The $64 million question: Will younger, trendier listeners flock to news/talk station 980 KMBZ after it goes FM?
That’s a tough one.
At this point, nobody really knows. After all, the main thrust of frequency modulation (FM) is the high quality the signal imparts to music. I mean, how mellifluous can Rush Limbaugh get? And it’s not like Mike Shanin’s going to forget he’s not in the shower and break into song in the middle of dissing Obama or fantasizing about Sarah Palin. I mean, he is getting up there some, but…
Which brings us to the age issue…
For KMBZ to truly take its game to the next level it needs to attract younger listeners. You know, people who don’t subscribe to the Kansas City Star.
Let’s see, they’ve got Rush, he’s 60. Darla Jaye; she doesn’t reveal her age on Wikipedia, but if she started in radio 25 years ago she’s probably old enough (but not young enough) to date El Rushbo. There’s Mike Shanin. He doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page (big surprise) but since his former radio mate Jerry Fogel graduated from West Point in 1959, it’s probably safe to say he’s in his 70s. Or close enough.
No spring chickens there, ladies and gentlemen.
And KMBZ’s weekend lineup reads like a John Knox Village event calendar.
There’s a health talk show, health insurance show, cruising to retirement show. Any day I expect a switch from penis enlargement and hearing aid ads to cryonics and burial plans. Face it, older listeners with ultra conservative outlooks are KMBZ’s stock-in-trade.
So who can KMBZ’s merry band of right wing, rogue oldsters hope to attract on the FM dial?
KCUR FM 89.3 listeners, that’s who.
There’s plenty of ’em, too. The local public radio station is chocked full of gray hairs but also has a healthy supply of younger, hipper listeners who seem to like news and talk. And the station has quite a few more of them than KMBZ, so there’s that.
Just one problem…
Can they stomach KMBZ’s political leanings? Doubtful. I mean, some may, who knows?
"To me it’s a stupid move," says one radio insider of KMBZ’s move to an FM simulcast. "Just because they put it on FM, they’re not going to be able to raise their rates and raise their revenues."
Au contraire, KMBZ has reportedly told advertisers it’s raising its rates by 20 percent.
"In the short run they’re not going to be able to make up the revenue they’re giving up on (KUDL) 98.1," the insider says. "The question is, will this elevate KMBZ to where they can attract the younger listeners that big advertisers are looking for. If it does, then it could be a good play, but it’s not going to happen overnight."
Back to 980 KMBZ’s ratings – 14th place in its key demo, adults ages 35 to 64 and 14th place with a 3.5 share in the money demo of adults 25 to 54…
That the station’s current on-air lineup fares so modestly with older listeners on the AM band is not a good sign that younger, hipper – and arguably more liberal – listeners will embrace it on FM.
"There are AM-only news-talk stations in similar markets that have 8 to 10 shares," says the source. "And they built their stations on their talk talent and not all of it is syndicated, part of it’s local. Those stations built their numbers on AM alone. They didn’t need to be on FM…
"It’s all about the talk and it’s all about the talent. It’s proven in (other) markets that AM radio with good talent can succeed. Like in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Indianapolis. Their news talk stations have always been strong. But KMBZ has not been a powerhouse in the PPM (ratings) world…It all boils down to talent and do they have it."