Another Talker On FM – Not Here, Yet

The latest FM station to convert to a news/talk format really isn’t a new “conversion”, but a return for them.

Radio & Records Online reports that Entercom talk WWL/870 New Orleans has returned to having an FM simulcast. It’s now promoting “WWL on FM” on former oldies outlet WTKL/105.3 Kenner LA.

We call it a return, because the station was a vital link for news and information in the period immediately after Hurricane Katrina…when WWL’s programming, coming out of a Clear Channel studio in Baton Rouge, was heard on a large number of both Entercom and Clear Channel FMs in New Orleans and beyond…including FM 105.3. The station returned to the “Kool” oldies format, until being brought back into a permanent WWL simulcast this week.

Why do we bring this up? We’ll continue to bring you word of conversion of poor performing FM stations to talk and news/talk formats across the country, as we believe it’s the very early phase of what will become a very big trend.

And companies like Entercom and Bonneville are doing quite well with the idea. Bonneville moved its top-rated all-news WTOP in Washington DC to a primary FM signal recently, and is simulcasting flagship talker KSL/1160 Salt Lake City on an FM signal. Entercom has an FM simulcast of popular Boston sports talker WEEI on the air in Providence, and will put another FM WEEI simulcast up in western Massachusetts soon.

And we’ve already talked about not only CBS Radio’s attempts (heh) to mount “Free FM” talkers in major markets nationwide, but Clear Channel’s FM talk success in nearby Pittsburgh (WPGB/104.7), as well as a new Clear Channel FM talker in Minneapolis.

There’s another reason even existing powerful AM news/talk stations are moving to add FM signals. WWL’s evening talk team – on the air right now – says the reason the station added the FM simulcast was due to building penetration in downtown offices…a problem even for a 50,000 watt flamethrower like WWL.

Back in Northeast Ohio, we’ve detailed rumors – without much fact supporting them – that either Clear Channel or CBS Radio will mount a talk FM station at some point in the Cleveland market. Perhaps the biggest obstacle stopping that is simple – neither company really has an FM station currently in trouble in Cleveland.

You can make your arguments for flipping, say, WMVX/106.5 to talk, but there’s no evidence that it’s in big trouble. You could talk about CBS Radio fulfilling the rumors of a “Free FM” talker in the market, but their all-talk morning replacement for Howard Stern is not exactly burning up the dial on classic rock WNCX/98.5.

The typical FM station that gets changed to a talk format is a station that’s been through a number of format changes…from urban AC to smooth jazz to other formats that aren’t “front of mind”. None of the local Clear Channel or CBS stations fit that profile. Every single one of ’em has been in or near their current format for years. (We say “near”, because of WXRK/92.3’s recent format adjustment within the alt-rock realm.)

But…it will happen. Someday. Talk will continue to move to FM, and it will end up on FM in Cleveland somewhere. To prove the success of talk radio on FM, all Cleveland’s radio suits have to do is look down I-77, and check out the long ratings success record of WNIR/100.1 in the Akron market…

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