Despite Heidi Heitkamp on the Ballot, Joel Heitkamp’s Radio Station Lost 14 Percent in Ratings During Campaign Season


When you’re in the business of providing politically-themed content your audience can be very tied to the election cycle. During campaign season your audience peaks, after campaign season it falls off.

Which is frustrating because the point of campaigning is deciding who gets to make policy, and you’d think voters might want to stay tuned in to see how that turns out, right?

They don’t, because it’s not as exciting as the pie-throwing which goes on during the campaigns.

Anyway, if the audience for your political content goes down during the peak political season that’s…well that’s not good.

Yet that’s exactly what happened to KFGO, a radio station managed by talk radio host and brother to erstwhile U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp) Joel Heitkamp.

Under a headline boasting about the station’s rise back to the top of the Fargo/Moorhead radio market comes this unhappy news for the state’s Democrats, for whom KFGO is essentially a wing of their political party: “KFGO 790 AM had a share of 7.8 in the fall of 2018, down from 8.9 last spring, according to Nielsen.”

During campaign season, when Joel Heitkamp’s sister was literally on the statewide ballot, KFGO’s share of the market declined more than 14 percent.

As I understand it, pretty much the entire daytime lineup of KFGO is centered on politics, yet their audience didn’t go up during the election. It went down.

What’s worse, this has been a trend dating all the way back to 2012. This graph shows the Nielsen 12+ rating for KFGO from the Spring 2012 book to present:

You could argue, fairly, that things are tough for talk radio generally. Between satellite radio and streaming music and (ahem!) podcasts, there’s a lot of competition for the time Americans have to spend on listening to stuff. Radio doesn’t have nearly the monopoly it once did. And look, KFGO’s ratings fell 14 percent yet they still moved back to the top of their radio market.

That speaks to a trend having to do with more than KFGO’s content.

Still, the left wing talkers at KFGO can’t even get an election bump for their politically-themed content.

I suspect things are feeling a little ominous over there right now.

In terms of state politics, Republicans have long talked about the advantage Heidi Heitkamp had in her brother essentially running a propaganda operation for her in the state’s largest media market, but based on these numbers I’m not sure it was all that much of an advantage. It looks more like a liability.