Don’t blame Bain Capital for WGST’s collapse

If you are of a certain age and tuned to WGST this morning, only to hear an ESPN announcer talk about sports – in Spanish, a small part of you died.

In the 1980s and for several years beyond, WGST was one of the most influential news outlets in Atlanta, with a large staff of reporters that included Denis O’Hayer (now with WABE), Bill Edge (now a spokesman for the state Public Service Commission) and Tammy Lloyd.

Where have you gone, Tammy?

Me? In the ‘60s and ‘70s, before I left for UGA, my college football team was Georgia Tech. Which meant Saturdays with Al Ciraldo and WGST. (Musically, the station was less than revolutionary — in an age of rock, “The Lettermen” was a programming favorite.)

Many of you talk-radio enthusiasts have posited that WGST’s collapse is a result of machinations by Clear Channel owner Bain Capital and – by inference – the GOP presidential nominee.

Not so, explains Eric Seidel.

In a note making the rounds in Atlanta and elsewhere, the former WGST station manager explains what happened:

I’ve been getting questions about the latest iteration of WGST. If you’re not in Atlanta, WGST is a station owned and operated by Clear Channel.

It’s primarily an AM station (it does have a weak FM simulcast), although it was, at one time, a very competitive AM/FM combination. That specific FM simulcast was removed in 1999, or so.

I was station manager there for 10½ years, leaving to start my own business in 1997.

Its format was converted last week from newstalk to ESPN’s Spanish language, all-sports network.

[I]f you are not familiar with WGST, in the late 80s and much of the 90s, it was a thriving newstalk station with a significant amount of influence in the metro Atlanta market. Playing to the realities of the market, WGST targeted the large conservative-listening audience, running the Rush Limbaugh syndicated show. And it was Sean Hannity’s second radio job—strictly as a locally-originated host—before he went national, first with Fox News Channel and his own syndicated radio show, based in NYC.

I’ve seen some statements on Facebook bemoaning the fact that Clear Channel is now owned by Bain Capital, and that’s the reason for WGST’s demise.

Wrong! Bain is the private owner of Clear Channel. But WGST’s demise started years ago, before even Clear Channel bought the station. The owner before CC was Jacor Communications, based in Cincinnati. For me, working with and for Jacor was a great experience.

But Jacor was one of the original consolidators when Federal law changed and radio groups could harvest huge numbers of radio stations. Once that happened, the [publicly held] broadcasting companies became much larger, and much more beholden to Wall Street. Bean counters took on greater importance and programming, especially at the local level, was reduced in importance in direct proportion to the importance of finance departments.

Certainly, before consolidation, we believed in making a profit, but creative, intelligent risk-taking programming was behind the wheel of our bus. Jacor encouraged its programmers being on the edge and leading the way for the industry. We were constantly told that programming would lead the way and, done well, sales would follow. It was an unusual, unique attitude, but it worked.

The ebb and flow of the economy forced us to make cuts as necessary over the years, of course, but the programming always was paramount and protected.

And then came the Internet and all the various technological strides that were swept in with it. Syndication took wing. With music formats radio groups could have one announcer do the voice tracks for shows on any number of stations.

News and newstalk formats are the most expensive formats for the simple reason that they are people-intensive. Syndication made sense to meet cost efficiencies. News departments were either reduced in size or dismantled.

Today, a major market station in a radio group often does the local news for stations the group owns in other markets, typically within the geographical region. For instance, Clear Channel’s Tampa newstalk station has been doing newscasts for a number of their stations in other Florida markets. Those other stations might have one or two reporters who feed stories into Tampa that are then played in the smaller station’s “local” newscast.

Further, AM radio has been losing audience for years. Nationally, AM accounts for about 18-20% of the listening audience, and most of those listeners are beyond desirable demographics for advertisers. You may have noticed that many AM stations today, especially with news and newstalk (even sportstalk) formats are gravitating to FM. It only makes sense; that’s where most of the audience is, especially the demographically attractive listeners.

This is some of what led to WGST’s eventual surrender. But there are other reasons, as well. Losing its first FM frequency simulcast was a big blow. WGST’s AM signal, especially at night and in the first hours of morning drive, is very limited. Our FM simulcast (at 105.7) gave us significant coverage in the northern suburbs where much of our desired audience resided. The FM addition was a big boost to our audience. But, Clear Channel decided to yank that signal and make it a music station.

The Atlanta Braves were very important to us, too. We got the rights to the Braves just as their 14-year run in the post season was getting started. But, we lost the Braves after the 1994 season and that definitely was a hit to listenership.

However, our news and talk lineups still were solid. We had a superlative news staff that was aggressive, and clearly separate from our talk programming, as it should’ve been. And, we had solid talk talent, too. But panic set in after the Braves left us. And the result was, looking back, the beginning of the end.

WGST kept changing in big, and even small, ways and newstalk stations cannot survive like that. They are habit and appointment listening stations. Newstalk listeners feel very possessive of their stations.

They feel like the station is part of their family, and they do not like a lot of change. Constant change creates churn. That, coupled with no FM simulcast, were a prescription for disaster. Plus, the market has a fair amount of newstalk competition, and the big dog is WSB Radio, with a big signal, an FM simulcast, and deep pockets.

A relatively recent addition of a much weaker FM simulcast (92.3) to WGST (640 AM) was way too little, and way too late.

The signal weaknesses and constant change aren’t good for advertisers, either. And, yes, profit is important, even if Bain Capital were not involved.

So, years of questionable programming decisions played a major role in leading WGST to where it is today. Looking back, WGST was not the only victim of poor programming decisions. At one time, Clear Channel owned three great brands in Atlanta: WGST (a/k/a “The News Monster), WPCH (Peach) and WKLS (96 Rock). All three have been blown up.

In other words, don’t blame Mitt Romney. You can reach Seidel, who now operates a media training firm, by clicking here.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

For instant updates, follow me on Twitter, or connect with me on Facebook.

60 comments Add your comment

cc

October 1st, 2012
7:00 pm

I read it, but I still don’t believe it! Jim actually has a piece which is neither pro-Democrat nor anti-Romney. While this column does not in any way praise Romney via Bain Capital, it is a “call off the dogs” piece, and I do appreciate Jim providing this column to his readers.

Thanks again, Jim.

Former WGST Devotee

October 1st, 2012
7:07 pm

Atlanta Radio NEEDS “The Kimmer” back on its airwaves.

radioGuy

October 1st, 2012
7:10 pm

Goodbye and RIP to WGST, a once great news and talk station

boib

October 1st, 2012
7:10 pm

Forrest Sawyer is another alum. I remember listening to an hour long newscast at 6pm in the late 70s on the way home from school. Haven’t listened since it became mostly talk and hardly any news.
It seems the more companies strive for profits, the less the consumer is served.
Maybe Spanish speaking sports fans are happy :)

Kris

October 1st, 2012
7:33 pm

RIP WGST.

I reserve the right to at a later time blame smutty. Will the last English speaking engineer please check the tower lights.

Reggie

October 1st, 2012
7:33 pm

Since we are talking politics! That argument “it was freeaked up when we got here” is inconsistent with the current Mitt’s argument against current”The President Of the United States”, You necks are funny!!

CB

October 1st, 2012
7:35 pm

There is a pent up demand for either a balance or a progressive format. The right wing propaganda is too toxic. I am considering satellite radio to get a better perspective on what is going on.

cc

October 1st, 2012
7:44 pm

“There is a pent up demand for either a balance or a progressive format.”

Don’t kid yourself; if that format was profitable, radio stations would have jumped on it years ago. For you lefties, just tune in your local PBS radio station. We conservatives have to help fund via our tax dollars your proggie views.

Austin Rhodes

October 1st, 2012
7:47 pm

Holy cow…this is the guy who handed Boortz and Clark Howard to WSB on a silver platter! Worst and dumbest moves in the history of Atlanta radio. THAT was the beginning of the end for the station…nothing else.

Former WGST Devotee

October 1st, 2012
7:57 pm

BOO

GOT

SHOT !

CB

October 1st, 2012
7:58 pm

cc, It is not profitable because liberals aren”t as angry as you conservatives. Use to tune into Boortz until his program morph into a anti Obama rant. I couldn’t tolerate him any more. And now Limbaugh, no way . Satelite radio is looking better and better.

td

October 1st, 2012
8:03 pm

CB

October 1st, 2012
7:58 pm

I guess you never listened to Air America? Go watch MSNBC now to get a taste of that radio talent.

td

October 1st, 2012
8:10 pm

Cox news (the owner of this paper) has stated you libs need to hear Rush.

Kris

October 1st, 2012
8:15 pm

@ CB “ I am considering satellite radio to get a better perspective on what is going on.”

I have had satellite Radio for the last 4 years, to be honest I could not tell you if the am/fm side of the radio works. For perspective you have music from the 40’s to now. It has news (left/right, up/down). Just to name a few….oh sports out da …ya know.I could be wrong a Clark Howard station too. Best of all no commercials.

ace driscoll

October 1st, 2012
8:25 pm

been a listener since boortz and ed till were a 2-some

is all we have now is wsb ?? too stuffy and regimented..

have xm but miss the local stuff .. any suggestions ??

CB

October 1st, 2012
8:27 pm

td,
I am watching MSNBC right now thank you. And I like the talent on there.

CB

October 1st, 2012
8:28 pm

Thanks for the info Kris.

BRW

October 1st, 2012
8:30 pm

td, Don’t need to hear Rush in the least because you repeat everything he says here, v-e-r-b-a-t-i-m.
You need new material, especially after Mitten’s is shown the way back to Salt Lake in November.

BehindEnemyLines

October 1st, 2012
8:43 pm

Seidel speaks well & wisely here. A bit of a shock really, but fair is fair & credit where it’s due & all that jazz.

td

October 1st, 2012
8:43 pm

BRW

October 1st, 2012
8:30 pm

Considering that I probably get to listen to Rush about an hour or two per week then I will take it as a huge compliment that I am on the same mindset as he. Thank you.

td

October 1st, 2012
8:45 pm

CB

October 1st, 2012
8:27 pm

td,
I am watching MSNBC right now thank you. And I like the talent on there.

So you just raised Ed’s viewers to 500,001 for the night in the entire country.

Beauregard

October 1st, 2012
8:51 pm

Great !!! Just what Atlanta needs, another dam Mexican or Hip Hop station ! Yeaaaa great job guys thanks alot.

Kris

October 1st, 2012
9:01 pm

CB Your welcome. Its about 12/mo. Like I said no loud fat speaking car spots. No 5min of commercials.

Plus you get 60’s on 6 with cousin Brucie.

BRW

October 1st, 2012
9:08 pm

An hour or two a week is all you need, considering it’s repetitive nonsense.

td

October 1st, 2012
9:10 pm

BRW

October 1st, 2012
9:08 pm

An hour or two a week is all you need, considering it’s repetitive nonsense.

And how exactly did you form this opinion? Do you listen to the 15 hours per week for years or are you a parrot of media matters and the DNC?

BRW

October 1st, 2012
9:13 pm

Just reading you on the blogs buddy…..Rush Jr.

Cherokee

October 1st, 2012
9:22 pm

I miss the Kimmer too – conservative, but not a boring whiner, like his cousin Boortz.

Satellite radio is the way to go.

Poolie

October 1st, 2012
9:26 pm

I made the switch from rock to talk with WGST about 20 years ago. RIP

YELLOW BRITCHES

October 1st, 2012
9:40 pm

I know this dates me but what the hell. I remember when WGST was called Quixie and competed for a “favorable demographic” head to head with WISBIE. This was in the sixties. When I moved back to Atlanta after years of college and post graduate education, the A.M. dial had become all talk which was just fine with me. GST had a great lineup. I enjoyed Kim Peterson and, as noted above, Sean Hannity. To hear this iconic station become a Spanish station is for lack of a better term, a metaphor for America. We push 1 for English and deuce for Spanish. We are indeed a different world and a different country. I don’t know if I like it. By the way, where can I find Mark Levin now?

Ray the man

October 1st, 2012
10:29 pm

I don’t think I will be attending any training that Eric Seidel puts on. This is an incoherent load of you know what. I thought the buck stops with the owner. If Bain is the owner of Clear Channel why doesn’t the rule apply? WGST was the victim of some of the worst programming decisions in the history of radio. It was almost as if someone was trying to run it into the ground. It is now what it deserves to be. And, if it is an example of Bain – Clear Channel management what is the problem with saying so.

ld

October 1st, 2012
10:33 pm

Clear Channel is owned by Bain and has become a Spanish language and sports station just as Romney is trying to win Latio votes? Smells fishy.

Kris

October 1st, 2012
10:36 pm

Strange that WGST would choose the Latino market as the Georgia GOP has outlawed most of the Latino workers from the state. A lot of Legal folks left with the illegals. Hows those rotton crops working out natie.

romney+bain= Bad for the American economy. Clear Channel is like smitty FLIP FLOP CRASH.

honested

October 1st, 2012
10:54 pm

Once they were relevant.

Then they became virulent.

Good riddance.

B. Thenet

October 1st, 2012
10:55 pm

So we now have 6 full time sports stations in Atlanta?

alex

October 1st, 2012
11:10 pm

@Kris “paranoia runs deep, into your life it will creep…..” Let’s see,I’ve got it: Romney worked with Bain several years ago, so his good buddies, a few weeks before the PRESIDENTIAL election, decide to change a relatively small radio station in GEORGIA to a spanish – speaking sports format to increase the spanish votes for romney. Is that it? Is that what your public school education allows you to conjure up? Is this the level of intellectual strength in the big A, well bust my britches, Id, the only thing fishy smelling is your cerebrum rotting….. What an idiotic thought(?) process. Your shift starts in a few minutes in the Ponce Krispy Kreme, get a move on!

Kris

October 2nd, 2012
12:33 am

@ alex Your point…

Bill Quantrill

October 2nd, 2012
1:52 am

When they fired “the Kimmer” and wayne “no Offense” I quit listening. Rush was ALL they had and and now WSB has him. Keep letting idiots make decisions.

Will Jones - Atlanta Jeffersonian Exegesis

October 2nd, 2012
3:33 am

When “the Kimmer’s” and his sidekick’s aggravated battery put me out of work for a year after the 2005 Veterans Day parade, waylaying me on the sidewalk in front of White Columns abetted by two Bush cousins in Atlanta’s and Cobb County’s police departments, for telling the truth that “BUSH DID 9/11,” working to get them fired writing a letter to the CEO of the company who employed them was the least I could do to in obedience to The Oath I swore on my life to defend Our Nation against “enemies, domestic.”

When our People rise up, expropriate fascist plutocracy and put traitors in jail, as did Iceland, America’s problems will be solved, by G-d.

Whirled Peas

October 2nd, 2012
7:18 am

On whom do we blame the collapse of that once-great paper, the AJC?

hiram

October 2nd, 2012
7:35 am

Right wing talk radio’s stock will take a substantial hit after this year’s elections – might just as well convert them to Spanish, or whatever…

Chance of Winning if Election held today (Now-cast)

Obama – 97.8%

Romney – 2.2%

http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/author/nate-silver/

“Nate Silver’s November 2008 presidential election predictions—he correctly predicted the winner of 49 of the 50 states. The only state he missed was Indiana, which went for Barack Obama by 1%. He also correctly predicted the winner of all 35 Senate races that year.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nate_Silver

honested

October 2nd, 2012
7:57 am

hiram,

I might posit to the contrary.
Re-election of the President will definitely be good for the Country, however those intent on self-deluding will still need sources for their distorted notion of ‘news’.
Therefore, the purveyors of disinformation will still have the lost sheep to depend on they have had for three decades.
The rest of us should prevent ourselves from contributing to the continued sadness, DON’T BUY ANYTHING FROM THE ADVERTISERS.

Karl Marx

October 2nd, 2012
8:03 am

“when Federal law changed and radio groups could harvest huge numbers of radio stations. Once that happened”

Once that happened radio as we knew it died. Clear Channel and all other conglomerates are a blight on the medium. Where is Teddy Roosevelt when you need him? These trust need to be destroyed.

ExRepublican

October 2nd, 2012
8:21 am

I blame Romney he outsource Bain jobs to China and India.
I am going to vote for Obama because he want to keep our jobs in america.

[...] WGST’s demise isn’t the fault of Bain(AJC-Galloway) [...]

honested

October 2nd, 2012
8:32 am

Karl Marx

An athiest amen!

Quiet Conservative

October 2nd, 2012
8:33 am

Try 920-WGKA. A nice alternative. Thoughtful, non-rant, conservative radio starting at 6am with Bill Bennett. If they can ever find a decent FM partner, they will kick butt.

curious

October 2nd, 2012
9:02 am

GT Gold

October 2nd, 2012
9:02 am

I quit listening when they stopped carrying Al Ciraldo & the Tech games…that was their biggest mistake. Losing that contract.
Nothing is the same, 790 tried, but they are changing.

curious

October 2nd, 2012
9:06 am

Too much trash on WSB these days.

Boortz, Cain, Hannity, Erikson, and who knows else. The latest addition ol Limbaugh seals the deal. There must be a huge market of insecure people out there that have to be reinforced by right wing shrill artists.

I had rather listen to NPR.

Keep doing this GOP

October 2nd, 2012
9:17 am

I thought when i heard WSB had Rush, i thought it was talking about the band.

Of course , i was wrong.

They make more sense than he does. Why would they be on a station with Hannity ?

Boortz, Limbaugh, Hannity………….. I hope this doesnt bleed into their t.v. news operations.