End of All-News Programming Doesn't Vex Radio Advertisers
By PAT MAIO
First quarter radio ratings won't be released for another week, but so far the demise of all-news programming in Los Angeles in favor of cooking and computer shows is turning out to be a lucrative move.
Pat Duffy, vice president and market manager for Infinity Broadcasting Corp., which owns both KNX-AM (1070) and KFWB-AM (980), said its first-quarter advertising revenues had jumped 15 percent over the comparable year-ago period, though he declined to break out specific figures.
"The hardcore news hounds didn't like the changes we made on the weekends at KNX," said Duffy. "But we are doing extremely well financially."
The changes have been more noticeable at KNX, where much of the weekend programming is taken up with "Food News with Melinda Lee" (8 a.m.-noon) and "Computer News with Jeff Levy" (noon-3 p.m.), although news and traffic capsules are sprinkled throughout the shows.
Until the programs were introduced in January, most of the station's weekend lineup was devoted to the traditional format of news, sports, weather and traffic. Most of KFWB's non-news programming involves airing Dodgers and National Football League games.
For advertisers, the format changes have been a mixed bag. "I think the moves were really good for them," said Kathy Begley, vice president and broadcast director for Initiative, one of the nation's largest media buying firms. "They are trying to become more lifestyle-oriented on the weekends, and that's a good move. "But it will take time to build a loyal audience."
Begley buys media time on the stations for advertisers such as Home Depot Inc. and Albertsons Inc. "I am not seeing a clamoring to get ads placed on the weekend, but the stations see an area where they need to have a larger audience," she said.
Some of the added weekend revenues appear to have been shifted from KFI-AM (640), where Lee had hosted a cooking program.
"When (Lee) moved, we simply switched stations," said Corissa Embro, president of Industry Media Specialists, the media-buying arm of ad agency Colby & Partners. Her firm buys time for the California Avocado Commission.
(Greg Ashlock, regional vice president for Clear Channel Communications Inc.'s eight stations in L.A., said there has been no loss of revenue due to Levy and Lee bolting to KNX.)
Missing the news
Susan Gotz, assistant manager of local broadcast for Dailey & Associates Advertising in Santa Monica, which handles Southern California Ford dealerships, said that when the marketing budget was shaved and a station had to be dropped, KFWB was cut because of its sports broadcasting.
"KFWB didn't make it on my annual list because it has so much sports, and pre-emption," she said. "As a listener, I want news."
She said Duffy and David G. Hall, vice president of AM programming in Los Angeles for Infinity, a unit of Viacom Inc., made a hard pitch to keep KFWB in her ad-buying lineup.
"They presented the most beautiful (promotional) package I've seen in years. But in the end I couldn't do it," Gotz said. "As a listener, I hear the differences. But we'll see what the next (Arbitron) book says."
Infinity began its shake up of KNX and KFWB last year when it moved the KNX morning drive team of Tom Haule and Linda Nunez to a slot later in the day, in favor of Dave Williams and Vicky Moore.
Earlier, KNX dropped its Sunday evening "Drama Hour" and "Racing Calls" at local horse tracks, despite outcries from loyal fans. "I don't think it was contemporary," said Duffy of the shows.
To get more modern, Duffy imported the two non-news shows for its weekend lineup from KFI. More changes at KNX format are in the works. "We are looking to add more people and add in-depth analysis and investigative reporting, and hosts to analyze both sides of the issues," he said.
Even before the changes were made, revenues at KNX were up last year by 7.6 percent, to an estimated $39.7 million, according to industry tracker BIA Financial Networks Inc. At KFWB, 2003 revenues rose to an estimated $35.5 million, a 27 percent gain from the year earlier.
The stations were Nos. 2 and 3 in revenues among the 37 AM stations in the market, still well behind KFI's estimated $52 million in revenue in 2003. Year-to-date revenue figures were not available.
Air Time: What's on when all-news isn't available on either KNX or KFWB.
Sports: Weekday Dodgers broadcasts. Last regular-season game is Oct. 3. National Football League games air from Aug. 4 through Feb. 8, 2005 (KFWB)
Politics: "Ask the Mayor," Wednesdays, 10 a.m. (KFWB)
Cooking shows: "Food News With Melinda Lee," Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to noon (KNX)
Computer shows: "Computer News With Jeff Levy," Saturday and Sunday, noon to 3 p.m. (KNX)
Business and technology: "Business Hour," weekdays, 1 to 2 p.m.; "High Tech Hour," weekdays, 2 to 3 p.m. (KNX)
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