Revenue Worries At WRKO / WEEI?

Apparently the timing of yesterday’s post on split station confusion between WRKO and WEEI struck a cord with some on the inside of the building. As these people live and die based on these kinds of decisions, I’d imagine they think about it a lot more than I do.

From one of them:

The WRKO-WEEI mess is beginning to stress our salespeople. A gloom- and-doom picture about revenue being way down is emerging. Imagine that! The once great and omnipotent WEEI crying about money?

The hush-hush talk about the Sox being carried on both stations continues. Folks are still scratching their heads. Callers are frequently complaining about which one is carrying the game as well as calls from non-Red Sox fans who miss their Talk programs.

With the Sox on fire this year, it’s hard to imagine revenues going anywhere but through the roof. Could this possibly be the case?

The Empress Is Not Amused

For fear of Empress Kahn’s lethal Death Ray, no WRKO host would dare to mention the name of yours truly on the air.

Sadly for her, however, there’s one program she can’t control. From Wednesday’s Rush Limbaugh Show:

Drive-Bys Love Bush vs. Rush
May 30, 2007

RUSH: Many people think that President Bush yesterday in his remarks about conservative critics of his immigration bill were actually aimed at me. They’re actually aimed at you, but maybe me, too, but the Drive-By Media is rejoicing today that they are aimed at me. Brian Maloney who has a blog called The Radio Equalizer has got a little piece he just posted called “Bush vs. Rush” and this is all about how the media is excited.

Now, the media is excited because the president of the United States has taken me on, and there’s a McClatchy story that’s running in all the McClatchy newspapers and quite a few others around the country today as well. The media is just having a field day with this. The New York Times, I mean some of the reporting on President Bush today is some of the most laudatory and some of the friendliest that he has had in a while. It leads me to believe the Drive-Bys hate me more than they hate President Bush, and it seems that I may have been able to have done a service here in some regard, because if I can single-handedly turn around press coverage for President Bush, who knows how valuable that is to the people at the White House.

[excerpted]

THE PRESIDENT: This bill is not an amnesty bill. If you want to scare the American people, what you say is, the bill’s an amnesty bill. It’s not an amnesty bill. That’s empty political rhetoric, trying to frighten our fellow citizens. People in Congress need the courage to go back to their districts and explain exactly what this bill is all about in order to put comprehensive immigration reform in place.

RUSH: He had some comments. Well, The Times headline here is: “Bush Takes on Conservatives Over Immigration.” It’s our old buddy Jim Rutenberg at the New York Times writing the story. “‘President Bush took on parts of his conservative base on Tuesday by accusing opponents of his proposed immigration measure of fear-mongering to defeat its passage in Congress. ‘If you want to scare the American people, what you say is the bill’s an amnesty bill,’ Mr. Bush said…” Well, you can read it and find out that that’s pretty much what it is. Anyway, the president all of a sudden has found new-found respect among media enemies and the Drive-Bys, because he’s taking out after his conservative supporters. Brian Maloney has a blog called the Radio Equalizer. He says this is Bush vs. Rush and the media loves it. The media hates Rush and here’s Bush taking on Rush. Why, Bush could end up as the new McCain, a media darling for taking on the conservative movement — because the Drive-Bys hate conservatives, and they despise the conservative movement. So now they’re caught between a rock and a hard place. They don’t like Bush, either, but now Bush has taken on conservatives, and the Drive-Bys lost their monopoly because of conservatives — me. So they’re eating this stuff up. So in a sort of ancillary way, ladies and gentlemen, I single-handedly may have helped revive President Bush’s standing in the Drive-By Media!

At War With Itself

Why kill your cash cow?

With the release of station revenue totals for 2006, Entercom’s bizarre decision to move most of the Red Sox games from sports talker WEEI to issues- based WRKO makes less sense than ever. Why dilute WEEI’s previously strong brand name?

Underscoring the incredible power of the Red Sox, WEEI was the second- highest billing station in the country, according to the Houston Chronicle:

Arbitron ratings are nice, but bucks are the bottom line. By that measurement, to no one’s surprise, the nation’s top sports radio station in 2006, based on revenues, was WFAN in New York City at $50.6 million, according to BIA Financial Network.

WEEI in Boston was No. 2 at $36.5 million, followed by KNBR in San Francisco at $29.7 million and KTCK in Dallas-Fort Worth at $24.7 million. Stations in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Miami, Chicago and Philadelphia rounded out the top 10.

Note that all of these stations have sports formats and carry major teams. While the right to air games usually comes with a major price tag, Entercom had a sweet deal through 2006, paying well under $10m a year.

It doesn’t take a math whiz to recognize that WEEI was probably accounting for a good chunk of Entercom’s annual profits.

Now, the company is paying somewhere between 15 and 20 million annually (based on conflicting trade and media reports) and the games are spread out between two stations in what has got to be confusing for the average listener.

Here’s a comment I found on the Internet today that surely speaks for many out there:

Why are the Red Sox on WEEI tonight? Huh, Entercom supposedly spent millions to make WRKO into the Red Sox’ flagship station, then they pull the “musical stations” routine. Again.

Please tell me: what sense does this make? All it does is confuse the listeners. Why switch flagship stations? Talk about an inability to establish a brand identity – why bother to put them on WRKO at all? Not to mention that WEEI was always the better fit for the Sox anyhow.

Honestly, I think that someone at Entercom needs to have their head examined. In fact, maybe everyone in a management position there needs to be tested for lead poisoning or some other thing that causes chronic brain damage.

They even make CBS Radio look good.

Now, WRKO has been destroyed, WEEI has for the most part lost its major draw and listeners are left scratching their heads. What a mess.

The big question: is Entercom at war with itself? Somebody sure seems to be undermining the company from within.

Could John Henry’s Troubles Affect WRKO?

Red Sox owner John Henry’s hedge fund is bleeding cash, according to the Boston Globe:

John Henry in a slump

John Henry’s Boston Red Sox are in first place in baseball’s American League East. But his investment firm is on a losing streak that has investors rushing for the exits.

Amid dreadful performance for more than a year, Merrill Lynch & Co. is pulling about $600 million of investment funds from Mr. Henry’s firm at the end of this month. The move by Merrill, which has had an 11-year relationship with the firm, leaves John W. Henry & Co. with just about $500 million. About a year ago, Mr. Henry’s firm, a managed-futures adviser — a hedge-fund-like operation that bets on commodities, currencies, bonds and stocks, in Boca Raton, Fla. — managed more than $2.5 billion.

The firm’s largest investment fund, the Strategic Allocation Program, a blend of Mr. Henry’s various strategies, is down 24% in the past year and is off more than 9% so far in this year. By way of comparison, the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index gained 15% in the past 12 months, while a range of bonds have scored gains of about 10% higher.

Six other investment programs at Mr. Henry’s firm have dropped more than 20% in the past year, with one diversified fund declining 38%. All are down sharply this year.

“It’s very painful, one never gets used to poor performance periods and this has been our most prolonged,” says Mr. Henry, the controlling owner of the Red Sox. “We’ve had clients withdraw during tough periods before and that is never an easy decision — sometimes at the very bottom of our performance cycles.”

As you may be aware, Henry controls the Red Sox along with other investors, including the New York Times Company, which owns the Boston Globe.

Under the terms of their recent mega-rights deal with Entercom, Henry’s group ultimately has the right to purchase an interest in WRKO.

In addition, it seems logical that team management would already exert some influence over WRKO’s programming, given the station’s new role as flagship for the Red Sox Radio Network.

Henry, a major backer of leftist causes including John Kerry, makes no bones about his political leanings. With other hedge funds making mountains of money, however, shouldn’t he spend more time cooking up a coherent investment strategy?

In the end, a broke John Henry might not be well-positioned for control of either the Red Sox or WRKO. And that could be great news for freedom-loving Bay Staters.

How Will Blazer Reshape WTKK?

It’s now confirmed: Grace Blazer will be the new program director at WTKK-FM. According to Perry Simon at All Access, she’ll be introduced to staffers this week.

After a long run at the helm of CBS Radio’s WPHT-AM in Philly, Blazer will bring a fresh perspective to WTKK that’s free of any local baggage, something the station badly needs.

As external and (possible) internal pressure to keep things the way they are will be intense, I don’t think her job will be easy. But if she can break some of Boston talk radio’s worst habits, the sky’s the limit.

A few of those weird quirks:

— Sucking-up to the local political establishment, the opposite of what listeners are seeking. This is a very recent (and frankly disturbing) trend, as Boston talkers have traditionally been very successful taking on the bad guys. With one-party rule now in full force, talk radio represents the Commonwealth’s last bastion of opposition.

— Tying the station to the Boston Globe and assuming every columnist there would make a great talk show host. With a rapidly- declining readership and elitist approach, the Globe and talk radio go together like oil and water. Beyond the success of Howie Carr, Herald columnists have fared only marginally better.

— A recent unwillingness to really develop a local topic and run with it. Successful crusades against corruption, mismanagement and waste can bring free publicity to hosts and stations and have worked very well here in the past. But talkers seem afraid to rock the boat these days, instead killing time dealing with national topics that don’t offend Beacon Hill’s power structure.

Philadelphia and Boston are both highly provincial, inward-looking media markets. While that isn’t healthy for either area, it means Blazer will already be familiar with this peculiar quirk.

As moving to Massachusetts creates a nightmare of bureaucratic red tape (try registering cars, making sense of local taxes and permits, buying auto and homeowner’s insurance, etc), she’ll have a crash course in what makes the Bay State so amazingly dysfunctional.

For talk radio, however, it’s one heck of a target-rich environment.

Cutting The Clutter

So far, we’re getting great responses to our question of how you would go about improving WTKK-FM. With a new manager on the way, major changes are expected.

For several years, the station has been flopping around all over the place without any coherent idea of why it exists and what it stands for. That doesn’t work well in radio.

By contrast, until recently, rival WRKO had a pretty good sense of self-identity, but that was taken away earlier this year. It’s now a train wreck.

One comment, by “Laker”, is so good it seems worth repeating here:

Less commercials and other filler!

I am surprised no one on this site has mentioned the excessive number of commercials and other distractions on TKK. In drive time I can barely listen to Jay because of it.

A few months ago I got out a stopwatch and measured Jay on for only 17 minutes in the hour between 5 and 6. He frequently breaks at 50 minutes after the hour and doesn’t return for 20 minutes. Does anyone sit through the 10 minutes of commercials before the news? I can’t.

Last week Jay put a caller on hold at 5:43 with the promise “be right back after the break”. It was exactly 26 minutes before Jay spoke again (except in commercials of course).

Laker, it’s hard for any host to build much of a listenership when their shows are cluttered with an excessive number of ads, promos and pre-recorded segments.

How Would You Change WTKK?

With big changes coming to WTKK-FM, it’s time to put the question to you: how would you go about improving the station?

I’ll start the ball rolling with this thought: it needs to keep a focus on issues-oriented talk, rather than moving toward fluff or “hot talk” formats. It’s just a matter of finding people who can do that in a compelling manner, especially in the morning drive timeslot.

Feel free to leave your thoughts below.