Media Scene

Behind the format switch at WBCN

D.J. Stout, operations manager for WBCN-AM (1660), likes the timing.

Nearly three years after it switched from conservative talk to syndicated sports, WBCN switched back Tuesday, returning such voices as Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity to Charlotte.

Charlotte’s airwaves were clogged with three other sports stations, and WBCN wasn’t making much of a dent. Carrying the CBS Sports lineup, WBCN was drawing about 23,000 cumulative listeners over the last six months, according to Nielsen.

Its sister station, WFNZ-AM (“Fan” 610), draws about 75,000, largely because it has an intense local focus with hosts like Chris Kroeger, Chris McClain, Jim Celania, Frank Garcia and Mark Yarbro.

WZGV-AM (ESPN 730) does not subscribe to Nielsen, so its audience is not publicly known, but it too improves its popularity with local hosts like Marty Hurney, Lanny Ford, Chris Allison and Bobby Rosinski. Audience numbers are also not available for iHeartRadio’s Fox Sports Radio at 98.7 FM, which carries no local programs.

WBCN switched to sports in January 2013, when owner CBS Radio ordered its Charlotte executives to pick up the network’s national sports package. CBS Radio wanted the network carried in as many top 25 radio markets in the nation as possible.

About a year ago, Florida-based Beasley Broadcast Group took over CBS Radio’s six Charlotte stations and had little incentive to carry the network’s national sports lineup, which wasn’t attracting much in the way of ratings at 1660. Sister station WFNZ will continue to carry CBS Sports shows in the overnight hours and on weekends when local programming isn’t on.

For now, says Stout, the company’s eye is on political timing. There’s a presidential race in 2016 and primaries in both Carolinas before that.

By one early estimate from Virginia-based Borrel Associates, which tracks political ads, 2016’s presidential broadcast spending could be up 20 percent over 2012’s numbers. Digital advertising is expected to take a larger chunk than ever before.

Having a politically charged audience gives WBCN some leverage in selling candidate and issue ads, though its programming tends to attract conservative voters rather than the undecideds, the audience political marketers most want to reach.

TV market surge

Nielsen annually estimates the number of households with TVs in each market area in the nation. This year, Charlotte’s 22-county TV market was estimated as the nation’s 22nd largest, with 1,169,000 households.

A year ago, we were No. 24. Charlotte jumped over Pittsburgh and Portland, Ore., in market size and is only 49,000 households behind No. 21 St. Louis.

Raleigh-Durham’s TV market lost 4,460 homes (probably to those opting out of TV for Internet only; the region keeps growing dynamically) and holds at No. 25 nationally.