Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Radio Waves Podcast #133

It’s official. Both KSPN (710 AM) and The Sound (100.3 FM) will be the local affiliates carrying every one of the Rams games as the team mark its return to Los Angeles. And I cannot imagine a worse deal for either station.

The basics:

• The agreement with the stations is for five years, and covers pre-season, regular-season and post-season games. 

• Each game day will feature a full eight hours of programming, simulcast on KSPN and The Sound. This includes three-hour pre- and two-hour post-game programs along with play-by-play.

• KSPN will have a one-hour game preview show every Thursday night at 7 during the regular season, a one-hour weekly Coach’s shoe with head coach Jeff Fisher Monday nights at 7, weekly segments with Fisher and various Rams players and daily Rams Reports.

• The Sound will create its own programming including regular segments on the Mark in the Morning show. Host Mark Thompson, by the way, broadcasts his part of the show from his home in Charlotte, North Carolina.

For his part, Sound general manager Peter Burton thinks its a good idea. “We are excited to be welcoming the Los Angeles Rams to their official new FM home at 100.3 The Sound,” he said in a press release distributed by KSPN. “Along with our terrific partners at ESPN, we look forward to delivering excellent game-day coverage to Rams fans throughout Southern California.”

Cue cheers. “Yea.”

Here’s the problem: those cheers are most likely coming from KLOS (95.5 FM) and Jack-FM (93.1 ) which in my opinion stand to gain a lot of new listeners due to the deal. Frankly, I cannot see how this deal benefits either The Sound or KSPN. 

Consider that the last time play-by-play boosted ratings for a station -- any station -- was probably the last time the Rams played in Los Angeles. Certainly not during the time I have written this column (since 1987). Also consider that when sports teams are carried by local music stations, the overall effect has been negative. That’s why it is so rarely done in Los Angeles. The reason is easy to understand: in the days when radio play-by-play was a ratings boost, it was because games were not carried (or were blacked out) on television. With cable television so common now, it’s easy to see teams on television ... and who wants to listen on radio when you can watch on television?

KSPN seems to be the big loser here, at least directly. If the games are simulcast, the two or three fans not watching on television will most certainly tune to FM instead of AM. So the contract would seem to have absolutely no benefit for for the Rams’ AM flagship. The Sound, though, loses indirectly, as Sound music fans tune in, hear that it’s a game, and then tune over to KLOS, Jack or numerous other stations. Sure some Rams fans will tune to The Sound and a portion may even stay the next day as new listeners, but I honestly cannot see the net benefit overall.

Burton Responds

I asked Sound manager Burton to comment; his position is obviously opposed to mine, and his argument is compelling. 

“We still are very much about the music especially when comparing our commercial loads to those of other stations (leaving much more room for music),” Burton explained. “We have evaluated how stations have done with the NFL around the country as it relates to ratings growth and the outcome is quite outstanding. As you know the NFL is different than the MLB, NBA and NHL. There is only one game a week and its popularity has grown dramatically since 1994 when the Rams were last here. NFL games are major pop culture events that on average bring a 25% bump to total week audiences of FM stations who carry the franchise in their given markets. 

“While we love music and it will always make up the majority of what we do, NFL programming is unmatched,” he continued. “It’s amazing how popular the sport has been in LA over the last 20 years even without a franchise. This year’s draft day party was a madhouse, Hard Knox on HBO is exclusively covering the Rams and ticket sales are through the roof. We like our chances.”

What about my point that you can already see the games on television, so radio isn’t important? “When you consider that 2.7 million people are on the roads on Sundays there is plenty of room for the NFL on the radio,” Burton said. “It’s why iHeart, CBS and Cumulus went after this business as hard as we did. Plenty of people watch football on TV but radio is huge especially in a market like LA with a returning team.”

So there you have it. I may indeed be totally underestimating the fan base of the Rams; if I am wrong I will be the first to admit it. I don’t think I am, but Burton and station programmer Dave Beasing have a solid track record running The Sound ... Do you have any thoughts on the matter? I’d love to hear them.


Ron Shapiro, Paul Freeman, Jeffrey Leonard, Mike Wagner Shotgun Tom Kelly, Mike Sakellarides,  Shadoe Stevens, Don Elliott, Wally Clark, Bryan Simmons and many more were part of the radio reunion held at Fuddruckers in Burbank last Saturday. All of them legends in radio either in front of the microphone or behind.

The event was organized by Leonard to bring radio friends together; the group tends to take over the entire back room of the Fuddruckers when they happen once or twice a year. Many of them are of course now retired or in different careers.

Classical Carmel

Saul Levine -- owner of Go Country (105.1 FM) and KMZT (1260 AM, 105.1 HD2) is selling one station and donating another in the Central Coast area of California to the same group that runs KUSC (91.5 FM), preserving classical music in Momterey, Carmel and Big Sur.

Levine isn’t totally leaving the area, so the move gives listeners a choice, once he transfer is approved by the FCC, of a commercial and a public classical music format.

Asked what made Levine decide to donate a station to the same group against which he has fiercely competed in Los Angeles, he responded “I must have mellowed.” But his main purpose is to insure that classical music stays in as many areas as possible ... even though Go Country gets all the press (and ratings), it is classical music that is his real passion.

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