Saturday, March 28, 2009

Behind the Numbers

Harry Reid should have warned them. When the Senate Majority Leader took on Rush Limbaugh a couple of years ago, he wound up with egg on his face.

You may recall that Reid and other Democratic Senators wrote a letter of protest to El Rushbo's employer (Clear Channel Radio), after the radio titan used the term "phony soldiers" on his program. Rush was referring to frauds like Jesse McBeath, the basic training dropout-turned-anti-war activist who falsely claimed to be an Army Ranger.

Rush turned the tables on Reid and his cohorts by putting the letter up for bids on E-Bay. A wealthy conservative activist paid $2.1 million, and Mr. Limbaugh matched her bid, raising over $4 million for the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation, which provides scholarships for the children of Marines or federal law officers who are killed in the line of duty.

Undaunted, the Obama Administration tried to take on Rush a few weeks ago, with equally predictable results. Their vilification campaign has produced mega-ratings for Limbaugh's daily radio show, as he gleefully reported earlier this week:

Try #1 12 plus in New York, Chicago and Houston!

Over the last 3 months WABC goes 4.6 to 5.9 to 6.7 to be #1 from 12n to 3pm with total audience 12 plus. Cume is up to 693,000. Men 35-64 have moved 4.4 to 5.4 to 6.9 (#2) over the past 3 months.

In the land of Obama, Rush is #1 on WLS with 12 plus, going 5.2 to 6.9 to 6.9 with a cume of 396,700. Male 35-64 goes 5.4 to 6.3 to 6.7 (4th).

Rush is so huge in Houston he scores in every demo...12 plus has gone 6.0 to 8.7 to 9.8 to be #1 by a Texas mile with a cume of 382,300. With men 35-64 it's another #1 going 8.6 to 11.0 to 12.2. Also #1 with 25-54 adults going 4.6 to 7.1 to 8.7. Even with women 25-54 the show has exploded going 3.7 to 6.9 to 8.3 to be only one tenth of a point from the female dominant AC which is in first place.In Dallas the show has grown 4.8 to 5.9 to 6.4 with men 35-64 (#2) and is 4th 12 plus going 3.5 to 4.5 to 4.5. 12 plus cume is up to 250,100 in Big D.

Unlike the President's Popularity... Rush is Down NOWHERE...

WJR in Detroit rules, moving 5.8 to 8.6 to 9.6 for the #1 spot with total audience 12 plus 12n-3p with a weekly cume of 253,200. With men 35-64 the station moves 6.0 to 10.4 to 11.6 for an easy #1. Even with adults 25-54 the station has doubled audience in 2 months for the 12n-3p slot going 3.2 to 6.0 to 6.4 for 4th.

WMAL in Washington goes 4.1 to 5.4 to 6.7 up to 3rd with total audience 12 plus from 12n-3p with a weekly cume of 155,300. They are #1 with men 35-64 in that same time period going6.4 to 10.4 to 13.4 in the latest numbers.

WGST in Atlanta jumps with total audience 4.0 to 5.2 to 6.2 to 5th 12n-3p with a weekly cume of 473,500. The station moves to 3rd with men 35-64 jumping 5.5 to 6.4 to 8.0.

KFI in LA goes to #1 12 plus from 9a-12n jumping 4.6 to 5.2 to 6.0 over the past 3 months with a weekly cume of 618,000 and with men 35-64 flies 4.6 to 5.0 to 6.3 for another #1 demographic.

In San Francisco, the show is up huge on KSFO...4.7 to 5.6 to 6.0 and ranks 2nd 12 plus as well as with men 35-64, where it has grown 3.5 to 4.8 to 6.1 and has a weekly cume of 346,100.

Rush's audience surge is welcome news for local affiliates, which are struggling with a weak economy and declining advertising revenues. A rising Rush lifts the entire station "boat," or so the theory goes.

But only to a point. True, some Rush affiliates are enjoying remarkably strong numbers. WABC in New York is posting some of its best numbers since its heyday as a Top 40 station more than 30 years ago; it currently ranks fifth in the market. In Chicago, WLS is #2, running ahead of powerhouse WGN for the first time in recent memory. Rush's Los Angeles station, KFI, continues to dominate the local talk ratings, with more that twice the audience of its primary competitor, KABC.

In other markets, Rush is one of the few bright spots for his local affiliate. WGST in Atlanta might be better served by running Limbaugh's program around the clock. Despite higher ratings in his time slot, WGST still ranks far behind the city's premier news/talk station, WSB-AM. In Washington, WMAL-AM is #15 in the overall ratings; executives at financially-troubled Citadel Broadcasting (which owns the station) must shudder at the thought of audience totals without Rush in the lineup.

These totals prove a couple of things: first, Rush is worth every dime of his $400 million contract. Producing ratings like those, in the toughest media environment in decades, is nothing short of remarkable. And quite obviously, higher ratings will mean more ad revenue and profits for Rush and his affiliates, while MSM outlets are in their death throes. Talk about sweet irony.

Secondly, the recent ratings surge for news-talk stations demonstrates the viability of personal people meter technology, now being used to conduct audience measurements. Results of the new methodology have highlighted an indisputable fact; listenership for news/talk outlets was under-represented under the old diary system.

By comparison, audience totals for music stations (particularly those aimed at minority groups) were apparently inflated. No wonder Democratic politicians (including Barack Obama) have complained about the new system and its impact on audience surveys.

Finally--and most importantly--there's a lesson in Rush's ratings for station owners and program directors. In many markets, Limbaugh clearly out-performs the rest of the line-up; without Rush, some of these stations would be in trouble. The message is clear; local news/talk outlets need to do a better job in developing new talent.

There will never be another Limbaugh, but the successors to Glenn Beck, Neal Bortz, Sean Hannity (and others) must come from somewhere. Unfortunately, it's hard for the next generation to "break through," because today's executives opt for the safe (and slightly cheap) programming solution. Put on a local host in the morning, then fill the rest of the day with the same, syndicated hosts heard in every market.

And do whatever it takes to maintain your "Rush" affiliation.

1 comment:

Ed Rasimus said...

Targeting Rush, rather than developing their own coherent policies is traditional among that group. The concept dates back to Goebbel's I believe.

But, I can't share you pessimism about the next generation. Where I live in the (much) greater DFW area, we've got Mark Davis who started as strictly your morning "local" guy. Then one of his three hours went national. Now, he regularly guest hosts for Rush.

Similar stories abound from other guests in the daily Rush slots. They gain experience and reputation and then have a shot at moving up the ladder to national prominence.

The important thing in the whole debate is that conservative talk radio represents the voice of a significant segment of the population which will not be silenced until the Republic is shattered.