By Alan Pergament
Western New Yorkers like to think they live in a big sports town.
After all, the Buffalo Bills get enormous TV ratings despite missing the playoffs since 1999, Buffalo gets higher national ratings for the NHL than almost all league markets and there are three sports stations on the AM dial.
The third point in that sentence deserves one of the asterisks that sports give out when records are broken under different circumstances – like more games being played now in football and baseball than in the past.
WNY may have three sports stations in town, but only one is being listened to with any regularly.
In the most recent fall book covering early September to early December, WGR was in sixth place in audience share among listeners 12 and over, one spot behind WKSE and one spot ahead of 97 Rock.
The two other sports stations in town -- ESPN 1520 on WWKB and Sports Radio 1270 AM, which is affiliated with CBS Radio -- aren't even among 23 stations that register a share. They also weren't among 23 stations that registered a share among listeners age 18 through 49.
Of course, WGR has some huge advantages – it carries Bills and Sabres games, focuses on local sports, has local hosts in almost all time periods and has been at it far longer than its new rivals.
But I'm still a little surprised that the other two sports stations are drawing a blank since I often find myself listening to ESPN Radio when Colin Cowherd is on and CBS Radio when John Feinstein is on.
I doubt that Cumulus Radio, which owns 1270, is that concerned because it doesn't have much overhead if any at all and it put the sport station on a little-listened to station as part of its nationwide deal to carry CBS Radio. In addition, the 1270 signal doesn't have anywhere near the strength of KB's signal. In fact, University at Buffalo football and basketball fans who live near the campus say they often can’t hear games on 1270.
Greg Ried, the general manager of WGR, KB and all the Entercom stations, notes that it was ESPN's first ratings book and it isn't easy getting audiences to listen to a station when it changes to a very different format. Before turning to sports, KB focused on political talk.
"With ESPN we had zero promotion and it was during a time when interest in Bills and Sabres was extremely high, evidenced by WGR's huge wins in men 25-54," said Ried.
He added that KB had 18,700 different listeners in the book and claimed that was 10,000 more than the third place sports station, 1270 AM.
Ried isn’t allowed to share specific figures beyond the 12 plus audience, but he did note that WGR's morning show with Howard Simon and Jeremy White was No.1 among men aged 25-54 and had a 30 percent advantage over the No.2 station in that category. That is the key demographic for sports radio. Ried added that Mike Schopp and Chris (The Bulldog) Parker were No.1 in that male demo by 13 percent.
With the Bills season over and the Sabres out of the playoff hunt, you might think that more listeners would find ESPN and CBS. That would be especially true next week when the Super Bowl is the main topic in the sports world.
Ried couldn't answer the question of whether GR lost any listeners to Entercom sister station KB, saying there was no way to determine that.
"But our purpose was to have sports fans that didn't live and die by our local teams to have another outlet," said Ried. "This will help satisfy some MLB and NBA fans as well as displaced fans of other city teams."
Looking at the fall results, satisfaction wasn't immediately guaranteed.
On another radio note, Ried explained the slow start of 107.7 Alt Buffalo, which replaced a simulcast of WBEN-AM a few weeks into the fall book.
"I doubt many listening to WBEN stayed on and we didn't promote the station until the last 4 weeks of the 12-week book," wrote Ried in an email.
"The facts are 107.7 came out of the first book with 53,500 new listeners, which was 13th in total listeners. That is almost double the number of listeners to WECK and WWWS and more than double WXRL. It is also 7,000 more listeners than the Lake's final book (on 107.7). Take a look at social media or talk to some 20 and 30somethings and you'll hear the buzz."
He added that the audience in the core demo of adults 18-34 had a significant increase each month of the book.
"Growing new brands takes time and I do appreciate your comments in the article on that," added Ried. "We're not trying to be number one, just want to give those who couldn't hear their music on the radio a place to call home."