Thursday, March 5, 2009

It's time to dial up intelligence, local voices on radio

Arizona Republic, The (Phoenix, AZ) - Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Author: RICHARD KELLEHER , The Republic

If you want to worry about intelligence in Arizona, you better start now. The end of the year (2007) Arbitron radio ratings are in and KFYI (550 AM), a right-wing propaganda machine, has the highest numbers in Phoenix.

Arbitron measures the pulse of radio listeners throughout the country, breaking it down in many segments so radio stations may offer confusing numbers to potential advertisers. According to Arbitron, Phoenix is the 15th-largest metropolitan area in the nation with more than 3 million radio listeners.

As a former writer for Billboard magazine, a music trade publication, the numbers tell me the pulse of the community. We have radio listeners who would rather listen to non-local blabber-mouths like Rush Limbaugh than entertaining locals like Beth and Bill on KEZ or Kid and Ruben who moved to the old KZON (101.5 FM) this year. To top it off, KFYI is on the poor-quality AM side of the dial.

On the other side of the coin is quasi-news outlet KTAR, once the flagship radio station for The Arizona Republic. On the first day of 2007, the station that had enjoyed the No. 1 slot in Arizona for years moved from the AM side to the FM dial. It ranked 10th in the most recent book (Arbitron), a downward trend that will continue until station management wakes up.

KTAR used to be a publicist's delight. You could get knowledgeable doctors on the air talking about your non-profit organization and listeners actually called in with intelligent questions or tear-jerk stories of how they lost relatives to your cause's disease.

It seems the days of intelligence on Phoenix radio are gone. Whenever I listen to KFYI, all I hear is anger spewing forth.

Unfortunately, KTAR has fallen into similar trends. They have some guy who just moved to Phoenix where the intelligence of Pat McMahon held forth for years. Its afternoon time, where the wonderful Preston Westmoreland used to hold court, has been replaced with satellite carpetbaggers who maybe passed through Sky Harbor on their way elsewhere.

Arizona's Jingoists are in trouble, too. Two stations that simulcast, and have transitioned many times over the past two decades, 105.3 FM and 105.9 FM, are now owned by one of the most powerful entertainment companies in the world, Univision. They broadcast a Los Angeles-based disk jockey, Piolin, in the mornings. The stations rate No. 3, tied with KESZ (99.9 FM). What a contrast these stations offer.

Piolin broadcasts in Spanish, targeting the young Hispanic market, while KEZ targets the 50ish, predominately Anglo listener. KEZ features Marty Manning who is at or approaching four decades on Phoenix radio!

Manning represents my idea of what Phoenix radio should be. If he would spin yarns of what used to be on what corners, like the old Harkins at Camelback Road and 24th Street, I could listen forever.

Yet Manning doesn't do that. He practices the art of what author Tony Hillerman says, "Stay current." He will probably be enjoying Destiny Hope Cyrus when she brings her Hannah Montana show back to Phoenix this month. Manning is an excellent marketer and does stay current.

Being local is important if we are to maintain a Phoenix culture. Longtime announcers like Manning and the rest of the KEZ morning team, or Dave Pratt, KMLE (107.9), who was soundly trounced in the country market by rivals and longtime Phoenicians Tim and Willy, KNIX (102.5), are what I believe radio should be. I would rather hear Kid and Ruben saying you can see them at Buzz on Friday night than listening to some jerk spewing hate about "red and blue" states

Listening to a particular radio station depends upon what level of intelligence you want for your community. Bet no one reading this piece has ever called a general manager at a radio station to express his or her opinions. Most GMs are in the office from 9-4 weekdays. Go ahead, call and bring intelligence back to Phoenix radio.