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As we wrap up our out of town excursion, we’ll wrap up some loose ends from a newsy week, particularly for our friends in Central Ohio…

SPORTSY: As it turns out, there’s a good reason two Columbus radio stations flipped to a sports format within hours of each other this week.

The Columbus Dispatch’s Tim Feran quotes RadiOhio president/GM Dave Van Stone, who says research helped lead the move of the “Fan” sports format from its long-time home on WBNS/1460 to displace hot AC “Mix 97.1” at WBNS-FM:

“According to a recent piece of research by Scarborough (a sports market-research company), Columbus, Ohio, ranks as the No. 1 sports city in the United States,” Van Stone said. “Our listeners have told us over and over that we need to have a better signal.”

But the new “97.1 The Fan” will have to break away from 1460 occasionally for one key piece of programming.

Feran reports that RadiOhio only has the rights to broadcast the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets on the AM dial, with Central Ohio’s only actual major pro sports team already airing on the FM dial at Ingleside alt-rocker WWCD/101.1 Grove City “CD 101”.

(OK, so the Buckeyes could almost be considered a pro sports organization in Columbus, if it weren’t for that pesky collegiate/amateur thing.)

During Blue Jackets games, “The Fan’s” new FM side will air its regular ESPN Radio feed.

Meanwhile, the “97.1 The Fan” flip prompted an early move to sports by Clear Channel’s WYTS/1230, which brought “Fox Sports 1230” to the air an hour before WBNS-FM suited up in its FM sports uniform.

But Clear Channel Columbus operations manager John Crenshaw tells the Dispatch that as it turns out, WYTS was already ready to suit up as a sports outlet, and that the company also saw that Scarborough research about Columbus being the “number one sports city”.

The “Fan” move to 97.1 only prompted an early start to the “Fox Sports 1230” format for WYTS, with the station sliding into FSR at 3 PM that day, after the previously scheduled Jim Rome show – a holdover from the WYTS talk format.

OMW hears that before the FM “Fan” debut was announced, 1230 had already planned to move to FSR this afternoon at 3.

This seems to be a good place to answer one Northeast Ohio listener’s question from the OMW mailbag:

I remember that Clear Channel changed WARF 1350 AM over from “lefty radio” to Sports because the ratings hadn’t moved from a 1 … since the changeover, I haven’t been able to find WARF on any of the ratings online since …

I was wondering what the ratings were … since they seem to have fallen off the edge of the Earth (ratings-wise, that is …) since becoming the “under-represented” sports news station … I still can pick up the signal if I looked for it …

Our OMW reader calling himself “Ernest in Cleveland” accurately remembers that Clear Channel Akron/Canton cited disappointing ratings in its explanation for the format change from liberal talk to sports on WARF/1350.

Quoting from our earlier item, in 2007, where we reprinted the company’s explanation:

While Progessive Radio is surviving in parts of the country, it has not in Akron. In two years ratings have not improved, and revenue has declined, despite the remainder of the market seeing an increase in revenue.

Before the format switch to Progressive Talk, 1350am was an all sports station. In the Winter of 2005, (the last ratings period for the station as sports) 1350am had 17,000 weekly listeners. In the latest release of ratings, for the Fall of 06, WARF had 11,600 weekly listeners, and was on the decline.* (Source: Arbitron Fall 05 and Winter 06 Akron Metro Persons 12+ Monday-Sunday 6am – Midnight)

There are two major points to make here.

WARF wasn’t setting the world on fire, ratings-wise, in either format – and hasn’t since. We don’t have the numbers in front of us, but they’re probably in that same universe…or less.

As always, those published “vanity numbers” (12-plus) are just a snapshot of (part of) what’s going on. You can’t point to them and say “look, less people are listening, why did they do that?” It is not that easy.

Quoting us, from our own item from 2007:

But the facts remain as we pointed out earlier. Simply put: even with similar (lower) ratings, sports outsells liberal talk, at least at this juncture. It “sells above its numbers”.

That hasn’t changed in the nearly two years since 1350 in Akron went back to sports.

And in today’s challenging economic environment – syndicated sports radio appears to be format “comfort food” for radio giants like Clear Channel and CBS Radio. It requires virtually no care and feeding, and is easy to sell on the streets. It requires no explanation to advertisers hoping to reach male listeners, especially, and very little on-air attention.

And to tie this up into a bow, “Ernest in Cleveland”, our reader, is apparently a regular caller or E-mailer to Dial Global’s morning drive show with Bill Press – which started as a local-only show on WARF in its “Radio Free Ohio” liberal talk days…

EXPLAINING THAT FOX 8 CHANGE: As we reported earlier, visitors to “MyFoxCleveland.com” are being sent to a new website for Cleveland Fox affiliate WJW/8 “FOX 8” – “Fox8.com“.

Now, we know why.

Though the folks at the network have continued to spread the “MyFox” web branding to Fox affiliates not owned by the company – as WJW has been since the sale to Local TV, LLC – the move is driven by a new, larger web deal.

While browsing the mobile version of the new WJW “Fox8.com” site, we noticed a Tribune Interactive copyright notice.

And as an OMW reader pointed out, Tribune Interactive has launched something the Chicago-based media giant calls “The Syndicate”, a new multimedia online framework. Quoting an official Tribune release:

Tribune Interactive today announced the launch of “The Syndicate,” a new online multimedia content marketplace bringing the latest news, lifestyle stories and sports reports to visitors of Tribune Co.’s television and newspaper websites.

In addition to reading the best coverage of the day’s events, website visitors now can learn about the topics they care about — news, business and entertainment — through interactive elements such as videos, photos, graphics, trivia and quizzes.

Here’s the part that takes in “FOX 8” locally:

The content, created 24/7, is culled from Tribune’s 23 television stations and newspaper websites, 17 TV stations owned by Local TV, LLC, and various outside vendors.

New WJW owner Local TV is operationally a sister company to Tribune. The Local TV stations (and Tribune’s local TV operations) are managed by “The Other Company”, headed by former Local TV head and current Tribune chief operating officer Randy Michaels, who lives in suburban Cincinnati.

So, you can add “interactive” to the list of WJW functions linked to Tribune via the Local TV-Tribune shared management deal…

TIME WARNER CABLE SITE: WJW isn’t the only local media operation to see a new website this week.

Time Warner Cable’s Northeast Ohio operation has a new website as well, as the cable giant revamps its own online presence.

The website has undergone major renovations, enhancing look and functionality, and has many new useful tools for current and prospective customers. People can utilize the website to purchase new products, upgrade current services or manage a customer account.

“The newly redesigned Time Warner Cable website is interactive, looks great and is easy to use,” said Steve Fry, Time Warner Cable Northeast Ohio Division President. “Current customers, as well as those out shopping, will find many helpful tools and resources.”

From the homepage, customers can easily navigate throughout the various sections of the website with one simple mouse click. The main links across the top of the homepage – Learn, Shop, Support, What’s On TV, Contact Us and My Services – serve as simple entry-points to begin utilizing the website.

The visual facelift is stunning, and there does appear to be more information (including an extensive FAQ list). We’re still sorting through all the information, though, to see what’s new…or if there’s any word about the expanded services and HDTV lineup that we’ve reported about here…supposedly heading for TWC’s Northeast Ohio system sometime in the next few months…

WBZ DROPS “OVERNIGHT AMERICA”: This isn’t a Northeast Ohio item per se, but worth noting due to nighttime radio skywave reception, and radio economic issues.

CBS Radio is still running the St. Louis-based syndicated overnight show “Overnight America with Jon Grayson”, based at the company’s KMOX/1120 there…it continues to air on stations easily heard on Northeast Ohio’s AM radio dial, including KMOX and KDKA/1020 Pittsburgh.

But Grayson’s show will disappear from another easily heard station next week.

CBS news/talker WBZ/1030 Boston has gotten off of the syndicated overnight train, and will return local overnight host Steve LeVeille to his perch on Monday. He was recently let go in a CBS cost-cutting spree.

The news is rather huge in New England. It’s the second time WBZ has reversed a decision to dump local overnight talk for a syndicated show that wasn’t well-received – the first time, it was Tom Snyder’s old national radio show that aired briefly on the Boston-based radio giant.

For a Northeast Ohioan, the concept of a “live and local” all night talk radio show seems like something out of the days of Marconi…though we seem to remember that Akron market talk WNIR/100.1 actually made a brief attempt at post-midnight weekend talk in the old “Dating Show” days (12-3 AM Saturday/Sunday nights, if we remember right).

And of course, WNIR does local talk until 11 PM weeknights even today.

But late night, overnight local talk doesn’t have much history in Ohio. Even Clear Channel powerhouse WLW/700 Cincinnati’s locally-originated overnight programming is the syndicated “America’s Trucking Network” – produced at Kenwood, but meant for national audiences.

WLW sister talk WTVN/610 Columbus, of course, featured local host Steve Cannon behind the microphone until 1 AM for many years.

But many local listeners – including your Primary Editorial Voice(tm) – have tuned the dial to WBZ or KDKA for their own local overnight shows over the years…and that option is about to return for 1030 listeners…

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