Bill Virgin's Radio Beat March 27, 2008

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

Bill Virgin's Radio Beat March 27, 2008

Postby radiofan » Wed Mar 26, 2008 7:27 pm

On Radio: Business stations are tough sell in Seattle
By BILL VIRGIN
P-I REPORTER


Just about every big story is a business story these days: oil prices, housing prices, the stock market's gyrations, the economy and prospects of a recession.

Cable and satellite television viewers have multiple choices of channels specifically devoted to those topics: CNBC, the new Fox Business channel and Bloomberg TV.

Scattered around the radio dial are radio shows devoted to the same topics, from nationally syndicated investment and personal-finance talk hosts like Clark Howard, Bruce Williams, Bob Brinker and Ray Lucia to public radio's "Marketplace."

But nationally, there are just 25 stations with business news as their primary format, according to M Street Publications, which tracks the radio industry. None of those are in Seattle.

As recently as 2004, Seattle had a business station and, for a short time in the late 1990s, it had two. What was then KEZX-AM/1150 shifted to a soul/R&B format in 1998, the same year that KNWX-AM/770 went from all-news to a business format. Eventually the latter station's owner moved the call letters and format to 1210, then sold the station. It now has a Spanish-language music format.

So why aren't there more business-talk stations?

"It's so, so narrow of a niche," says Scott Sutherland, market manager for Bonneville International, whose local properties include KIRO- AM/710 and KTTH-AM/770.

"It takes a special type of person to listen to that around the clock," adds Tom Cock, an educator with Seattle-based money management firm Merriman Berkman Next. Cock co-hosts "Sound Investing," heard at 10 a.m. Sunday on KVI-AM/570, as well as on stations in Wenatchee, Phoenix and Palm Springs.

Cock once owned a Spokane radio station that had a business format and before that worked at KEZX when it, too, featured business and investment programming. "It had its moments in Seattle," says Cock, recalling the crowds that radio host Don McDonald would draw when he came to town.

But "because it was such a narrow niche, people had trouble selling it," he adds. That led to selling blocks of time rather than spots, which in turn "watered down the quality" of the format.

The Internet and its wealth of resources for tracking business and investing news have claimed many of the listeners who might otherwise tune in business/financial radio, Sutherland adds. News-talk stations like KIRO do carry business headlines.

"The majority of people just want the general information," he says.

Sports is a niche in the talk market, too, but the enthusiasm for teams and time spent tuned in more than makes up for that. "People listen forever," Sutherland says.

In other radio notes:

Don Riggs' guests on "Introspect Northwest" at 6 a.m. Sunday on KMPS-FM/94.1 and 9 a.m. Sunday on KPTK-AM/1090 include Larry Sager, author of a memoir on cab driving, "No Guns, No Knives, No Personal Checks."

Lizz Sommars' guests on "Conversations" at 6 a.m. Sunday on KISW-FM/99.9, KKWF- FM/100.7 and KMTT-FM/103.7 and 7 a.m. Sunday on KNDD- FM/107.7 include Jonathan Javitt, author of a thriller on genetically modified foods, "Capitol Reflections."

P-I reporter Bill Virgin can be reached at 206-448-8319 or billvirgin@seattlepi.com.

Bill Virgin's Radio Beat, Thursdays 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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