Bill Knight | AM-1290 regrettably WIRLs over to the right

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BILL KNIGHT

BILL KNIGHT

When I turned on the kitchen radio, I was startled: Opposite Day? Bizarro world? A Russian hack?

Expecting reliable WIRL-AM 1290’s enjoyable, pleasantly distracting classic tunes, I heard Sean Hannity.

Days before, the oldies station had quietly become another conservative talk station, simulcasting Fox and similar opinions from WPBG-HD3/W240DM instead of oldies (which survive as “102.7 Superhits” on W274BM/WPBG-HD2, which neither my kitchen nor car get).

Besides afternoons’ Hannity — who in March bragged about helping Russian propagandists by coming up with the “Biden is weak” criticism and days later said the United States should demand Ukraine’s natural resources if military aid is provided to the embattled nation — WIRL’s lineup now has Marc Levin in the early evening and Jim Bohannon late nights.

It’s a regrettable change from a WIRL that had been the home of personalities including Robyn Weaver, Lee Ranson, Lee Malcolm, Ron Thorn, Gene Konrad and Marc Truelove, and reporters ranging from Tom McIntyre to Beth McGloth and Ed Hammond.

WIRL owner Midwest Communications, which bought the station in 2019 as part of Alpha Media’s cluster of stations, is a family-owned operation headquartered in Wausau, Wis., run by CEO Duke Wright. The corporation has more than 80 stations in 18 markets in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

Nielsen’s most recent book rated WIRL a 1.1% share of people 12 years old and up listening between 6 a.m. and midnight. Excluding three Bloomington-Normal stations and a Chicago station that reach Peoria, there were 15 stations formatted as Adult Contemporary, classic hits, classic rock, rhythmic classic hits, oldies, two news/talk, two country, rock, Contemporary Hit Radio, rhythmic Contemporary Hit Radio, Alternative, sports, and gospel. WSWT-FM (one of six Midwest Communications stations in Peoria) led with a 9.8% share.

One long-time employee explained that radio executives are looking for a variant of the late Rush Limbaugh and/or new audiences.

“It’s not ideology, like Sinclair [Broadcast Group],” he said. “It was a business decision, looking at potential, and using the 5,000-watt signal to reach rural listeners. Bottom line: It’s about money.”

Frankly, almost all commercial media operate under a business model of delivering audiences to advertisers, more than providing news, music, entertainment or nonsense.

Duke Wright has made political contributions to the industry lobby the National Association of Broadcasters, according to the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics, which also reports that individual Midwest Communications stations have made campaign contributions to Republican candidates in Michigan and Wisconsin, but no Democrats.

Not all Peoria radio veterans are celebrating, similar to CBS-TV staffers’ shock at the “Tiffany network” hiring former Trump official Mark Meadows as a contributor despite Meadows’ roles in withholding aid to Ukraine and in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Another employee conceded that the change may end up losing listeners because the conservative talk format usually has an audience that’s about three-fourths male and older than advertisers’ top target audience of adults 18-49.

I’m not whining about content; I’m all for a variety of voices, but where’s the station for liberal talk? There are options for formats not available over Peoria AM/FM airwaves — easy listening/Big Band, Broadway show tunes/movie soundtracks, New Age/New Wave, Americana-folk/indie, ethnic (Irish, Italian, Caribbean, Latin …) — hopefully presented by local people who know the community their licenses supposedly serve.

Unfortunately, the industry for years has abandoned not just the Fairness Doctrine but traditional broadcasting for “narrowcasting” — slicing and dicing demographics to draw assorted ages, genders, etc. in isolation rather than a diverse community of neighbors. Some shows and stations are nice outliers, like WMBD’s early-morning “Greg & Dan Show” and middays’ “Markley, Van Camp & Robbins Show,” and WCBU-FM 89.9 (disclosure: Community Word has a relationship with the public-radio station). But they’re literally exceptional.

For a Narrowcasting Overload, Nielsen reports that streaming services offer more than 800,000 programs.

Programming needn’t be either/or, but both/and. Radio used to be a common ground, with a range of material for many tastes, For instance, Billboard No. 1 songs in 1964 were by the Beatles and Louis Armstrong, the Supremes and Dean Martin, the Beach Boys and Roy Orbison, the Shangri-Las and Bobby Vinton.

With apologies to poet T. S. Eliot, sometimes things end “not with a bang but a whimper.”

The post Bill Knight | AM-1290 regrettably WIRLs over to the right appeared first on The Community Word.

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May 1, 2022 at 09:44PM

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