Joel Heitkamp’s Ratings Problems Are Very, Very Real


Last week I wrote a post about the ratings problems talk show host Joel Heitkamp is facing.

Today my colleague, former Heitkamp employee Mike McFeely, has a column suggesting I got it all wrong.

“His thesis was that despite Joel’s sister being a statewide story every day as she ran a U.S. Senate campaign to keep her seat, Joel’s radio station was tanking,” McFeely wrote, referring to my post. “Except that it’s not.”

He goes on to cite ratings numbers which show Heitkamp’s show is still #1 in the Fargo region, even out performing nationally syndicated talker Rush Limbaugh. But McFeely is talking past my argument, not addressing it.

I don’t dispute that Joel Heitkamp still has the top ratings in his market. My point was that during an election cycle when his sister was on the statewide ballot, and consistently in the national news as the incumbent in one of the hottest congressional races in the country, Heitkamp lost audience.

And not an insignificant amount of audience, either. During the 2018 election year, the ratings for Heitkamp’s radio station declined more than 24 percent from the last pre-election year ratings book:

That is not good! If you host a politically-themed talk show, your ratings should go up during an election year. Especially when, again, your sister is a United States Senator involved in one of the most closely-watched races in the country.

Worse for Heitkamp, who manages KFGO, is his decline is part of a larger trend dating all the way back to 2012, when his sister Heidi Heitkamp first won election to the Senate. From Spring of 2012 to Fall of 2018, KFGO has lost roughly half of its audience in the 12+ demographic:

I could paint an even more grim picture for you if I could share some of the detailed ratings figures for Heitkamp’s show, specifically. I can’t, because they’re proprietary and my source wasn’t authorized to share them with me, but suffice it to say that Heitkamp’s audience is dying. Literally. They’re moving up the age demographic brackets, and those brackets only go so high.

McFeely’s column doesn’t address any of this. He only adds the context that ratings for other hosts (including the two of us, since we were hosts on WDAY through the end of last year) were lower than Heitkamp’s.

And, hey, fine. I’m actually proud of the numbers I put up at WDAY, almost keeping pace with McFeely despite being a conservative talk radio host up against Rush-frickin-Limbaugh in my time slot. But if you want to think I suck, go ahead and think that.

It doesn’t change the decline of Joel Heitkamp’s audience one iota.