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Progressive radio killed by ratings

"The Voice of Reason" has been silenced.

Beginning today, WHLD-AM News Talk 1270's short-lived experiment in progressive programming -- featuring locally produced broadcasts and syndicated shows from Air America Radio and Pacifica -- has been converted to an urban inspirational station.

Brian Brown-Cashdollar, WHLD's president and general manager, said the station's ratings were "respectable" for a start-up station and advertising revenue shot up "tenfold" during the 10-month effort. But ultimately, it was not enough to satisfy investors concerned about cash flow.

"We went from 3,600 to about 20,000 listeners by the end of September. By all indications, we would have continued to grow," Brown-Cashdollar said.
"We've done a lot of things right, but in the end we fell short. We had a business opportunity to protect the shareholders, so we took it," Brown-Cashdollar said.

The station's license is owned by Citadel Broadcasting Corp. and will continue to be operated by Niagara Independent Media. Brown-Cashdollar said there will be layoffs but could not yet say how many.

WHLD's left-of-center format evolved out of an effort in January 2004 by the Buffalo Coalition for Progressive Media that brought Pacifica's "Democracy Now," hosted by Amy Goodman, to Buffalo. It was the first time the nationally syndicated program landed on a commercial station. "Democracy Now" will remain on the air in a 1 p.m. time slot and soon air at 9 a.m. on WBBF-AM 1120, which is also owned by Niagara Independent Media.

Air America Radio programming included three-hour weekday shows hosted by Al Franken and by Randi Rhodes. Locally produced shows included "The Newsroom," which aired mornings with Joe Schmidbauer and Grady Hawkins," "Radio Civil Liberties," "The Einach Report" and "Speakeasy radio."

Schmidbauer said his abrupt dismissal came "with about five minutes notice," and expressed disappointment for "all the people whose hopes and dreams rode with us."

Theresa Baker, host of "Speakeasy radio," lamented the lack of locally controlled radio stations in Buffalo and said she, like Schmidbauer, hopes to latch onto another.

"I am looking for a community radio station where people will have open access to the airwaves," Baker said.

The demise of WHLD as a progressive station leaves just Philadelphia-based Entercom's WWKB-AM 1520 and its out-of-town "Buffalo's Left Channel" programming as the lone alternative to an otherwise conservative talk-radio landscape.

Rhodes visited Buffalo for a station fundraiser Dec. 2 and then repeatedly praised the station, its management and staff on her show two days later.

"We came awfully close and got the attention of the community far above what our size would have warranted," Brown-Cashdollar said. "Hopefully, we've shown what people who are interested in changing the media can actually do."

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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