Local radio stations shake up their formats

Progressive political talk is coming to an end at KPTK-AM (1090) as the Seattle station gears up for a new sports format. But the format flip could mean more left-leaning pundits on South Sound airwaves.
KPTK program director Carey Curelop declined to comment on rumors of impending programming changes last week. But the station’s owner, conglomerate CBS Radio, changed the call letters to KFNQ, and advertisers were informed that the format would switch to sports talk on Jan. 2.
But “The Ed Schulz Show,” “The Thom Hartmann Program” and other syndicated liberal talk shows could wind up in rotation on Lakewood’s KLAY-AM (1180) soon after they go off the air in Seattle.
“We’re in the process of reviewing them to see which ones we want to take,” KLAY station manager Bob McClusky said. “We won’t know that until the first part of December when we can have a chance to analyze what’s available.”
Rumors abounded that KPTK would make the switch soon after Portland’s KPOJ-AM (620), a liberal talk station owned by Clear Channel, dumped its format in favor of sports, with no prior announcement, on Nov. 9.
McClusky estimated KLAY fielded about 100 calls in the wake of the Portland switch encouraging the station to pick up progressive programming. However, he anticipated such a change could anger fans of right-leaning talkers Dennis Miller and Jerry Doyle, whose shows air on KLAY, between 1 and 7 p.m. on weekdays.
Insiders have said the switch at KPTK was prompted by the launch of CBS Sports Radio in September. And CBS recently signed popular sports talker Jim Rome, who currently airs on Clear Channel’s KHHO-AM (850) locally.
But many pundits, bloggers and talk show callers have drawn a connection between the format change in Seattle and Portland and big Democrat wins on Election Day.
“Why do you split revenue between five sports stations ... when you have something that’s a niche and unique and it’s generating money?” “Ring of Fire Radio” co-host Mike Papantonio mused recently on “The Ed Schultz Show.”
“Why do you do that unless there is some kind of back story to what you've done?” he continued during a video taped segment that has fueled speculation online. Frank Blair – a liberal talker who co-hosts Equal Time Radio Friday afternoons on KLAY – cites Clear Channel’s relationship with financial services company Bain Capital. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is one of Bain’s founders, and Bain owns Clear Channel. “I don't usually like to assign motives to actions like this,” Blair said. “But I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say this is probably punishment for winning an election.”
Though that is pure speculation, Blair felt more certain of the impact the Telecommunications Act of 1996 has had in homogenizing America's radio airwaves. The act overhauled media ownership rules, paving the way for large conglomerates to own a larger number of media outlets in each market and to add hundreds of TV and radio stations to their rosters.
“Clear Channel, CBS Radio all pretty much insist on content purity,” Blair said, “an entire radio station that has one form of talk radio available. And that's either left wing or right wing.”
That's made KLAY something of an anomaly in today’s landscape, he said. The station is locally and privately owned by family members of the late Clay Huntington. Its eclectic format includes political talk, local sports and religious shows, among other programming.
“Sunday there’s pretty much a complete lineup of Christian shows,” Blair said. “And there’s even an atheist show in the middle of all that broadcast day. (KLAY) has the freedom to vary the content to fit the interests of the audience.”
CBS Radio also owns KJAQ-FM (Jack, 96.5), KMPS-FM (94.1) and KZOK-FM (102.5) in the Seattle/Tacoma market.


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