Sports Bringing a Fresh Profile To Infinity News Station KFWB

By DARRELL SATZMAN
Staff Reporter

In a bid to boost its lagging ratings and create a distinct identity from sister news station KNX-AM (1070), KFWB-AM (980) has struck a deal with Westwood One Inc. and CBS Radio to carry up to three games a week from the National Football League.

The move by KFWB, which already touts its "News, Traffic and Dodgers" lineup, is another step in owner Infinity Broadcast Corp.'s efforts to draw a distinction between the two news stations.

"KNX is now news all the time and KFWB is a news and lifestyle station," said Pat Duffy, the recently appointed vice president/market manager for both stations.

Duffy, former general manager of Infinity's KRTH-FM (101.1), was promoted in late August to the new position, where he will be charged with making sure each of the stations boosts its performance without detracting from the other.

The football package includes "Monday Night Football" and two Sunday games. It is a barter deal, typical for syndicated sports programming, in which KFWB gives Westwood One and CBS Radio the right to sell advertising on slots during the broadcasts.

The NFL deal comes at the tail end of KFWB's first season as the Dodgers' flagship station and is an attempt to cement its standing as a player in live sports coverage.

Meanwhile, KNX, which aired Monday night games for the past few seasons, plans to play up its ties to CBS News.

"It's a complicated thing owning two news stations and we want to make sure they are on the right track and not competing against each other," Duffy said.

Infinity, the radio arm of media giant Viacom Inc., also owns 25 percent of Westwood One, which owns the CBS radio network. CBS Inc. is owned by Viacom.

By shifting to more sports, KFWB will be competing in a crowded field. There are now three stations in the market devoted to sports: Walt Disney Co.'s KSPN-AM (710), Clear Channel Communication Inc.'s KXTA-AM (1150) and Sporting News Radio's KMPC-AM (1540). Another Infinity station, KLSX-FM (97.1) carries Sunday night NFL games.

In addition, Clear Channel's XTRA-AM (690), which airs the same programming as KXTA, is broadcast from Tijuana and reaches southern portions of Los Angeles County.

Targeting men

Although news and traffic listeners tend to jump around the dial, "KFWB has one of the lowest time-spent-listening as any station I deal with in a major market," said Corissa Embro, president of Industry Media Specialists, the in-house media buyer for ad agency Colby and Partners. "They are trying to swipe some of the males back from the Clear Channel sports stations and increase their time-spent-listening."

KFWB, citing data collected by Scarborough Research and mgLA Media Research, says 62 percent of NFL radio listeners in Los Angeles are in the key 18- to 44-year-old demographic and more than three-quarters of professional football listeners are men. Median household income of football listeners is above $85,000, well above the market average.

In the most recent Arbitron Inc. survey period for Spring 2003, KFWB earned a 1.6 rating, compared to a 2.1 rating in the previous quarter and 1.8 rating in the year-earlier period. KNX has faired slightly better, earning a 2.1 rating in Spring 2003, though that was down from a 2.4 rating in the year earlier period.

Ratings are a calculation of cumulative audience and time spent listening.

Roger Nadel, KFWB's general manager, emphasized the distinction between live games and sports talk, which dominates the lineups of most of the all-sports stations in the market.

"When you are doing play-by-play six or seven months a year, there is no reason not to continue that," Nadel said, pointing out that Dodgers broadcasts lifted the station's evening ratings in July to their highest point in many months. "Baseball has been driving our gains."

Although KFWB aired the NFL's Thursday night opener earlier this month, it missed the first Monday Night Football game of the season last week because of a conflict with a Dodgers broadcast. In those instances, football is farmed over to KMPC or even Christian broadcaster Salem Communication Corp.'s KXMX-AM (1190).

That could create hurdles in trying to become a destination for football fans, where it is not the only game in town. Besides games on KLSX, Clear Channel's KXTA has a deal to broadcast every Oakland Raiders game this season.

"There are difficulties for any station that tries to enter an extremely crowded field. We have the luxury here at ABC of having the ESPN brand name," said Erik Braverman, operations director for KABC-AM (790) and, temporarily, for KSPN.

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