In some ways, living in Akron provides the best of both worlds.
Our town is small enough that we can get almost anywhere in 15 minutes. It’s a place where “rush hour” is more like “rush half-hour.”
On the other hand, when we feel like hitting a big city, with major-league culture, sports and entertainment, we have uncommonly easy access.
To folks in the broadcasting business, though, Akron can be a strange and frustrating place.
Even when this city had its own network television affiliate — last time, 1996 — literally 95 percent of the Akron viewers were tuned to Cleveland stations.
As an affiliate of ABC, the late WAKC carried most of the same programming as Cleveland’s WEWS (Channel 5). The only real difference was news. Clearly, Akron viewers were willing to sacrifice intensely local coverage for newscasts with bigger budgets and better production values.
The situation has been even odder in radio. Although Greater Akron has always boasted a ton of local stations, many of them sounding just as professional as anything up north, an amazingly high percentage of local radio listeners have dialed up Cleveland.
Granted, lots of folks from Summit, Portage and Medina counties commute to Cleveland. But why would the rest of us want to be glued to stations where the patter focuses on Cleveland fender-benders, Cleveland weather and Cleveland political infighting?
During my early years at the Beacon Journal, when I regularly covered radio and paid rapt attention to the ratings, I always thought the listening pattern was odd. Having been away from that beat for a long time, I wondered whether anything has changed.
So I got ahold of the latest Arbitron ratings (compliments of Rubber City Radio’s Thom Mandel, who owns three of the precious-few local stations still under family ownership), and compared them with a ratings story I wrote 20 years ago.
Plenty has changed in the overall world of commercial radio, notably in-car competition from satellite stations and cellphones and an explosion in group ownership that in many markets has made local ownership obsolete. But plenty, apparently, has not changed.
Now, keep in mind that the Arbitron ratings books are enormous, and almost any radio salesperson can produce glowing numbers in some category. “Most Left-handed, Divorced Females Listening On Partly Cloudy Tuesday Afternoons” is only a slight exaggeration.
So we’ll stick with the broadest category: average share of the people age 12 and above who are listening during a typical 15-minute period between 6 a.m. and midnight all week in Summit and Portage counties.
Beaming back to October 1992, we see that five of the 10 highest-rated stations in Akron were Cleveland stations, including two of the top three:
1. Cleveland’s WGAR (99.5-FM)
2. Akron/Kent’s WNIR (100.1-FM)
3. Cleveland’s WMJI (105.7-FM)
Today, the Cleveland incursion is even bigger, accounting for six of the top 10 stations and four of the top six:
1. Akron’s WQMX (94.9-FM)
4. Cleveland’s WAKS (96.5-FM)
5. Cleveland’s WHLK (106.5-FM)
6. Cleveland’s WZAK (93.1-FM)
In both cases, the leader is a country station. But contrary to the overall trend, Akron’s country station, WQMX, roared from 10th place to first, while Cleveland’s WGAR plummeted from first to 11th.
In morning drive-time, the most lucrative part of the broadcast day, the onetime king has lost his crown, thanks in part to the slip in popularity of the AM band.
WAKR (1590-AM) absolutely owned mornings in 1992, with 11.2 percent of the listeners. Today the station is fifth, replaced at the top by Scott Wynn and Sue Wilson at WQMX, who draw 7.7 percent of the driving-to-work crowd.
But 20 years later, two of the three top morning shows haven’t moved an inch.
John Lanigan and Co. at WMJI were second in 1992 and second today. Stan Piatt and the gang at WNIR were third in 1992 and third in 2012.
In other words, all that talk has gotten them nowhere.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.