The death of Progressive Talk Radio in Fresno, and an open letter to Peak Broadcasting

KFPT, Fresno's progressive talk radio station, went off the air today.

KFPT's initial Arbitron ratings were dismal at startup, but during the three years it was on air they kept increasing. KFPT's dedicated listeners put this station firmly in the center of the ratings map. Yes, it was far below KMJ's radical right-wing Limbaugh / Savage talk ratings, but the ratings were definitely nothing to sneeze at.

The owners of KFPT were CBS Promotions Group, later called Peak Broadcasting. This group owns many of the local broadcast stations, including KMJ. It seems odd to me that the quality of local production was higher for KMJ and that KMJ had more high dollar advertisers; while KFPT kept playing the same two bumper songs and had mostly pathetic advertisers. Peak Broadcasting produced both stations out of the same building - could they be biased?

Of course they could.

When I heard that my station was going off the air, I started doing what I could to make up for it's loss. I described what I did in an open letter to Peak Broadcasting, which I'll reprint here:

========

Patty Hixson
Senior Vice President and General Manager, Peak Broadcasting
1071 West Shaw Avenue, Fresno, CA 93711
Patty.Hixson@PeakBroadcasting.com


Ms. Hixson,

I've pulled the old radio out of my car. It isn't worth keeping.

Instead I've replaced it with a newer model radio that accepts a USB connection and satellite radio. This morning, as usual, I listened to Stephanie Miller on my drive to work. Since KFPT is now off the air I did it using my USB drive.

I spent over $200 dollars to retrofit my clunky old Saturn with a new radio. Next month I'll spend $200 to sign up for XM satellite and to purchase a second portable satellite tuner for home. I subscribed to Stephanie Miller through her website for $60, and started downloading her podcasts.

Ms. Hixson, that's almost $500 - and I've completely weaned myself from radio in Fresno. I drive a lot, and listen to talk radio about 10 hours a week in my car, and another 10 hours a week in my garage woodshop.

I supported KFPT advertisers as I could - I purchased carpet from Big Bobs, and even changed my fast food preferences to include hot dogs. Unfortunately KFPT never seemed to cater to the progressive market. Ester C? What, did KFPT think I was as old as Larry King?

I'm a middle-aged Electrical Engineer who works for [redacted]; I have buying power. I'm interested in everything from computer systems to fishing tackle. It would have been pretty easy to advertise to me - but KFPT didn't even try. YOU didn't try. Instead, you said that:
The station is just not a core asset for Peak. It has not been making money, so it is difficult to have it continue.
I understand, Ms. Hixson, that perhaps your hands were tied in the matter of selecting advertisers. I have read the ABC Memo. [This memo shows that ABC blacklisted advertisers from progressive talk radio stations, against advertiser's wishes - Calladus] And of course it makes sense to scrap a radio station that you can't afford. But this doesn't mean that I'll be slipping into a different radio market to purchase from another advertiser - I've made sure of that. Local retailers will just have to discover different media to advertise to me. It won't be easy - I abhor television.

I'm angry - but I'm sure my little rebellion won't cause much loss of revenue for Peak Broadcasting. My voice just isn't that big, and my carping to my friends won't hurt your bottom line. Thank you for having KFPT on the air as long as you did - it certainly changed the way that I listen to radio. It just changed it so drastically that I can't go back.

Sincerely,

Mark B., Fresno

cc: my blog: The Calladus Blog

6 comments:

AmberKatt said...

This has been happening all over the country. I think it was Madison, WI, where the listener response was so huge (and so organized), that the format was changed back, but Ohio lost some progressive stations, and I know I've heard that others have gone down, too. And these were all stations that had good and growing ratings, and increasing ad revenues, and fanatically loyal listener bases.

The effect upon the 2006 elections that progressive radio had is purely coincidental. Really. It is. These are not the droids you are looking for. Move along now....

Calladus said...

I wish there was some sort of organization here in Fresno.

From what I've read, the Arbitron ratings for AM sports in Fresno have been consistently lower than that of KFPT over the last two years. Yet KFPT has been sold and the frequency will be converted to an ESPN clone?

The biggest mistake here is that progressives have been given a taste of talk radio with reality bias - I would guess that other stations will pop up. Of course, it will be difficult to fight blacklisting by advertisers or other media outlets.

ltr said...

Hi, I write a blog about liberal talk radio. And I've written a few articles about KFPT, including this one.

What happened is that Peak Broadcasting, which last year bought the station from CBS, recently sold it to Fat Dawgs 7, which owns a sports station in town. Part of the deal was that Fat Dawgs had to sign a non-compete clause, stating that they could not run a news/talk format on the signal that could compete against Peak's KMJ. A sports format was deemed acceptable. Progressive talk was not. Which didn't matter, since FD7 was going to do sports anyway.

I don't think this was a case of blatantly trying to silence progressive talk. Peak has been on a buying spree as of late, picking up Clear Channel and CBS stations all across the state, and casting off some of the stations they don't want or can't keep. FD7, for some reason, wanted another sports station.

I would suggest contacting other stations in town, particularly the ones that are doing crummy in the ratings. Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I worked with KFPT during it's progressive days. Your comments are mostly valid. The team that was tasked with it's programming was determined to make it a winning station. It was not CBS that turned the station. The blame should solely fall to Peak Broadcasting. It was meant to give a voice to progessive minded people in the area. Some of the programming local, most was syndicated (costs!). I can tell you, the fans/listeners of KFPT were the most loyal, caring and active listeners that I ever worked with. Thanks to those that listened. "Boo" to those that took it away. As for the "non-compete" clause, that is correct. The current owner (Chris Pacheco) is a hometown owner. He believes in Fresno and the marketing of local biz. Just my 2 cents.

Calladus said...

Hi Anon, thank you for your comment.

I still mourn for KPFT - but not so much anymore.

I use my portable satellite radio in my garage woodshop now. My old AM radio that used to be in there has been sidelined. I have an IPOD clone that I download Air America podcasts into via paid subscription.

It is too bad that local advertisers no longer have a reliable method of reaching me.

Calladus said...

Just an update...

I no longer use SAT radio of any sort. Podcasts are much cheaper, and I'm able to schedule them for when *I* want to listen to them.

NPR has an hourly news podcast, and several NPR programs that I find fascinating.

Plus there are lots and lots of shows out there, easy to find with the aggregator on my cell phone.

I never turn on my radio anymore. Between podcasts, Pandora, and MILK from Samsung, I'm set with great music and a wide range of audio content.