Readers in the Fargo area tell me they’ve noticed a drop off in the number of callers to left-wing talk shows hosted by Joel Heitkamp (brother to US Senator Heidi Heitkmap) and Mike McFeely. They were wondering if those shows had seen a drop off in the ratings.
While I’m a frequent guest on talk radio, and I’ve done some guest hosting too, I don’t pay a lot of attention to ratings, and I honestly don’t know a ton about how they work. I’ve also never spent any time listening to Heitkamp or McFeely (I’ve never found a lot of news value there), so I can’t speak to what’s going on with their shows.
Still, the question intrigued me, so I put out some feelers. I contacted the folks at Nielsen, who conduct the Arbitron surveys, and Communications Analyst Kevin Lee provided me with this data which shows that KFGO, the flagship station for both Heitkamp and McFeely’s shows, did lose some numbers in the latest book.
A 23 percent decline to be specific, according to the report issued late last month:
This drop in numbers could fairly be attributed to the political cycle. Both Heitkamp, who is on from 9-11 in the morning, and McFeely, on from 2-5 in the afternoon, host shows that are heavy on politics, and 2012 was an election year. During the spring of 2013 the state legislature was in session. In the fall of 2013 not much was going on in the political world, and so you’d expect audience to drop off (SAB’s traffic drops during that time too).
But I got some additional numbers for specific demographics from an industry source that prefers to remain unnamed, and they are really, really bad.
“KFGO took a punch in the face hard,” is how one radio industry source put it to me.
What you’re looking at are age demographic break downs for KFGO for the Fargo metro area (MSA) and the larger North Dakota/Minnesota region.
In the 12+ demographic (which is the total number), KFGO lost nearly 30 percent of its audience in the Fargo metro and about 22 percent in the region. The numbers are largely unchanged for the 18+ demographic, but in the 25-54 demographic the lost more than half of their audience in the metro, and 36 percent in the region.
I’m told by people who know these numbers better than I do that the 25-54 demographic si the “money demographic.” And I don’t think it takes a broadcast industry expert to conclude that losing half your audience in the “money demographic” in your home market is something more than a post-political cycle slump.
But to be fair, I’m told that sometimes these numbers see wild swings. In smaller markets like Fargo the numbers are still gathered through the use of surveys, and the samples aren’t always very large. Radio insiders tell me that the most accurate picture will come after a couple of more books to make sure this drop in numbers isn’t the result of a skewed sample.
Still, everyone I’ve spoken to in the broadcast/advertising community tells me these numbers are setting off alarm bells for KFGO. Especially coming as they do after Heitkamp and McFeely lost their statewide syndication deal with Clear Channel-owned KFYR radio. I guess Heitkamp has been picked up again on stations in Bismarck and Williston, but I have no idea what his numbers are in those areas.
Speaking of which, I’ve requested numbers for the Bismarck area for KFYR, where conservative Scott Hennen has replaced Heitkamp. I’ll follow up when I get those.
Update: Here are the Bismarck-area ratings. KFYR, which replaced Heitkamp with Hennen, seems to be holding even.