MEDIA : Traffic Reporting Services Wage Battle for Airwaves

If the competition between the traffic reporting services in San Diego--Airwatch and Metro Traffic--could accurately be described as a war, then Metro appears to be winning it.

Metro is one of the largest traffic reporting services in the country, with outlets in more than 30 cities. It moved into San Diego two years ago, absorbed much of the service operated by the Auto Club of Southern California and, in effect, is driving a smaller operation out of business.

Until Metro appeared on the scene, Airwatch and the Auto Club were the largest services in San Diego. Airwatch, started by reporter Steve Springer in the early ‘80s, provided traffic reports for most of the large radio stations in town.

Times have changed. Metro now serves 24 stations, including KGTV (Channel 10), according to Metro director of operations Monica Zech. In recent months, longtime Airwatch clients KCBQ AM (1170) and FM (105.3) and KIFM (98.1) jumped to Metro.


Airwatch, which also has an operation in Los Angeles, is believed to have about 10 San Diego clients, although no one would confirm that; Springer was out of town and Airwatch representatives didn’t return calls last week.

“We were told not to say anything” to a reporter, said a woman who answered the phone at Airwatch’s office when asked what year Springer started the company.

Although listeners may barely notice the difference between the services, survey after survey tells radio executives that traffic reports are extremely important to their commuting listeners. For that reason, station executives take traffic very seriously, and Metro has been aggressively pursuing Airwatch clients.

“There is extremely fierce competition there,” said KIFM General Manager Bruce Walton. “Those that are being competed for are definitely benefiting.”


In general, Airwatch offers stations its traffic package for free. Airwatch makes its money by selling sponsors time during the reports. Metro, on the other hand, reportedly has been cutting deals, in some cases allowing the stations to sell their own ads around the reports.

“Metro is doing different deals with every station,” said one local radio executive who asked not to be identified.

While Airwatch and Metro officials can spend hours debating the quality of their services, the radio stations are generally more concerned with the bottom line.

“I think (traffic) is important in the sense that people need it,” Walton said. “But to us, traffic is traffic.”


Dropping Airwatch was purely a business decision, Walton said, echoing the comments of other radio executives.

“We weren’t unhappy with Airwatch,” said Sonny West, program director of KCBQ. “Metro is changing the rules of the traffic game. They’re making it better for the radio stations from a business standpoint.”

The next battleground probably will be KSDO-AM (1130), the No. 1 news-talk station in town. The station’s current contract with Airwatch expires early in 1991, according to Kelly Wheeler, KSDO’s news director.

KSDO executives reportedly have been frustrated by a five-year contract with Airwatch, an unusually long deal, signed when Jim Price was the station’s general manager.


Price, now general manager of KYXY-FM (96.5), helped start Airwatch. He says he never had any ownership interest in the company, but did loan Springer seed money, which has since been repaid.

“I was careful to stay out” of the negotiations with Airwatch and KSDO, Price said.

KYXY plans to stick with Airwatch, Price said. KSON and KFMB are also key Airwatch customers.

Some radio executives hope Metro doesn’t drive Airwatch out of business. Although none of the executives wanted to comment on the record, they say they fear the great deals will dry up if there is only one traffic service available.


San Diego County’s City magazine has filed a lawsuit against the San Diego Business Journal, alleging libel and “interference with prospective economic advantage.” The magazine requested the court determine the amount of damages.

The suit stems from a March 26 article in the Business Journal about the fledgling City magazine, which ran under the headline, “Its covers scream, but City magazine publishers whisper.”

The suit points out only one major inaccuracy in the story, an allegation that City magazine had not qualified for a second-class bulk postage permit. The Business Journal knew City magazine had the permit, the suit alleges, because the Journal received copies of the magazine stamped with second-class postage.

The Business Journal’s motivation was “to attack the opposition,” said City magazine’s attorney, Gastone Bebi. “City magazine is one of the few publications with a business section.”


The Business Journal has gone through several staff changes recently. New Publisher Patricia Venuti said she had not been served and “knew of no such suit.” Former Publisher Ted Owen, who was named in the suit, also was not aware that it had been filed when contacted Friday.

Three years after Bill Ritter left The Times to enter the wild and wacky world of television news, he is on the verge of hitting the big time. A former KNSD-TV (Channel 39) reporter, he has been tabbed to anchor the KTTV (Channel 11) 10 p.m. news, at least temporarily. He is on a “till further notice basis,” while the station decides what it wants to do. A new female co-anchor starts in September.

Meanwhile, Ritter is pulling double duty, continuing to work as a reporter for Fox Entertainment. And former Channel 39 reporter Dennis Morgino, who was dumped as anchor, is on “special assignment” in San Diego, reporting for Channel 11’s special 7 p.m. “Mideast crisis updates,” scheduled to begin tonight, with Ritter as co-anchor.

One of Channel 10 commentator Michael Tuck’s favorite targets was the irrepressible Paul Eckert, whom Tuck and others referred to as “Boss Hog” when he was on the county Board of Supervisors. Eckert clearly doesn’t hold a grudge, though, especially when it comes to business. Eckert, who runs a moving company, called Tuck to pitch Eckert’s Van and Storage for his upcoming move to Los Angeles. (Friday was Tuck’s last day at Channel 10.) Impressed with Eckert’s brashness, Tuck accepted. . . .


Forget the October start-up date for Channel 8’s new afternoon talk show. It already has been pushed back to December, “pending the arrival of equipment,” according to producer Pat Elwood. . . .

With the rehiring last week of Paul Espinosa to handle the new “executive producer for public affairs and ethnic issues” position, KPBS-TV has filled three of the five newly created producer positions. . . .

KJQY-FM (Sunny 103) has hired Ken Noble away from KYXY-FM (96.5) to handle its morning show. He is scheduled to start today. Jim Doyle, who has been doing mornings, has been named assistant program director and production director.