They call Missouri the “Show Me State.”
But when it comes to sports radio in its capital city, listeners have become preoccupied with other things last year – a lot of them.
Data released by Arbitron shows that listenership of sports talk radio among three radio stations has hemorrhaged in 2012, going from a combined 13.5 share of the 25-54 male demographic in January of that year, to 5.6 this January – a drop of nearly 60%. The sports radio leader in the market, KXOS/101.1 FM – the only FM sports station in St. Louis – had squandered over half of its share during that period (10.2 to 4.8), while KFNS/”590 The Fan” went from 3.2 to 0.7 – a loss of over 75%. KFNS’ sister station, KXFN/”1380 The Fan 2,” remained languishing at a 0.1 share.
The alarming thing to keep in mind is that there is mostly local programming between these three stations during main dayparts; on ESPN Radio affiliate KXOS, only the “Mike And Mike” morning show is cleared, while programming on Yahoo! Sports Radio-affiliated KFNS and Fox Sports Radio-affiliated KXFN is entirely local during the day, with KXFN’s content being brokered.
Locally, 2012 was a busy year in St. Louis sports, with the Cardinals defending their World Series title, and the Rams hiring new head coach Jeff Fisher. It was also active on the media side, as longtime KFNS host Kevin Slaten was ousted amid assault charges against the station’s operations director; while Rams general manager Les Snead, who hosts a weekly spot on KXOS, became engaged to Kara Henderson, who left NFL Network as a result of her nuptials. 2012 was also the year in which Fox broadcaster Joe Buck co-hosted middays on KFNS as a possible precursor to a new podcast venture, which apparently never got off the ground.
Among the individual local hosts, KXOS’ afternoon drive team of Randy Karraker, D’Marco Farr and Chris Duncan, which was then the top-rated sports radio show in the Gateway City, lost over half of its share year-to-year (11.0 to 4.9), with KXOS’ late morning host Zach McCrite seeing the biggest drop among talent on the station, dropping from an 8.0 last January to a paltry 2.5 this January.
In fact, the new highest-rated sports radio program in St. Louis is the aforementioned “Mike And Mike” – a national show. Karraker, Farr and Duncan remain the top local sports radio show.
As far as local fare on the “Fans” during the day, only KFNS’ morning trio of Tim McKernan, Doug Vaughn and Jimmy “The Cat” Hayes was able to retain upwards of a 1 share, while still managing to remain the leading draw on “590 The Fan.” The station’s afternoon duo of Howard Balzer and Andy Strickland has saw their share cut to a mere fragment (0.5) of its previous 3.0 share.
And over on “The Fan 2,” less than half of their shows are able to muster even a 0.1 share. In fact, at one point last year, KXFN’s share was so low, it could not be registered in one of Arbitron’s monthly PPM books.
“The St. Louis market is overpopulated with all-sports stations,” said Frank Absher, historian of St. Louis’ leading spoken word station, KMOX – which just a couple of years ago, retained local broadcast rights to Cardinals baseball, after the team’s ownership deal with KTRS fell flat. “[It’s] too much… the pie isn’t big enough to keep all of them afloat.”
Slaten, who this past Friday began hosting afternoon drive on KQQZ, a suburban classic country station owned by an entity called “Insane Broadcasting Company” – which is ironic, given Slaten’s past – complains about the approach that other sports radio hosts have taken in recent years.
“What you have is more man-talk,” lamented Slaten. “I don’t think you can win anymore unless you do (“man-talk”)… I don’t think the all-sports format works anymore.
“You have lame people on the air who all say the same thing,” he continued, while boasting that “my show will be the only one that has any sports” on the local radio dial.
Meanwhile, Kathryn Pavelonis, in charge of the low-rated “Fan” tandem, remained optimistic, acknowledging that so far this year, “our sales… are way up.” She added: “I don’t know how you can have ‘the best sports city in America’ and not have strong sports radio.”
The fact that out of all the local offerings, the best sports radio show in St. Louis is ESPN Radio’s “Mike And Mike,” speaks volumes.
So will a format flip for one of the market’s three all-sports stations, perhaps one of the “Fans,” both of which had been plagued by malfunctioning computer equipment, be in the works? Don’t count on it. Markets such as Denver and Houston have thrived with at least four sports radio stations coexisting. Even if one of St. Louis’ sports stations had to jettison local talk and switch to satellite programming, the format should remain.
In fact, KFNS/KXFN’s parent company recently undertook a large amount of capital that will be invested into the immediate future of the stations. What’s more, Pavelonis acknowledged that a new “Macdaddy” website will be launched for the “Fan” stations in the coming weeks.
Anything other than “should put the lineup on this page”, a message currently displayed on what should be the schedule page on KFNS’ website, would be an improvement.
As for St. Louis sports talk radio on the whole, it’s in dire need of improvement if two hosts based in Bristol, Connecticut is your highest-rated sports radio show.