A Return to Normal After 9/11

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After tuning to news and talk stations following the September terrorist attacks, Southland radio listeners have started punching their old presets again, while the alternative rockers at KROQ-FM solidified their grasp at the pinnacle of local ratings, according to the latest figures released by ratings service Arbitron.

The folks at KROQ (106.7) seem to have signed at least a year's lease on their perch at the top of Southern California standings, posting an impressive fourth straight quarter as the highest-rated station in the Los Angeles-Orange County market and grabbing 5.1% of the audience. The winter 2002 ratings, charting the period from Jan. 3 to March 27, also showed gains by hip-hop outlet KPWR-FM (105.9) and adult contemporary KOST-FM (103.5).

But the disparities between the fall and winter ratings among Southland news, information and talk stations weren't as severe as those in the rest of the country. Talker KFI-AM (640) was fourth in the region with a 4% share of the audience, dipping slightly from 4.2% in the fall, while rival KABC-AM (790) fell a bit farther, from 2.6 to 2.2--the same figure it had in the summer.

"The spikes seemed to be more pronounced the closer you were to New York, and of course New York had the biggest spikes," said Ron Rodrigues, editor in chief of the trade journal Radio & Records. The most extreme example was New York City's all-news station WINS-AM, which Arbitron determined had a staggering 70% share in the hours after the attacks.

"There wasn't as much, if any, of a spike in Los Angeles or the Western markets," Rodrigues said, suggesting that trend started Sept. 11. On the East Coast, the attacks began while most people were driving to or were already at work, so most of them got the news that day from radio and simply stayed with the habit. On the West Coast, the events happened while most people slept, and they awoke to the news on television.

Another factor may be that some listeners stuck with their favorite stations, such as KKBT-FM (100.3) "The Beat," which increased its news reports at the time to keep people abreast of events, said the urban station's vice president and general manager, Nancy Leichter.

"It made us better," she said. "I think that's why we didn't lose in the fall. People tune in to us for more than just music."

No matter where they were getting their information, Rodrigues said, "people are still listening more than they did before. A lot of the audience moved from the all-news stations to talk stations."

In fact, though KFI and KABC dropped somewhat, and KLSX-FM (97.1) held steady, all three talk stations were higher than in winter 2001. Meanwhile, among the all-news stations--both owned by Viacom's Infinity radio unit--KNX rose slightly, while KFWB dropped.

Bob Moore, vice president and general manager at Infinity's KLSX, said sister station KROQ hasn't tied its fortunes to the rise and fall of pop's flavor of the month--meaning the station not only can showcase new bands, such as System of a Down or the Strokes, but draw from the catalog of older alternative acts that have been around as long as the station has. He noted that, during a recent U2 concert in L.A., Bono thanked KROQ from the stage for playing the band's music for the past two decades.

KROQ also scored well in the battle of morning-drive shows, a key part of the day in local radio. Morning duo Kevin & Bean improved on their best-ever showing, a 5% share in the fall, to 5.1% among listeners 12 and older.

"It's just a couple of guys on the radio who happen to be funny," Kevin Weatherly, KROQ's vice president of programming, said of his morning team. "They've been on the air now for 12 years, and the listeners have finally caught on to what we've known all along."

However, they remain far behind top-rated Renan Almendarez Coello, on Spanish-language KSCA-FM (101.9), who slipped but still maintained his dominance. Known as "El Cucuy," Coello still holds a huge lead in spite of dropping from 7.5% of the audience to 6.7%.

Among listeners ages 25 to 54, the primary demographic for radio advertisers, Kevin & Bean placed third, at 5%, while second-place Howard Stern on KLSX dropped to 5.3%.

The winter-quarter numbers showed KKBT-FM "The Beat" and KPWR "Power 106" heading in different directions. The Beat dropped from third overall to ninth compared with the previous quarter and second to fifth place in the morning, where comedian Steve Harvey's show had been steadily chugging ever higher in the ratings since it started in September 2000.

Power 106, on the other hand, jumped from seventh to second overall, increasing its ratings from 4% of the audience to 5%, and from eighth to fourth in the morning. KPWR's numbers had declined from summer to fall, while KKBT's went up.

"We never believed in the first place we were ever a '4' [rating] radio station," said Dianna Obermeyer, senior vice president of Emmis Communications/Los Angeles, which owns Power 106. She said the winter numbers were the best ratings book for the station since the summer of 1995, and said the fall figures were just a quirk, noting that the station was second in both the spring and summer.

"Our programming remains constant, our personalities are the same," she said, adding that she is even more optimistic about her station's future, predicting that it will get a boost from much-anticipated new albums coming out from rappers Nelly and Eminem.

Leichter also blamed a ratings aberration for KKBT's decline from fall to winter, the fact that Arbitron was switching from using 1990 Census figures to 2000 numbers as the basis for its sampling.

"For us, it was just sort of a fluke. There are wobbles. It's just the vagaries of Arbitron," she said.

Rodrigues joked that it's common for stations to attack the messenger, blaming Arbitron for their ratings troubles.

"Radio programmers are very quick to take the credit when they have a good book," he said. And when the numbers go down? "It's like a field-goal kicker: if you miss it, it was because the snap was bad or the wind was blowing."

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Radio Ratings

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