Bill Virgin's Radio Beat September 13, 2007

Includes archive of Bill Virgin's columns fromJ une 2006 - March 2009

Bill Virgin's Radio Beat September 13, 2007

Postby radiofan » Wed Sep 12, 2007 7:39 pm

On Radio: KIRO-AM may get a new 'Nightside' approach

Radio faces a problem at night. Competition from TV and the Internet draws off many of its listeners. In Seattle, if the Mariners are playing (and playing well), there goes a large chunk of any remaining radio audience.

· Seattle area radio station listings
So what to do? Continue with a conventional approach? Put some syndicated programming on? Be happy with whatever audience tunes in, or write off the time slot as a lost cause?

Maybe there's another way -- try something completely different. That's the approach being taken by Bonneville International, which has launched in its home city of Salt Lake a five-hour nighttime radio show called, fittingly, "Nightside Project."

Some of that experiment could make an appearance on Bonneville's KIRO-AM (710), for several reasons: Bonneville executives have said they plan to introduce "Nightside Project" to other cities where it has stations, one of the architects of the program's start-up in Salt Lake is now program director at KIRO, and KIRO is in the midst of trying to figure out what to do with its nighttime schedule, having recently gone through a shake-up.

In one sense "The Nightside Project" isn't a terribly radical concept for radio. Between its reports, interviews and commentary on hard news and pop culture, it sounds much like a typical morning show, albeit one that is a cross between National Public Radio and what a commercial-radio host like KZOK-FM's Bob Rivers does. What is different for radio is trying that approach at night.

"We just threw it all in the bag, and shook it to see what came out," says Rod Arquette, currently KIRO's program director and previously with Bonneville's KSL-AM/FM in Salt Lake. "We had no template." Instead the station hired "a group of bright young journalists" and let them experiment. "We succeeded at some, failed at others."

Experiment is not far off the mark to describe what Bonneville is doing. Arquette says the investment the company made was "research and development money."

"The Nightside Project" marks the convergence of several trends for Bonneville specifically and radio generally. First, Arquette says KSL used to do multiple hours of evening sports talk, much like KIRO has done over the years. But with the emergence of all-sports talk competition, Bonneville management decided there was little point in duplicating that.

Next, Bonneville was in the process of adding its AM news and talk format to the FM dial in cities such as Salt Lake, Washington, D.C., and Phoenix, and in doing so began wondering if simply simulcasting AM programs on FM was the right approach.

That in turn brought up another question: How to reach the desirable but elusive 18-to-34 market, which likely wouldn't find a traditional approach appealing. To connect with that audience requires a show "with a little bit of an attitude," Arquette says, and "The Nightside Project" tries to deliver that.

Bonneville says it's pleased enough with "The Nightside Project" to date to place parts of the show in several other markets.

That could include Seattle, but when and in what format hasn't been decided. KIRO is still looking for a permanent host for its evening program hosted by New York Vinnie. Arquette says he has "several people who have expressed interest" in that slot.

"We're live (and local) until 1 a.m.," he adds. "I want to stay that way." Arquette says the plan is to develop a new show at 7-10 p.m., with Frank Shiers handling 10 p.m.-1 a.m.

Several hours of "The Nightside Project" could debut in the overnight slot in Seattle as a sort of beta test, Arquette says (the first hour or so of the show focuses on Salt Lake topics, but the rest is national in scope, so it would work in Seattle).

Whether Bonneville would ever duplicate "The Nightside Project" in a market like Seattle with a local cast will depend on whether the show can attract listeners and advertisers and generate revenue. "It's expensive to do; we hired a lot of people," he says. But elements of "The Nightside Project" approach could be incorporated in whatever evening show KIRO comes up with, he added.

In other radio notes:

Author Judy Blume is the guest on "Weekday" at 10 a.m. Friday on KUOW-FM (94.9).

Jazz pianist Michael Camillo performs live in the studios of KPLU-FM (88.5) at 12:20 p.m. Friday.

Khazak performs on "Sonarchy" at midnight Saturday on KEXP-FM (90.3).

Jim French's "Imagination Theatre" salutes its 600th week of broadcasting with a new production, "The Heart of Frankenstein," at 8 p.m. Sunday on KIXI-AM (880).

Jazz singer Karrin Allyson performs live in KPLU-FM's studios at 12:20 p.m. Wednesday.

P-I reporter Bill Virgin can be reached at 206-448-8319 or

Bill Virgin's Radio Beat every Thursday in the Seattle P-I
Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who couldn't hear the music.
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