The final radio picture

Greetings from Odessa, TX, where I am on an unusual business trip. No meetings, no appointments, just a lot of driving around for testing purposes. Believe it or not, I encountered a tumbleweed 30 seconds after I exited the parking lot this morning. West Texas really is like that.

The rental was already tuned to a local ESPN radio affiliate, which was a relief. As my route took me further and further away from the bustling Midland-Odessa market, the station became more difficult to receive. I had my iPod with me just in case, but I decided to flip through the dial first to see what was out there.

I hit the SCAN button on the radio, and to my dismay, every single time the radio stopped the same thing came out of the speakers:

  • Rush Limbaugh

This happened six times, on six different frequencies. Since I tend to avoid any kind of talk radio outside of sports (regardless of political bent or content), I plugged in the iPod and kept driving until I found an area with more variety. That didn’t happen until I got back to Odessa a few hours ago.

The lesson, besides the fact that no one should get stuck in Eunice, NM? Talk radio rules. Especially the conservative flavor. Christian radio is gaining a stronger foothold in the Bay Area with each passing year. That’s what the A’s are up against, even on the stations they currently inhabit. Let’s take a look at the three stations that will carry A’s games in the Bay Area for the next three years:

  • KYCY-1550 (San Francisco/Belmont) – I would say that CBS/Infinity should be lauded for taking a chance with the podcast format on “KYouRadio”, but I have to temper that with the thought that the format could change overnight to more talk, or some other overplayed concoction. To me, the curious thing about KYCY is that they had an application to relocate to San Jose and become a 50,000-watt station. That application was rescinded in November without a peep. It’s not realistic to think the A’s will push any of its affiliates in one direction or another because of the historically low ratings. But if you’re looking for a Exodus-to-San Jose angle in the radio dealings, Infinity’s retraction doesn’t help the case.
  • KNTS-1220 (Menlo Park) – The station’s parent company, Salem Communications, has until now had a mixture of conservative talk and college sports. Salem has apparently taken a stance that gives their talk programming a priority over the A’s. Since their weekday/weeknight schedule does repeats after 6, it’s quite convenient for them to shoehorn the A’s into repeat time. It’s possible that if the A’s do spectacularly well on KNTS, they could add full Eastern Time Zone broadcasts to the schedule, though the producers of Dennis Prager’s daily show wouldn’t be too pleased with their show being preempted on a semi-regular basis. The problem with the KNTS situation is that the current nighttime signal is so weak, many listeners will be turned off by the static and tune in to KYCY, XM, or the MLB.com streaming feed instead. Ratings won’t look impressive on KNTS as a result, which means the A’s wouldn’t be able to truly prove themselves on weeknights on KNTS. I asked A’s VP of Broadcasting and Communications Ken Pries if Salem had told him when KNTS plans to build that 50 kW facility in Hayward. He said they didn’t.
  • KVON-1440 (Napa) – One of few independently-run stations in the market, KVON has a somewhat center-left talk lineup rounded out by more eclectic programming. KVON has been carrying the A’s for some time, but their role becomes significant because KYCY doesn’t reach the North Bay.

Obviously, there’s room for growth. Pries indicated that the team is working to add more affiliates. Hopefully, the targets will be Sacramento and the Central Coast, the two remaining (and gaping) holes for the A’s to cover. With radio dominated by certain types of programming, it’s a tough sell. Maybe there’s a station willing to do an equity exchange the way KNBR and the Giants work with each other, but even then, there have to be ratings to back the A’s placement on any station. The new setup is problematic in that the three stations could cannibalize each other to a degree.

P.S. The new affiliate list is now up.

P.P.S. I’m going to take a peek at Midland’s quaint Citibank Park while I’m here. The Midland Rockhounds are the A’s AA affiliate.

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