 25-54, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., is off just two-tenths of a share point from a year ago. Still, the morning Davis and Emmer show is suffering a bit with its lowest share since at least March (but still a solid 7th in the market). By the way, The Patriot, another conservative AM, is off more than half from a year ago among all listeners.

MyTalk, which is basically gossip talk instead of sports talk, is a clear winner for the Hubbards. Though it’s ninth in the market for women 25-54, it’s gained a full share point since April, which is great at this level. (MPR’s KNOW finishes fourth among prime-demo women, while only 11th among the guys.)

As for MPR’s Current, its share has dropped along with “weekly time spent listening,” one of two ratings components. (The other is audience size, or “cume.”) There was talk this spring that Arbitron’s listener panel had a few too many folks who never turned The Current off, which may be true since cume has not shrunk. But if you told the Current a year ago they’d have a 3.4 percent share now, they’d have locked in that rate.

Special Easter Egg for those of you who read this far: Keep an eye on the CBS cluster, which includes WCCO, JACK-FM and WLTE.

Competitors are clucking that something’s up with LTE, perhaps a format switch after the first of the year. Guesses — and they are only that since station exec Mick Anselmo is playing Cheshire Cat at the moment — include flipping WCCO to FM, becoming a country-music competitor for ratings champ K102 (this one is practically an evergreen), or adopting another CBS-favored music format.

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Karl Struck on 12/07/2011 - 01:46 pm.

    Very fascinating as usual. I, myself, have been one of those former KQ listeners… there’s only so many times a person can hear Jet Airliner by Steve Miller without going crazy…

  2. Submitted by John Olson on 12/07/2011 - 01:55 pm.

    Is there any way to measure the effect(s) of Sirius and/or XM on ratings?

    Since both vehicles have Sirius in them, I will confess to abandoning AM/FM with the exception of driving in bad weather conditions.

  3. Submitted by Matthew Brillhart on 12/07/2011 - 03:52 pm.

    Seeing KQ, KDWB, 93X on the decline brings a smile to my face. As a former listener of those stations (KDWB not since my teens, the others not since ~2005), I say good riddance. I went with XM for a few years and when I returned to Earth, I landed at The Current and haven’t changed the dial since. How people put up with those commercial radio stations, I will never understand. Some people complain about Current DJs talking too much, but they’re 1000x more tolerable than diamond salesmen.

    I see that KHTC (96.3 NOW, formerly B96) has declined since their baffling format switch. Going from a Hip-Hop/R&B station to a ever-so-slightly more urban KDWB clone made no sense at all. They had a monopoly on a particular genre of music, now they playing Adele and Maroon 5 along with ten other stations.

    I hope the Current continues to make gains, I absolutely love the music, the on-air talent, and what they have done to bolster the local music scene. Almost every show at First Avenue sells out, dare I say, because those bands are getting promoted on The Current.

  4. Submitted by Robert Russell on 12/07/2011 - 04:19 pm.

    Hey, David, any chance you can publish the Morning Show numbers? I’m curious where (other than your incidental comments) each show lands.

    I’m pulling for Ian and Margery on MyTalk107; it’s one of the more intelligent shows out there, and it’s not just for the ladies!

  5. Submitted by Brian Marshall on 12/07/2011 - 06:14 pm.

    Mr. Brauer, I noted your cheap shot at the Gopher football team. As if Gopher fans don’t already get enough of that on ESPN 1500 and KFAN. Thanks for nothing. Just for that I am boycotting MinnPost for 7 days. See you in a week.

  6. Submitted by Tim McNeill on 12/08/2011 - 12:52 pm.

    WCCO AM needs to do something…They skew older due to the age of that format. Talk,talk,and less news is hurting that station. Overnights,is an example of this station doing things in a cheap way. WCCO has no relevance anymore. WCCO AM needs an overhaul and going to FM might just help. There are no great personalities at that station today. Sid sounds so lost and tired in the mornings, they need to retire his mindless rants. And, does WCCO even advertise what and who they are or want to be? CBS has lost the way with WCCO and they need to focus on news, personalities, and informative radio. This insistence on talk subjects has to come to an end. And, the weekends are full of hour long infomercials for products and services. Someone needs to breath new life into that station soon. Or, the brand will never recover with the age group they need.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/10/2011 - 09:09 am.

    I’ve been baffled by KQ since 1985. KQ epitomizes everything that’s wrong with market research driven commercial radio, did they ever admit they were just an oldies station?

    The current has gotten better, but I can park there, as often as not I’ll find myself listen to something I haven’t heard… but sucks. I tried listening three times this week and turned it off after five minutes. Once was because the DJ was prattling on and on and on about something instead of playing music. And the other two time I just couldn’t take the crappy music any longer. I don’t have to love every song they play, but they’ll play this crap that goes on for five minutes.

    Not giving up my satellite any time soon, in fact, just bought one for my folks for christmas.

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