Last week, as we reported a few days ago, Clear Channel pulled the plug on progressive talk radio in Portland, converting AM 620 KPOJ (“Portland’s Progressive Talk”) to a Fox Sports affiliate after more than eight years of serving as a home for popular hosts like Thom Hartmann, Ed Schultz, Randi Rhodes, Norman Goldman, Rachel Maddow, Al Franken, and Sam Seder.
Now we’ve received confirmation that CBS Radio will be doing the same thing with AM 1090 in Seattle as of January 2nd, 2013.
On January 2nd, CBS (which used to be known as Viacom before it spun off several of its business units as a separate company called Viacom) plans to convert KFNQ, formerly KPTK, to the sports radio format, along with many other stations around the country. The apparent objective is to create a stronger network of sports radio stations so that CBS can better compete for national sports programming contracts.
Seattle, of course, already has plenty of stations offering sports talk. These include KRKO (broadcasting as Fox Sports Radio 1380), KIRO (broadcasting as 710 ESPN Seattle) and KJR (broadcasting as Sports Radio 950).
But CBS executives don’t care. As far as they’re concerned, AM 1090’s current format isn’t making enough money — so they’re going to completely trash it, just like Clear Channel did with AM 620 in Portland.
CBS hasn’t yet officially announced the change, and they haven’t authorized an on-air announcement or an explanation for AM 1090’s website, but staff in Seattle have been told that it is happening. And they have communicated the news to people they know (including many of AM 1090’s most loyal listeners).
So we know this isn’t a rumor.
Management at CBS claims that although progressive political talk has a dedicated core audience, the overall audience has been declining, both in our region and nationally. We haven’t seen any numbers backing up that assertion, but that is part of the justification for the format change that CBS Seattle staff have been given.
Those unfamiliar with the radio business might be surprised to know that AM 1090 has been through a lot of format shifts before. AM 1090 is Seattle’s third oldest-radio station; it began broadcasting in 1927 as KVL.
In 1947, Dorothy Bullitt launched KING AM on the frequency. KING AM was initially a NBC News affiliate; it also broadcast traditional pop music, jazz, and swing. In the 1970s, 1090 became “Musicradio 11 KING”, principally broadcasting hits from Billboard’s “Top 40” chart. KING AM shifted to soft adult contemporary music in 1980, but ratings remained low, and two years later, the station stopped broadcasting tunes entirely due to the growing popularity of the FM band.
The station was relaunched in 1982 as KING NewsTalk 1090, with a slate of hosts that included Mike and Candace Siegel, Randy Rowland, Jim Althoff, Carl Dombek, Jeff Ray, and Pat Cashman (later one of the stars of Almost Live!). Fourteen years later, in 1994, the station quit paying all of its local talent and instead began carrying the Associated Press’ All News Radio. Not long after, the station was sold by the Bullitt family, and its call letters were changed nearly half a dozen times.
By 1996, 1090 AM was broadcasting country music, and it was bought by Infinity Broadcasting, which later became CBS Radio (a unit of Viacom, now CBS Corporation). Infinity experimented with a news talk format again after the turn of the century (with local talent such as Bob Rivers and Ron & Don), but pulled the plug after less than a year. 1090, which was by this time known as KYCW, returned to country music, and continued broadcasting that until October 2004, when it became KPTK (“Seattle’s Progressive Talk”).
Now the geniuses at CBS want to convert 1090 AM to a sports format. They figure the audience for sports programming is larger, and the station will be able to make more money by competing for that audience.
We wonder if they’ve done their homework. This is not a market that is currently under-served.
KJR already has Husky football and basketball; KIRO (AM + FM) has the Mariners, Sounders, and the Seahawks, and both stations also carry plenty of sports commentary and analysis in addition to games.
And as of a few weeks ago, sports fans in the Pacific Northwest have even less incentive to listen to games or analysis on the radio.
If they subscribe to Comcast cable, Frontier FiOS, or Dish Network, they can watch all the games that the likes of ESPN and Fox don’t decide to carry on the Pac-12 Networks, a family of television channels created by the Pacific 12 conference.
The Pacific 12 conference, as many readers know, consists of twelve schools, including Washington and Oregon’s four largest public universities. The schools collectively decided a couple of years ago that they could better monetize their athletic events by creating a broadcasting arm under their direct control.
Now that the Pac-12 Networks are live, college sports fans can watch far more games on TV than they could before. Each region of the conference has its own channel, and there’s also a national Pac-12 channel as well.
This is what CBS is up against. They’re making an extremely risky bet. By converting AM 1090, they lose the station’s current loyal audience and all the goodwill they have tried to cultivate over the years through “Precinct 1090” and annual town hall forums. No other station in Seattle broadcasts progressive talk, which means that AM 1090 — in its present incarnation — has a niche.
And it has boosters, too. Many local activists have promoted the station for years with AM 1090 bumper stickers or window decals on their vehicles.
CBS executives are mistaken if they think this community of listeners, which their Seattle staff has worked hard to build, are going to stick around once the company turns its back on them by junking “Seattle’s Progressive Talk”.
At least CBS hasn’t made the switch yet, unlike Clear Channel. If you’re an AM 1090 listener who wants progressive talk to stay on the air in Seattle, you can voice your displeasure regarding CBS’ plans to its corporate office.
1271 Avenue of the Americas FL 44
New York, NY 10020
There’s also a Facebook page called “Keep Progressive Talk in Seattle” which you can become a fan of. The creator of the page is urging people to send postcards to CBS headquarters protesting the format change.