Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Radio Fantasy? League that is...........

It's as though the world of sports has taken over the radio industry over just the past few days. The story of CBS Radio and Clear Channel literally trading some stations sounds like it was concocted at the baseball winter meetings instead of the boardrooms of the two largest radio station ownership groups in the country. And a playlist to be named later.

At almost the same time, two Chicago powerhouse stations were involved in major management changes. The story broke that Bob Shomper has left WGN Radio as Program Director to move literally down the street (less than a mile away, physically) to become PD at news/talk rival WLS-AM. And, presto, WGN brings in Kevin Metheny from Cleveland to replace Shomper.

As an aside, Shomper's timing is impeccable. WLS-AM is enjoying ratings success of late and seems to be holding its own under the PPM audience measurement, which not all talk shows and stations are doing. WGN has seen a dip in its large audience. Some say it is because the Cubs baseball season ended in October, and others say it is a reflection of the PPM system. Others say it is both. Nonetheless, Shomper departs with a dip in overall audience, and within hours of the retirement of morning market leader Spike O'Dell. WGN will be hard pressed to maintain its morning numbers, and Metheny might just be starting under more pressure than one might expect for joining WGN Radio.

Here we are within a matter of days seeing a trade of major market radio stations and a change of Program Directors involving major market stations. In the past, these would be "once in a lifetime" stories, and here they both happen at the same time with less fanfare than many would expect.

Could this be the start of things to come? If so, I'd like to propose starting a "Fantasy League" for radio fans. Just as baseball and football fantasy leagues are rampant as a means to maintain fan interest in games even though we are priced out of the market to attend them in person, maybe a Fantasy Radio League will give some folks a reason to still pay attention to local radio stations.

After all, a CBS + Clear Channel trade is like the Red Sox and Yankees doing a swap. As a fantasy general manager, we could draft the radio markets we think will increase billing the most for 2009, and then draft and trade the stations within that market to maximize the profit potential.

For example, when the NBA Playoffs are about to start, I would draft KLAC Radio because the Lakers post-season games will probably increase their audience. For this week, with the cold and snow storm sweeping the northern part of the country, I would bid for KOA in Denver and WCCO Minneapolis, figuring their audiences will rise as people seek weather coverage. And so it goes.

Some of the radio publications would then start publishing the dates that the leading air personalities' contracts will end so that we can ponder their free agency. If we think that the top rated morning man will change stations next summer, we might not draft his or her station for the year. We'll be seeking rumors and speculation about which stations will be up for trade in the various market clusters.

A format change will be devastating as an injury to a (fantasy) general manager. Many times format changes mean a reduction, if not short term elimination, of commercial time, along with firings. Both of those mean reduced revenue for that station for the short term. Or the long term if the new format is not successful.

Shall we schedule a draft?

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