That being it takes time and experience to sharpen the skills and develop the critical thinking necessary to report hard news, not just write whatever somebody says and run with it as gospel.
That’s where you can get into trouble.
Especially when the sources being quoted have an obvious vested interest in spinning the story to their advantage. That’s when you’re supposed to reach out and attempt to corroborate what’s being said with independent sources and/or experts in the given field.
Which didn’t happen in the case of Kansas City Star intern Tess Hart’s double-barrelled attaboy this week about Kansas City public television station KCPT’s recent acquisition of radio station 90.9 FM The Bridge.
“A good sign for the (Bridge) is that AAA stations have been dominating other markets around the country,” Hart reported.
Hold it right there.
“That just ain’t true,” counters veteran radio exec Bob Zuroweste. “Name the city AAA dominates. Probably the most successful AAA station in the United States is KBCO in Boulder and it’s ranked seventh in the Denver market.
“There is no AAA station in the country that dominates. Not one. Dominates means you’re No. 1 and there’s only a few around the country even in the Top 10. And those are in very highly populated college markets, like the University of Colorado in Boulder.”
Starting with that Kansas City already has a AAA station, Alice 102.1 FM.
Yet in touting The Bridge‘s chances for success, that fact was never mentioned.
“Alice does the format here and – it’s what? – 20-somethingth in the market,” Zuroweste says. “It’s pretty low.”
Actually, Alice ranked 18th in listeners 6 and older in the December ratings – four notches from last – and up from 19th the month before.
Meaning The Bridge will have to compete with an established, three year old commercial AAA station that fields a full compliment of 0n-air and promotional talent.
That said, even while based in Warrensburg, The Bridge garnered a following.
“It’s a good station,” Zuroweste says. “A lot of people like it, but obviously it’s not a kick ass format.”
A big part of the problem facing The Bridge is programmer Jon Hart‘s vaunted “4,000 song playlist,” Zuroweste says.
“If you want to be commercially successful a 4,000 song playlist is insanity. I mean, it’s not going to be successful with 4,000 songs. That will appeal to some people, but it’s just not commercially viable. If you want to be an alternative choice for some people, then you can do that – just like some people like to watch weird television shows – but that’s a very small percentage of the population.
“The typical radio station plays 500 songs – some more often than others – Jack and Alice probably play 800 to 1,000 songs,” says a radio insider who asked not to be named. “But neither of those stations is really successful here. They started off strong but had no staying power, because people want to hear music that they like. Do you want to go to a concert with Tom Petty and not know most of the songs he’s playing? Artists like that generally get booed when they play their brand new songs.”
That doesn’t bode well for Hart’s stated objective of playing tons of local artists that few people have heard of, let alone are familiar with their music.
“Look at the most successful radio station in Kansas City for the past 30 years, KCFX FM,” Zuroweste says. “And they’ve been playing mostly the same songs the entire time.
“The reason most people don’t care about Kansas City artists is they don’t know about them,” he continues. “Does The Bridge want to be successful? I don’t think they do. It’ll never show up in the ratings. It’ll never make money. And I don’t think it’s intended to.”
The Bridge points to public station The Current (89.3 FM) in Minneapolis as its inspiration.
Yet in the holiday ratings, The Current came in at No. 15 with a 2.5 share, four places behind commercial, local AAA station KTCZ FM with a 4.1 share. The No. 1 radio station in the market? Classic rocker KQQL FM with a 13.8 share.
“Can they survive? Yeah, probably,” Zuroweste says. “But I’ve never seen public non-coms do that well. My take is if they really think they’re doing this to make money, it’s not a good move.”
Especially given that KCPT is on record as borrowing $1.7 million to buy the station and move it to KC. On top of that KCPT says it raised another $400,000 to fund the first two years operations, indicating it will have a pretty good sized break even point going forward.
Will it be a Bridge too far? Stay tuned.