So Clear Channel San Diego has followed suit with other major radio markets in migrating a heritage AM news operation to FM, but with a local twist. Here, they’re dumping the country music format of KUSS and simulcasting. As a market “competitor” … well, theoretically at least … I should be happy that CC is removing one more outlet in favor of a two-fer. I’m sure the Midwest, CBS and Compass folks are. But as a citizen and therefore part owner of 600 AM, 95.7 FM, and every other frequency in the broadcast spectrum, I’m not pleased at all. I find it especially cynical that CC’s announcement, widely repeated in print and blogs, spins the shrinking and homogenization of San Diego programming as an improvement in service to the community. Quoting their media release…
“For the first time in 85 years on the air, San Diego’s AM600 KOGO is making a historic change in operations by becoming San Diego’s first News-Talk station to simulcast on FM radio at 95.7 FM, bringing more reach and value to the San Diego community.” The statement isn’t even accurate unless you remove the “KOGO” call letters which have only been in use for about 50 years and not even continuously during that period. It would come closer to making sense if they’d chosen the best FM signal for the job … Star 94.1, San Diego’s only 100k watt station (actually 77k at about 700 feet above average terrain).
The only truth in CC’s statement comes from the reality that at least a generation or two of people now won’t even listen to AM … in fact, basically, they don’t know what it is. Of course, the next generation of tweeting, texting, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3-playing podcast people may not acknowledge the existence of any form of live RF broadcasting, but that’s a different discussion. The cynicism of CC’s statement comes from the assumption that simulcasting an existing line of programming on a band more palatable to a demographic desirable to the sales department, while removing a stand-alone line of programming from the market, thus narrowing the pool of choice for San Diego listeners, is somehow a good thing.
What exactly is CC trying to say with this latest consolidation? That’s it’s scrambling to maintain a bottom line? That AM is no longer viable? That we’re better off with less than we had? That they don’t deserve some of the licenses they’ve leveraged? That we’re stupid?
Back when one person or company couldn’t own more than seven stations anywhere, let alone seven in the same market, every frequency assignment was precious and often contested at renewal time if there was a case to be made that the current owner was not operating “in the public interest” with this limited spectral resource. Those days were also the time of “mom and pop-ownership” when it was still economically feasible to actually contest a license.
But go ahead, CC. Simulcast KFI on KGB … XTRA Sports on Rock 105.3 or Star. Shrink the choice, the voices and the work force. Just be sure to put every remaining man-hour from your depleted ranks towards prettying up those Public Files. ‘Cuz 2012 is license renewal year in California.