Some Unchecked Speculation

Unlike certain sports media columns/real estate listings, Your Mighty Blog of Fun(tm) clearly identifies items that are purely speculation or “informed guesses” on our part. This is one of those entries.

* OMW mentioned that WSPD/1370 Toledo talk host Bob Frantz, recently bumped from morning drive into a one-hour evening show, could be heading for Cleveland, in specific Clear Channel’s World Domination HQ in Independence. As we also mentioned, he’s been heard in the past on talk WTAM/1100, filling in for Mike Trivisonno and doing sports talk.

The buzz around the market is pretty strong…we’re hearing it from pretty much everyone but the janitor on Oak Tree. Could Bob Frantz be the one who turns “The Big One’s” midday show into a local talk show for the first time in a few years?

You only need to look at the Arbitron ratings release calendar to figure this one out. Wednesday’s the release of the Winter Phase 1 trends for Cleveland. The Cleveland numbers are embargoed from public release – again – but one wonders if WTAM syndicated midday host Jerry Springer is still floundering in that slot. Continued poor numbers from 9 AM to noon certainly provide the perfect “hook” to bring in a local replacement host.

If not, there’s still plenty of work for Frantz at 1100 AM, if temporary – as morning co-host Casey Coleman battles bravely in his bout with pancreatic cancer, and afternoon sports fill-in Mark Schwab is busy in Winter Haven as the station’s Indians beat reporter. Not to mention the fact that sports director Mike Snyder’s working both ends of the clock in the heart of the Cavaliers’ season.

Either that, or Andre Knott works 18 hours a day…

* Speaking of “The Big One”, Cincinnati version…OMW’s done some digging, and found out what could be a reason for XM Satellite Radio to add WLW/700 to its lineup tomorrow.

The move would seem to be at odds with XM’s recent past. When the satellite service started, Clear Channel provided XM with a number of over-air simulcasts, including of Los Angeles CHR KIIS “KISS FM” and New York AC station WLTW (“Lite”). They also programmed talk channels for XM.

That relationship ended a while back, as XM ended the simulcasts and Clear Channel sold much, if not all, of its investment into the satellite radio provider.

Messages on various XM listener message boards led us to an XM Satellite Radio 10Q filing with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, and in particular, this bit of legalese (come back after the paragraph for our interpretation in English):

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As part of Clear Channel Communications’ investment in XM in 1998, the companies entered into agreements which provided for certain programming and director designation arrangements as long as Clear Channel retained the full amount of its original investment in XM. In June of 2003, Clear Channel entered into a forward sale derivative hedging contract relating to its shares of XM Class A common stock. During the third quarter of 2005, Clear Channel and XM arbitrated the impact, if any, of the hedging activity on the Operational Assistance Agreement and the Director Designation Agreement, and certain related matters. The Arbitration Panel preliminarily decided that the Operational Assistance Agreement remains in effect, including Clear Channel’s right to receive a revenue share of commercial advertising on programming it provides to XM, but declined to enforce the Director Designation Agreement. The parties have agreed to abide by the panel’s preliminary decision, to include commercial advertising and share advertising revenue on all Clear Channel-provided programming starting in March 2006, and on the amount of compensation to Clear Channel ($2 million, of which approximately $0.7 million was accrued for in a prior period and the remaining $1.3 million was recorded as an expense in our Statement of Operations in the current period) for the period commercials were not included on some of the channels it programs.

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That last part is the key – “all Clear Channel-provided programming starting in March 2006”. As far as we know, Clear Channel provides no other programming for XM at this time…until WLW joins the lineup on Wednesday. Adding WLW and selling separate ads on XM for it, with the money split as listed above, would be an easy way to start money flowing again.

We don’t see anything about audio quality in the above notation, so we wouldn’t be surprised if WLW sounds like those low-bandwidth traffic/weather channels on XM…

Cincinnati and Toledo

Some items from the outer edge of the OMW Coverage Area:

* Cincinnati Public Radio’s new NPR news/talker, WVXU/89.1, is getting out of Michigan. The station – formerly the hub of Xavier University’s “X-Star Network” – is selling its last two Michigan simulcasters, WVXH/Harrison MI and WVXM/Manistee MI, to operators of local commercial outlets in the state’s Lower Peninsula. WVXU earlier sold WVXA/Rogers City MI and a translator in Mackinaw City MI to a commercial operator.

* Still in the Queen City, where the “Nation’s Station” takes that title literally starting tomorrow. Clear Channel talk WLW/700 Cincinnati gets a 24/7 simulcast on XM Satellite Radio’s Channel 173. The move is easy as far as programming, as WLW still has a fully-local lineup and has no syndicated programming to worry about covering. Well, there is the overnight truckers’ show which originates there, but it was already airing on XM’s “Open Road” channel. The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that the WLW XM simulcast will not air Reds baseball or Bengals football games, but Reds games are already on XM as a part of the satellite service’s Major League Baseball coverage.

* And in Toledo, where OMW hears that WSPD/1370’s Bob Frantz may not be long for his current role as 6-7 PM talk show host at the Clear Channel news/talker. It’s likely that Frantz could actually be headed to Clear Channel’s Cleveland cluster in some capacity, though we don’t know what kind of job he’d take at this time. Frantz was heard on WTAM/1100 doing sports talk fill-in for Mike Trivisonno, before taking morning drive at WSPD…a slot now held by Fred LeFebvre.

WSPD’s been a busy place, as former program director Al Brady Law is being accused of E-Mail harrassment by station morning producer Meghan Smith…who, according to a Toledo Blade item, has filed a complaint with Toledo police against him. Law, now program director of St. Louis talker KTRS/550, denies the allegations. Veteran talker Brian Wilson took over as WSPD’s PD and afternoon drive host late last year.

Merle Pollis Dies

Veteran Cleveland talk radio host Merle Pollis has passed away at the age of 69. The Plain Dealer’s Alana Baranick reports that he died of respiratory failure at the Cleveland Clinic.

Pollis had a place on just about every talk radio station there was since his Cleveland arrival in 1973, as part of the original “People Power” talk format on WERE/1300, which is now running Radio One’s urban talk format.

Your Primary Editorial Voice heard Pollis on two stations – WJW/850 in its talk radio days, and the “SuperTalk 1260” format on then-WBBG/1260. We distinctly remember his regular back and forth time with another WJW talk show host, Joel Rose.

Oddly enough, we don’t remember Pollis doing any air time at Akron’s WHLO/640, where the Plain Dealer says he had a brief stint. That’s odd indeed, as our brain is full of memories from the station’s first news/talk format under Susquehanna in the mid-70’s…and this is coming from a corner that could name the station’s entire weekday lineup without help.

In his final days, Pollis kept his toes in radio, with regular commentaries on Willoughby’s WELW/1330…one phoned in from home just a week before his death. Like many “name”, once-dynamic hosts in markets like Cleveland, his career ended on a small station that can’t be heard in most of the market…which is rather sad, but it’s kind of the way radio works these days.

At a time where “liberal talk” is the latest talk radio thing, it’s easy to forget that voices like Merle Pollis were doing populist, liberal talk since 1973. Pollis’ time doing such talk radio even predates WARF/1350’s Joe Finan, who did not start doing talk radio until joining WNIR/100.1 in the mid-80’s.

"Free FM"’s First Month – Ouch

With the caveat that you can’t determine success by a single month’s extrapolated trend numbers, let alone the first couple or three full books…

The folks over at Radio & Records Online have taken apart some of the January numbers for the new “Free FM” hosts and formats, and it pretty much looks awful everywhere you look for those attempting to fill Howard Stern’s Big Shoes. WNCX/98.5’s David Lee Roth, who took over for Stern at flagship WFNY/92.3 New York City and a number of other stations, ranked 18th 12-plus in his very first month on his Big Apple radio home, down from number one for the departed “King of All Media”. Apparently, former “Loveline” host Adam Carolla fared even worse in Los Angeles.

And since Cleveland’s Winter 2006 Phase One trends aren’t available, we’ll look at how former WXRK/92.3 morning doggie Rover is doing at his new home base, WCKG in Chicago…not good, according to R&R Online, with a sub-1 share in pretty much every demo they list. Market veteran Jonathon Brandmeier, meanwhile, debuted in the top 5 in his return on WLUP. (We note here that Chicago hasn’t really ever been a strong market for Stern…his show regularly finished out of the top 10 in the Windy City.)

Again, we repeat. These are extrapolated numbers in a single trend. CBS suits are correct when they say that shows need time to establish themselves. A CBS Radio spokeswoman once again cited the company’s “12 to 24 month” time frame as far as getting a bead on their new shows. And there’s a natural listener shedding as changes take place, particularly in a slot ruled by Stern.

Our take – the experienced radio folks, like Rover and even Mr. Carolla – will find their place. That place may not be the rarified air usually occupied by Stern, but it’s too early to get a feel for their permanent prospects in just one month of one early trend.

But, we’re not all that convinced that one “Diamond Dave” is going to stick it out, though…of course, we say this in a week when he’s not even showing up for work. The former Van Halen frontman’s future may just be that he ditches the radio gig as soon as contracturally possible, and then he’d hit the road with his ex-bandmates…

Fred Thompson…Good Day! Redux

Some days ago, OMW reported on published speculation…that ABC News Radio was looking to former senator and “Law and Order” TV star Fred Thompson to (eventually) replace icon Paul Harvey. ABC confirmed talking with Thompson in the New York newspaper item, but did not cast him as a Harvey replacement.

It’s not quite “rumors turn to reality”, but ABC News Radio has indeed signed up Thompson as – get ready for this one – a “Special Program Host and Senior Analyst”. We’ll translate that for you – “Paul Harvey’s Replacement in Waiting”. Thompson will indeed fill in for Harvey during vacations, but will be kept busy doing other original programming…doing specials such as a Memorial Day focus on members of the Armed Services.

The title ABC News Radio bestowed upon Thompson is actually kind of funny. It’d pretty much be Paul Harvey’s official job title if ABC were hiring Harvey today, and not decades ago. It’s a hire that would not be made with such fanfare today, frankly, if Harvey hadn’t already established the beachhead of the long-form news radio commentary on the ABC network.

We assume that ABC/Citadel suits are not gently pushing Paul Harvey out the door – at least we hope not – but we still believe the franchise should be shuttered whenever Harvey hangs up the headphones. There’s a lot of money attached to Paul Harvey News, so ABC presumably is not ready to let go of that money just yet…but we think they’ll find many stations will bolt if it’s not Mr. Harvey saying…”Good day!”…

David Lee Roth-less

In a recent OMW item, we put our own kibosh on the rumors that CBS Radio might convert Cleveland classic rocker WNCX/98.5 to a “Free FM” talker, primarily based on the weakness of the morning drive show hosted by Howard Stern’s replacement, David Lee Roth.

Here we are in late February/early March, just two months after Roth debuted with much fanfare on Stern’s former New York City flagship, along with former Stern stations from Boston to Cleveland. And the former Van Halen frontman is apparently wiped out from doing a four hour daily morning radio show, as he’s nabbed what could be the earliest vacation in radio history.

This week, according to the Plain Dealer’s Julie Washington, WNCX/98.5 is going local to cover DLR’s slot…with a show called “Five Cleveland Mornings”. WNCX PD Bill Louis joins popular local musician Alex Bevan through Friday, featuring names linked to local music and radio. Among the guests – former WMMS voices Ed “Flash” Ferenc, Ruby Cheeks, and Len “Boom Boom” Goldberg.

You could almost hear the sigh in WNCX VP/GM Tom Herschel’s voice, when Washington asked him why DLR rates something you rarely get in radio, a one-week vacation just two months into your new gig: “He’s exhausted. He’s a superstar…I don’t know why he’s taking a vacation.”

It’s the published sigh of a man who had an aging former rock superstar pushed upon him by CBS corporate as Howard Stern’s replacement, that’s what it is.

WNCX is not the only DLR affiliate “going local” this week. Flagship WFNY/92.3 New York City is airing their local midday team, “Elvis and JV” (formerly known as San Francisco morning team “The Doghouse”). The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that WYSP/94.1 will run afternoon driver Kidd Chris in morning drive this week. Despite a heavy blitz of publicity, DLR seems to mostly be getting attention by occasional shout-outs to his ex-bandmates for a Van Halen reunion…

Roger’s Monday

Just a few comments off of the Roger Brown Monday sports media column in today’s Plain Dealer:

* You had to expect that FOX Sports Net Ohio brass wouldn’t be thrilled with either the Indians, who rejected their increased offer for game rights, or the team’s new SportsTime Ohio network. FSN Ohio boss Steve Liverani tells Brown: “It’s totally disingenuous for the Indians to drag us into this [debate], simply because they can’t get their deals done and want to deflect attention from that fact.” The fact, of course, being that STO is having trouble signing up Any Provider That’s Not Time Warner for the new Indians deal…holding the hard line that “our programming is popular, and worth what we’re asking for it.”

What Liverani does not confirm or deny is if FSN Ohio would have asked for its own rate increase with a higher rights fee this season…telling Brown that “We don’t believe you indiscriminately increase your rates just because your expenses increase.”

OMW would like to hazard a guess that the truth is somewhere in the middle, as usual. FSN Ohio would not have the same new expenses as the Indians-run SportsTime Ohio, because they aren’t creating a network out of scratch. But they likely would have asked for SOME sort of increase, since their rights fees would roughly have doubled if the Indians had accepted their 2006 offer. Liverani has the luxury of not having to answer the question, because his network lost its battle to keep the team.

By the way, the money it will cost to build STO apparently doesn’t include paying for its own studios, at least for now…STO, at least in year one, will use the existing facilities of over-air partner WKYC/3 for such things as pre-game and post-game shows. But there is still significant “startup” cost involved.

STO’s Jim Liberatore doesn’t seem to be budging from his mountain…fully expecting that Tribe fans who don’t start seeing games on cable or satellite in April will storm the Bastille at their local cable or satellite provider, forcing the provider to give in. But he’s not taking any chances – STO has, in recent days, published full page ads in local newspapers prompting fans to “call their cable or satellite provider”. In a recent Akron Beacon Journal item, Liberatore said he believed all major providers “except one” would be on board by Opening Day…we’ll assume that’s referring to the “Make Them Play Fair” folks over at Cox Cable.

* Brown notes that FSN Ohio, on the lookout for programming to fill its Indians void, may simulcast Salem sports WKNR/850 Cleveland’s “Tenth Inning” postgame show this baseball season. And the PD Sports Media Guru (cough) gets a rise out of ‘KNR PD Michael Luczak, when needling him about the length of the station’s Cavaliers’ post game show. (Trust us, getting reaction from Mr. Luczak is not that difficult.) Luczak tells Brown that listener calls often extend the “Wine and Gold Post Game Show” – “When fans want to keep talking, we want to accommodate them,” says Luczak.

Well, here we go, getting Mr. Luczak riled up again right here at OMW. If listener demand is so important, why does the station air infomercials and public service programming most nights after Kenny Roda hits the road-uh? One would expect that a live and local evening show could provide at least some fuel to keep the ball rolling into the Cavs or Indians-themed post game shows.

Considering what airs before them, it’s a wonder anyone remembers to punch the car radio button for 850 after the last out or buzzer…and even if the station is not going to mount a local evening show, at least sticking with ESPN Radio’s “GameNight” – with frequent promos for the upcoming local post-game show – would be a much better bet than the radio wasteland frequently heard at 7 PM.

OMW certainly understands Salem’s financial model, but with that reality, throwing out the “we run the post-game show late because of listener and caller demand” seems a bit disingenous.