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SPORTS RADIO EXECS SEE ROOM FOR BOTH STATIONS ON DIAL

The two radio sports stations rarely agree on much of anything, but the two men in charge of WNSA-FM and WGR-AM are unanimous in one opinion.

They both will be survivors, even with the disappointing ratings they received this fall.

WGR's Greg Ried and WNSA's Bob Koshinski also agree that the fall ratings shouldn't count for much.

Ried notes that the stormy winter weather drove listeners to WBEN-AM and the addition of a competitor naturally meant WGR would lose listeners who sampled WNSA.

Koshinski notes the ratings period started a few weeks before WNSA went on the air and before Howard Simon became the morning man.

Nonetheless, the combined 4.2 rating that the two stations received has fueled the conventional wisdom that says only one -- and maybe not even one -- can survive.

Nonsense, says Ried, noting that WGR's audience from 6 a.m. to midnight places it No. 7 in the country among sports stations among listeners age 12 and over and males 25-54, two spots ahead of WFAN in New York City.

"While we were disappointed in the fall book, we don't get bent out of shape over it because there were outside forces (weather, WNSA) that led to it," Ried said.

Besides, he says, the year-old sports format has increased revenues by about 30 percent.

"I think both stations will survive," Ried said. "They've got the resources of one of the wealthiest people (Adelphia owner John Rigas) in the area and the Empire Sports Network behind them. Why would we change formats. Why would they change?"

Though WNSA had half of WGR's audience in the fall, Koshinski said: "I was surprised that right out of the box we averaged a 1.4. So much has changed on WNSA from the first month."

Koshinski believes WGR can survive, too.

"Their ratings now are not what we hope to be," added Koshinski, whose Adelphia-owned station has the ratings benefit of carrying the Buffalo Sabres, owned by the Rigas family.

Let's look at key battles during the ratings period of Sept. 21 through Dec. 13.

During the heart of the Buffalo Bills season, WGR's morning team of Bauerle (Tom) and the Bulldog (Chris Parker) finished No. 13 with listeners age 12 and over, down 30 percent from the summer. They fell 23 percent with males 25-54 and 38 percent with males 18 through 49.

And that was when they competed with Stan Roberts, who was a good sport to do the morning show on WNSA, but didn't inspire much excitement. The former country station still gained 50 percent from its small summer morning audience, higher with male demographics.

WGR had a 2.3-1.2 edge among all listeners, a 4.1-2.4 edge with males 25-54 and 3.3-2.8 with males 18 through 49. The tightness of the 18 through 49 morning race B.S. (Before Simon, who joined WNSA two days before the book ended) certainly illustrates that WGR is vulnerable.

The afternoon battle between insensitive Chuck Dickerson and the instantly impressive Mike Schopp wasn't close. Arbitron rates the 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. time period, which is an hour longer than Dickerson is on. In the fall, WGR and Dickerson won by close to a 2-1 margin in all categories. However, WGR finished out of the top 10 in overall audience and the time slot is down from 9 to 14 percent in key demographics. Schopp is down 12 percent from WNSA's small summer numbers of listeners 12 and over, and up by 4 percent with males 25-54 and up 18 percent with males 18-49.

WNSA's strongest ratings were predictably in the evening, when it carries Sabres games. On Saturday nights of Sabres games, WNSA dominates. The good news for WGR is its evening audience has grown since switching from general talk.

Sports fans clearly are the winners in the battle, as they have the alternative of listening to reasonable people or hosts who believe that inflaming fans is entertainment.

Besides getting a boost from carrying the Sabres, WNSA benefits from its association with Adelphia's regional sports network, Empire. However, WNSA also has to battle the perception that it is just another arm of the Sabres. Dickerson doesn't miss an opportunity to drive that point home, calling WNSA's staffers shills -- and worse -- as often as he can.

WNSA seems to be making a tactical programming error that gives that argument some credibility. Far too often, the station is focused on the Sabres when the talk of the town is the Bills. Like it or not, WNSA should forget its parentage and realize that the Bills have a much larger following than the Sabres.

During the Bills' coaching derby, drive time listeners often were treated to more Danny Gare talk when the Bills were the big story. WNSA has great local assets in Steve Tasker, Larry Felser and Jim Kelley, but too often it seems locked in to programming and unable to adjust to the news of the day.

And that's what WGR is best at. The station is smart enough to ride the Bills when they are making news, as they often have this winter. WGR's best weapons come courtesy of its affiliation with ESPN and Jim Rome. ESPN's Chris Mortensen was pretty early in suggesting that Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis wasn't going to become the Bills coach.

Though WGR is substantially ahead in the talk battle, WNSA officials are hoping that the Sabres will have a strong stretch run this winter. That would accomplish two things. It would increase the number of playoff games it carries and make WGR's blasts of the Sabres look pointless.

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