I never heard of consultant Walter Sabo before he arrived in Los Angeles in 1984 to destroy KHJ (930 AM) by instituting a format revolving around traffic reports.
I’m kidding. Truth be told, Sabo didn’t destroy the once-legendary top-40 station at all — that honor belongs to some of his predecessors — and while I disagree with some of the moves he made at KHJ (including changing call letters to KRTH-AM) and sister KFRC/San Francisco (radio game shows), it turns out there’s a lot more to Sabo than meets the eye.
In a recent “10 Questions With … Walter Sterling a/k/a Walter Sabo” on AllAccess.Com, Sabo hit the nail on the head multiple times, from talk shows to weekend programming to ratings. Much of the conversation centered on compelling programming.
Sterling is the last name he uses as Sunday night talk host on WPHT/Philadelphia, where he earns high ratings by (gasp!) not talking politics on his (gasp! again) AM radio show.
On political talk: ratings for political talk stations have been essentially flat and “the few talk stations that have actual increases — not a tenth of a share wobbles — cover a wide range of subjects all day.”
On his own show: “In show-prep, I hyper-focus on what two friends would probably have talked about that afternoon and present that conversation. I also ask for calls and give the phone number — surprisingly, many hosts do not.”
Sabo continues: “The closer to home, the better the subject. If you care passionately about a subject, it’s not fluff, it’s important … Parent teacher conferences, losing weight, finding romance, putting out the engine light and realizing that once again you have no spare cash are subjects that elicit passion from many people.
On weekend programming: “Infomercials rob a station of about 1/3rd of its potential (number of listeners). Saturday 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. is the second highest “homes using radio” daypart. Putting infomercials on during that time easily cuts a 1 share from the total week audience delivery.
The main point of his philosophy: offer compelling, entertaining programming always and a station will do well. AM or FM. Isn’t that the whole idea?
Speaking of AM Radio
I am a firm believe in AM radio. My feeling is that — as mentioned above — compelling programming will bring in listeners no matter the band. More specifically, I want to take over a money-losing AM station and successfully program it … or at least convince the Catholics to give me a few weekend hours to play top-40 music on KHJ. But I digress.
I happened to run across a group on Facebook called I Love AM Radio and, of course, immediately joined. The first (linked) article I read?
“Coal Ain’t Coming Back & Neither is AM Radio.” (tinyurl.com/AMCoal)
Written by Dick Taylor, it is quite a depressing read. AM is doomed because no one listens. He doesn’t really get into why they don’t listen, but he is accurate when concludes that few radio listeners tune to AM.
But the why is extremely important. Is it interference? Yes. Is it bad radios? Yes. But there are short-term and longer-term solutions to those important issues. What any good owner and any good programmer will tell you is that compelling programming thing again. The responses to the story on Facebook were surprisingly positive and uplifting, echoing my own thoughts.
Is it coincidence that the last respectful ratings earned by KLAC (570 AM), XETRA (690 AM), KEIB (1150 AM) and others was when they played music? Why does KSUR (1260 AM), playing oldies, have a strong following in spite of a signal that doesn’t even cover much of the Los Angeles ratings zone? How are KFI (640 AM) and KNX (1070 AM) competing? They provide good programming you can’t find elsewhere.
The point is, whether it is music, news, or talk, if you provide what people want (and promote it!) they will listen. Perhaps if more programmers followed that idea, people would tune in to AM more often and receiver manufacturers would start building better radios again … including special circuits that are able to minimize interference and improve the sound.
Alt 98.7 FM dodged a bullet. According to sources close to the scene, it’s been decided that LA Chargers football games will NOT air on 98.7 or any FM, only KFI. Pregame programming will simulcast on two other iHeart stations, KLAC and KEIB. I imagine the staff at Alt must be relieved.