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NO RATINGS CHANGE FOR FM STATIONS WITH BILLS GAMES

Buffalo Bills football didn't provide much of a ratings kick for local radio.

In the just-released fall Arbitron ratings book, the Bills broadcasts showed little effect. Mercury Broadcasting spent big bucks last year to take the Bills away from their longtime radio home at WBEN-AM 930. Mercury decided to put Bills games on two FM rock stations at the same time: WGRF-FM 96.9 and WEDG-FM 103.3.

Stereo football brought mono ratings; in fact, there was virtually no change for both FM stations, while WBEN held its own. In the overall ratings for listeners 12 and over, country station WYRK-FM 106.5 led all stations with a 9.9 audience share. WBEN tied for second at 7.9 (down from 10.2 in the fall of '98 when WBEN had the Bills, but up from 7.1 in the summer book). WBLK-FM 93.7 also finished at 7.9.

WGRF was fourth at 7.7. Last fall without the Bills, WGRF finished at 7.5. WGRF finished at 11.8 in the summer book, so it actually went down slightly. WEDG-FM 103.3 finished in 11th place overall with a 4.5 share, identical to its rating last fall without the Bills.

In the advertiser-coveted demographic for ages 25 to 54, WGRF topped all stations with an 11.6 share, identical to what it had last fall. WEDG finished in 10th place with a 4.3 share, up from 3.9 last fall. WBEN came in eighth place with a 5.6 share, down from 7.2 last fall.

WBEN's ratings loss from the departure of the Bills was negligible, as were the gains for WGRF and WEDG. "Listen, we loved having football and doing the games, but this book, for us, shows there is life after the Bills," said Tim Wenger, program and news director at WBEN. "The thing that jumps out at me is that football didn't seem to make all that much difference."

One reason may be the simulcast splitting of the games on two stations. WGRF has long been a ratings powerhouse and the classic rocker didn't need much help. WEDG could use a boost, but the alternative rock station, which aims at a younger audience, didn't get much out of football. Had the games been on just one station, ratings would have been considerably higher for it.

"I think splitting the games did hurt in that respect," Wenger said.

John Hager, operations manager for Mercury Broadcasting, notes that the two FM stations dominated Sunday ratings. He was also pleased that WGRF has held the top spot in the 24-to-54 ratings for two consecutive years, and 10 out of the past 11 ratings books. "This is an unusual performance," he said.

There is also a prestige factor in carrying the Bills. "You can't deny that. It means a lot to have them," Wenger said.

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