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Why Just One Talk Station?

Can Philly support more than one talk station?
Tuesday, July 30th, 2002

A commentary about Philadelphia only having one major signal talk radio station.

Nobody, no site or group of listeners, has shown more support for Talk Radio (including our one remaining 50K watt talker, WPHT) than the people who participate in and support this website.  Having said that it is fair to examine the following question about the lack of choice in this market. 

Posted occasionally on Radio boards is this question,
"Can Philadelphia support more than one talk radio station?"  It is a legitimate question.  The answers vary but lately have been narrowed to one false premise, and that is that if one major station only draws around a 3.0 rating 12+ then, no, the city can't support another station with such a small listener base.  To say that "Nobody listens to talk anymore" ... Well, obviously, to me, that logic is faulty.
Here is why.

If you only consider today's relatively poor showing for the format of talk in Philly then you would falsely conclude that there are not enough potential listeners for 2 or even 3 mainstream talk stations.  However, if you consider the history over the past 15 years then you would see that the listener potential is easily triple today's numbers.  Ten years ago the late great FM talkers WWDB 96.5 was pulling, what? 5s and 6s?  They were #2 in Winter 1993 with a 7 for crying out loud. Their listeners didn't change, the station and owners did, repeatedly milking the revenue teat until it was dry.   WPHT has shown recently they can pull over a 4 without breaking a sweat.  Add into that the smaller stations and hot talk and you have a large pool of people interested in being entertained and informed by talk radio.  That is the constant.  Those people are still here and haven't changed much.  

What has changed are the listener's options and the perceived quality of programming.  It's as if  Chevy redesigned the Corvette with a 3 cylinder engine, sales plummet and the excuse for other car makers to stay OUT of the market is, "Well, look there aren't enough buyers of the Vette so there can't possibly be enough out there to support another sports car.  Many listeners feel, right or wrong, that the format they love is running on 3 cylinders.  Like sports car buyers they stay out of the market until something suits their fancy.  Many factors have effected change in Philly.  Syndication, Infomercials ( no matter what the economic sense) combine with other factors (like corporate bean counting over talent development for example) to degrade what was once a vibrant format.  It wasn't too long ago this country witnessed an explosion of talk stations after the "fairness doctrine" was ended.

Gone now across the land are the mentors of talk, pushed aside for cost cutting.  Also gone is the sense of value in local talk programming, replaced by mega- conglomerate McTalk.  That is not to say syndication is the problem, far from it.  Talkers like Rush and others inject a fresh perspective and Philly should definitely have access to such programming.  As I keep saying over and over the problem is not WHAT is on NOW but that there aren't ENOUGH stations for what COULD be on.  Philly has the listener base for more than one major signal talker.  This town likely will see more talk within a year.  One of the mega corporations could flip a signal to dump all it's syndicated shows into Philly or another owner might make use of it's investment in equipment and program talk.

Whatever happens the potential talk listeners are out there.  The trick is tapping into them.  Don't blame them for not tuning in.  Don't think it won't work because X station isn't pulling a 10 share.  Put on something people want to listen to and they will.  The past clearly shows this to be true.