Here are a couple interesting commentaries on Howie and the WRKO situation—sorry if they’re a bit inside radio (literally). Both are written by people who are in radio
and come from the comments at http://www.dankennedy.net
But its still a 50,000 watt Class B signal that covers a huge number of people and puts a solid signal over most of the core Boston/Cambridge area.
So it kind of demands that a major format be put on WRKO, not a niche format.
The two major formats for large AM stations are still news/talk (mostly right-wing) and sports, two formats that WRKO cant win with because WTKK 96.9FM and WBZ 98.5FM, respectively, have vastly superior FM signals with. Worse, WRKO cant really do sports because it detracts from the meal ticket (WEEI 850AM).
So WRKO is kinda screwed, in part by Entercoms own success with WEEI.
Worse still, Entercom could put WRKO on one of their other FM properties (WMKK 93.7 and WAAF 107.3/97.7) but neither of those signal pairings is equal to (much less better) than their chief competitors FM signals. And theyd be substituting a struggling product for a successful, profitable product in either case; WAAF does pretty well overall, and WMKK costs so little to operate that it rakes in the cash.
If WGBH hadnt gone news/talk, then a strategic partnership with WBUR to make WRKO an outlet for alternative NPR news/talk programming almost mightve worked. Emphasis on mightve. But that option is effectively off the table now.
Honestly I think Entercom really only has two options: muddle along with WRKO as it is and try to reduce costs to the point where lower revenues are still viable revenues. Or bite the bullet and switch to a niche format that lets them slash costs to the bone (a la Mike or a leased-time ethnic/foreign-language) and accept the huge drop in revenue because your costs have dropped equally.
Of course, neither is exactly a palatable solution.
I dunno. What the hell, put a Haitian/creole format on there. Theres tons of Haitian pirate radio stations, maybe theyve figured something out?
For those of you who dont know how radio works, heres a quick, admittedly simplistic view. Most stations run about 12 to 14 minutes worth of ads an hour. They set the price based on what they can get and what they have to make for the quarter. They take the amount they need to make for the quarter and divide it by the number of spots in that same quarter, which gives them a rough idea of the rate they need to get. It gets a bit stickier when you have big talent like Howie because it throws the math off. But, the formula is still the same.
In order to understand just how much money Howie makes or how much money they lose on Howie follow this math. Lets say WRKO has 12 spots an hour, just to make the math easy. Thats about 12,500 ad minutes. per year for Howies four hours. To break even on Howie, WRKO needs to sell every single ad during his program for at least $96 ($80 to pay for Howie, with 20 percent, a guesstimate, going to the sales people). Thats breaking even on just Howie, not counting any other expenses to run the station. But for the example to understand the money, lets just use this formula.
There are other billable things, like live reads (The Chump Line is sponsored by Lumber Liquidators ), promotions, sponsorships, non-traditional revenue like the Web site, and other things, that bring in money to a radio station. But like ads in the print edition of the newspaper are the bulk of their money, so are spots for radio.
Anyone listening to Howies show knows that its not sold out. There are PSAs running throughout the hour. Endlessly. So, the spot price is much more than $96 I would bet. In addition, Howie has a network deal, since the show is syndicated on a bunch of New England stations. So, the spots that air on multiple stations make a lot more money. At the same time, I have heard rumors over the years that the network spots have been difficult to sell. If youre in Boston, you dont care about some tiny audience in Maine or Keene.
Back in the heyday, Howie was billing a pretty chunk of change. When I called to get an estimate for a potential freelance client back in 2004, it was $300. I seriously doubt that it is $300 now. But, it might be. I dont know and I dont know anyone who is buying spots on WRKO now so I couldnt even guess.
But, in many of these cases, it is about the money $1 million is a ton of cash. It might be money for Entercom. In fact, as they have seen with their horrifically amateur, unlistenable paid programming, quality doesnt really matter. Whoever pays plays. As advertising has dried up for everyone, they could be looking at other options.
Heres some other math to wonder about, especially when considering this situation. WRKO could easily get quality talk show programming that could potentially be more profitable for a lot less money. There are a lot of talk show hosts out there who can do it for them that wont get $1 million. Heres how that math would work.
Say, for example, that Entercom is selling all of Howies spots for $100 each. They figure, well, were selling all the spots, paying Howie, and making $50K a year in profit (again, ignoring the other costs at the station, just to make the math easy).
However, they could get another talk show host, say, Tony Schinella, who will do compelling air, build an audience beyond just those people who are knuckle-draggers, and hell do it for say $100K. Well, sure, Tony wont be able to bill $100 a spot. But, could Tony bill $20 a spot? Probably, in the Boston market on a station like WRKO. And Tony would kill himself to make it work, let me tell you that right now
So, WRKO hires Tony for $100K, sells out all his spots at $20 a piece, and makes more money with Tony $150K in profit instead of $50K with Howie returning more revenue to the stations bottom line and to shareholders.
Now, I admit, this is a stretch of an example. Im not going to replace Howie on WRKO and very few other people are either. But this is how they could be looking at it. Better to get a cheaper person and sell the rate for less money but make more money than to have an expensive person and play PSAs.
In many cases, WRKO isnt going to lose a ton of listeners for most of their shows. Sure, they will lose Howies rabid following. But studies done by Scarborough Research show that talk radio listeners rarely switch the station unlike music listeners who hear an ad and then flip the station. They have talk on all day long, even liberals, in the background, in the car, and are not often swayed to switch by the actual hosts. Sure, they can go to WTKK. But some wont switch. There will always be listeners on WRKO no matter who is on. Will they be the same as Howies numbers? No. But there will be numbers there.
On Howie calling Obama out for being an affirmative action success story, personally, I dont have a problem with that. From all that I have seen, including an amazing Frontline documentary on Obama, this rings true. Throughout his career, Obama has used his race and oratory skills to dazzle guilty, white progressives into thinking he is one thing when, in fact, he is quite another, as shown by the way he governs. That is where the messiah stuff comes from. The list of his accomplishments before becoming a senator were weak and limited when compared to many other statesmen and women of our time. The fact that he was able to win the primary against Hillary still shocks me to this day. However, it does show that, yes, anyone can grow up and become the president, especially when given many helping hands along the way Of course, the fact that anyone can grow up to be president is a good thing.
Sun column ping
Mansfield pulls the same old spring tax scam
By Howie Carr | Sunday, April 18, 2010 | http://www.bostonherald.com | Columnists
This is how you know its spring in Massachusetts - the first town threatens to shut down the high school football program unless the voters agree to a property-tax hike.
Its as predictable as the Boston Marathon gridlock tomorrow. Its right out of the playbook - the teachers union playbook.
This year the town of Mansfield seems to have opened the season. All the stories run together after a while: one side (the school committee) insisting that this is not a ploy while the other side (the board of selectmen) scoffs, saying its just a chess game.
Usually, the selectmen fold, and a Prop 2 override goes onto the ballot. Its . . . for the children. The hard-pressed taxpayers vote it down in the spring and in some towns they just reschedule a second vote - in July, on a Saturday, when everybodys at the beach.
Of course, sometimes the school committees and their union pals overplay their hand. For instance, its always a bad move to be grabbing state building funds - say, $3 million - to upgrade the high school football field while simultaneously claiming youre about to eliminate the grid program. That grift has been tried in MetroWest.
The Mansfield School Committee committed a tactical error this week by upgrading the acting high school athletic director to permanent just before they started talking about eliminating athletics.
Its always important to describe the cuts as unprecedented, which, of course, theyre not. Heres a headline from 1989: Athletics, clubs get the ax at schools.
The rationale is, these towns have fixed costs. Thats what they call them in the public sector. You and I call them union sweetheart deals. None of these municipal workers wants to go into the less Cadillac-y state health insurance plan, and changes are usually negotiable under their contracts.
In the Dreaded Private Sector, you know how such an impasse would be handled. The bosses would say: OK, if you want to keep those nice bennies, well have to start laying you guys off from the bottom of the seniority list. Well have to hit everybody whos been hired since, oh, 1998.
Which in the towns might mean that 60-year-old teachers would be back working as lunch monitors in the cafeteria. Pretty soon, a 5 percent increase in health premiums wouldnt look so bad.
But in the towns, its so much easier to run around crying The sky is falling! The sky is falling!
The local pols begin this annual rite of spring by going after services that matter to voters. If they threatened to lay off three assistant deputy associate senior human-resource administrators and take away their cars and gas credit cards, the taxpayers would rejoice.
Instead they make ominous noises about closing a police station or a firehouse. They reduce the hours at the dump or end garbage pickup altogether. Most of all, they threaten the football team.
If this happened on Thanksgiving, the refs would throw a penalty on the town hacks. For unsportmanslike conduct against the taxpayers.
Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/columnists//view.bg?articleid=1248050