Station that switched to sports-talk strikes out in first inning

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A format switch from news-talk to sports-talk at WXNT-AM 1430 has been like getting sacked on one’s own 5-yard line.

But the Entercom Communications Corp.-owned WXNT said the format change implemented Jan. 2 will take time to pay off.

Trying to gain ground on the field against the two existing sports-talk stations in the Indianapolis market drove WXNT’s audience down to a molecular-level 0.1 rating in each of the first three months of this year.

That compares with a 0.5 rating last October while still a news-talker, according to Arbitron ratings data for the first quarter.

In contrast, Emmis Communication Corp.’s WFNI-AM 1070 most recently had a 2.6 rating, while Clear Channel’s WNDE-AM 1260 sports talker had a 0.7 rating.

One rating point means 1 percent of the local audience tuned in at least once a week.

“Anytime you make a format switch like this without any real external marketing you flush out all the listeners who came for news-talk,” said program director J.R. Ammons.

Among those who left WXNT was local listener Mike Kole, a fan of conservative talk show host Neal Boortz.

Other syndicated hosts lost in this market due to the format change were Glenn Beck, Michael Smerconish, Dennis Miller and Alan Colmes. In 2011, WXNT dumped local talker Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, of whom Kole was also a fan.

“It was great of them to fulfill a need that didn’t exist,” Kole said tongue-in-cheek of Entercom’s addition of a third sports-talk station in the city.
Three stations with all-sports-all-the-time may seem excessive in a city this size, but you’d be surprised.

“I just read that Anchorage, Alaska [population 298,610], just got its third sports station,” said David Wood, director of talk programming at Emmis’ local stations, including WFNI.

“There are a lot of markets where it’s up to three now. It’s largely because of the networks that are available,” Wood added, pointing to ESPN, Fox and CBS radio networks.

WFNI carries ESPN programming, although most of its drive-time shows are locally hosted, including "The Grady & Big Joe Show," consisting of Joe Staysniak and Michael Grady.

WNDE also has local personalities, including Jake Query and Derek Schultz.

Newcomer WXNT carries CBS syndicated shows, with hosts including the cocksure sports oracle Jim Rome.

But Ammons said he’s looking at adding locally produced content, at least during drive-time hours, as WXNT further develops its new sports-talk format.

The station already carries Notre Dame games and Cincinnati Reds baseball.

“We’re looking at this as a long-term venture,” he said.

“They’re in a tough position just from a position of AMs that are underperforming around the country are just harder to bring back,” said Wood of WFNI, which earlier this year lassoed a so-called FM translator–essentially a simulcast of WFNI-AM being broadcast on 107.5 FM.

Interestingly, WFNI-AM fell to a 2.6 rating in March from 2.9 in February and 3.1 in January, according to Arbitron.

Whether the new FM version has stolen ears from the AM station, “it’s a little early to tell that yet. I think we’ll have a better read on that toward the end of the summer,” Wood said.

Actually, there had been three sports-talk stations before WXNT’s recent format switch.

Pilgrim Communications’ WXLW-AM 950 ran with the sports format for a decade until last September, when it switched to news-talk. That put more pressure on WXNT when it was a news-talk station. 

WXLW is now the AM mirror-image of Franklin-based news-talker WFDM-FM 95.9–“Freedom 95.” WXLW effectively extends the range of the Franklin-based FM station, whose signal can be spotty in the northern suburbs.


  • Good To Hear You Again!
    I immediately stopped listening to the old station when the gutted your program and never went back. WSJ in the morning?! Really??!! I was channel surfing last week and heard you on WIBC and its so refreshing to hear your banter again. Now if we can get the local government shaking again like you had them before it would be great. This Chicks on the Right slot should go to you AZ because listening to them is like listening to two high school girls gossiping on the phone in the middle of a movie....SHUT UP!..
  • Dennis Miller
    Please bring back Dennis Miller. Very sad when he was no longer on. I loved the old line-up. We don't need another sports show.
  • Not Really...
    Actually we were doing well and holding our own. We had the ears of the news makes and opinion leaders as evidenced by our last program. The decision to end the morning show was not made locally, but by a bean counter in Philadelphia. And the fact that my new venture IndyPolitics.Org is going strong into its 3rd year should tell you something.
    • Drive Home
      I miss the old 1430 format, but maybe we needed an additional sports station because the current programs on for the evening drive home on the other two stations are a joke. JMV is barely even a sports show. He just talks about himself. I can hardly stand it.
    • Talk Show
      Do we really need yet another sports station....I miss Dennis Miller and several of the other show hosts! Please bring them back...........
    • Missing Smerconish
      I'm a sports fan as well, but agree that there was already enough sports talk on the air. For anyone interested, Smerconish is now on satellite radio on the POTUS channel from 9-12pm and replayed from 6-9pm.
    • Local Politics
      The problem with WXNT's previous format was not that it was a news-talk format, but that there was no local angle. The only one that was close was Abdul Hakim-Shabazz, but people began to tune him out when he threw away his objectivity by becoming a mouthpiece for the Mayor.
      • Overload
        Broadcast management people have to put their positive spin on things even if they know they have an ugly pig in their stable. If the Colts are winning, a lot of people want to listen to other people talk about it. Most of the rest of the time, hearing mopes drone on and on about some player's abilities is of little interest to most people. There are much more important things going on to talk about. 4 stations doing sports talk, plus a couple more stations doing play by play equals an overload for the dumb masses.
      • Give them time
        I'm assuming this was a cash play by Entercom. CBS's payment more than offsets the lost revenue from the N/T format. The ratings are immaterial, as CBS needs clearance to be able to sell its national spots. I'll believe locality when I hear it on 1430. With locality comes expense, and a trimming of the CBS cash. The format change was about money not radio.
      • Best of luck
        I wish my former employer the best of luck, but I don't know anyone who still listens. It is sad because some great people still work there.
      • Sports/Talk Fail
        If you add all three total 12+ you still have a whole lot of nothing. Tragic, actually.
      • Good Sports Alternative
        I am enjoying the new cbs sports radio. Especially the MoJo (chris moore & brian Jones) show in the evenings. I find quality of local programming on other stations not as good as national shows (or local chicago stations) and love having another alternative to the over the top self promotion of the "four letter". This is new so I think programming will only improve as cbs sports evolves their new radio station.
      • Lack of effort
        Tough to win any listeners when you are not local, and your national content isn't better than any pre-existing choice. Simply flipping the switch to air CBS national is OK with me - another sports choice is better than another right wing/conservative radio station. But it will suffer a quiet death with the content they have now. Sad way to run a station. To me, it sounds like they aren't even trying. And I know someone there must be working to get it on the air, but outside of ex-WIBC morning show producer Dan Jensen voicing some stilted :30 or :60 sports promo/history spots, they have nothing to prove to a listener that they care...
      • Bring Back Talk Radio!
        I went on Christmas vacation and came back to find the talk station I LOVED had been replaced. I am also a sports fan, but there is no need for 24/7 sports coverage after football season and no sense in the decision to remove the only station that provided anything closed to balance in its broadcasting of talk radio. Smerconish and Combs were hard enough to find on that one station.....now I have nowhere to turn. Bring back BALANCED talk radio!!!
      • Dennis Miller
        Agreed. I miss Dennis Miller. And Smerconish (sp?). But really Dennis Miller. Something has been lacking since they switch to sports. Plus, when Garrison goes off 93.1 at noon, and that idiot Rush comes, we need somewhere to go. Somebody please put Miller on somewhere in the Indianapolis market.
      • Signal is weak
        I tried to listen to a Cincinnati Reds broadcast thru headphones mowing my lawn in Bargersville. 1430 couldn't punch thru the static, but another station 100 miles away was clearer, that being WLW 700 AM
      • Market Void
        Bring back Dennis Miller! He has such a unique way to verbalize a topic and make it interesting and one that the listener can relate too and understand.
      • Also
        The content WXNT is providing (CBS Sports Radio) just start broadcasting in January and they will need some "fine tuning" of some of their on air personality line up in my opinion. The weekend hosts seem to be better than their weekday lineups (particularly the weekday morning crew--yikes!). Of course nowadays, internet radio allows you to listen to just about anyone you want, regardless if they're in your market area.
      • The Old Way!
        I miss the old format! I like listening to talk radio and can not stomach Rush! Smerconish & Miller were excellent listening and I have no interest in another Sports Station.
      • WXNT
        The switch from News Talk to Sports was in a nutshell: Stupid. Sports is already covered as noted in your article and there is no need to add another station in the sports mix. Talk radio is not fully covered here in Indianapolis. This was a bad business decision on the part of ownership and management.
      • Welcome WXNT
        WXNT is a welcome choice, especially 9 to 12am, and 3 to 6pm. Men are slowly refinding 1430am after removing that button in its dreadful previous format.

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