Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Updated: In Light of Plummeting Ratings, KPFA Launches a New Morning Show

By Rachel Swan
Wed, May 16, 2012 at 2:30 PM

And thankfully, it's sort of like the old one. Former Morning Show host Brian Edwards-Tiekert, who was reinstated at KPFA last year after a protracted battle with station management, will host the new "Up Front" news show alongside Sonali Kolhatkar, producer of another morning show, Uprising, at sister station KPFK in Los Angeles. Up Front was formally approved on Monday and launches tomorrow at 7 a.m., and, much like Edwards-Tiekert's previous news program with Aimee Allison, it will feature local and state news coverage, interviews, and investigative reporting. According the Edwards-Tiekert and interim general manager Andrew Phillips, it's designed to pick up some of the slack for metro newspapers, some of which have been forced to slash their editorial budgets. It's being touted as the broadcast equivalent of a "news magazine."


But it will also hopefully translate into greater audience share for KPFA, at an incredibly crucial time of day. Ever since its last big shakeup in the fall of 2010, the station has booked a sequence of morning programs that seem calculated to alienate listeners. At 6 a.m., the start of the critical "morning drive" time that determines where many people set their radio dials for the rest of the day, it ran the audio feed for Al Jazeera News, which was a pretty bizarre choice — especially since it was often hard to tell who was speaking, in the absence of lower-third graphics from the TV broadcast. The critical 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. slots were reserved for Democracy Now, a perennially-popular program that gave the station little boost, since repeat broadcasts were aired only an hour apart from one another. Wedged between those was the Morning Mix show, a hodge-podge of five different shows that vary in quality. (Hosts include JR Valrey, Davey D, and 9/11 Truther activist Peter Phillips). Whereas most radio stations load their front-end broadcasts with programming that will have wide audience appeal, KPFA seemed to not understand and/or not care about growing its consumer base, or holding on to once-faithful fans.

Not surprisingly, listenership plummeted. Arbitron currently sets its Average Quarter-Hour rating for KPFA at .6 percent — that's a metric for listener loyalty, or what percentage of people stay on a station for more than 5 minutes in a 15 minute period. KPFA had an AQH rating of 2 a couple years ago, before the old morning show was dismantled. In some time slots, audiences have dropped off 30 or 40 percent since the last spate of programming changes, Edwards-Tiekert said.

Unfortunately, KPFA isn't entirely going back to the halcyon days of well-conceived, two hour morning shows, but it has made a few smart moves under Phillips' tutelage. Democracy Now will now air duplicate broadcasts at 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., which was the template two years ago, and which seems far enough apart to preclude listener drop-off. The Morning Mix Show isn't going anywhere, but at least you'll get livelier banter and intelligent reporting during your work commute.

And Up Front looks promising — on paper, at least. Hopefully it will also help pull KPFA out of an abysmal fund-raising period. Historically, Edwards-Tiekert has succeeded on that front, too.

Correction: Whoops: This blog post originally said that some parts of Al Jazeera English were left untranslated — they were actually all in English, though it was sometimes hard to tell who was speaking.

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