Monday, February 1, 2016


With the Iowa caucuses happening tonight, I thought it might be timely to focus on radio in the Hawkeye State. Political candidates have made extensive use of commercial stations, particularly right wing talk stations, to target potential caucus goers with messages.

Speaking of right wing talkers, WHO AM 1040 is king of the hill. WHO is the only single media source that reaches the entire state. WHO [link] in the home of Mickelson In the Morning, considered a very influential conservative agenda setter.  It is also the place on the dial to hear Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and local Evangelical crusader Simon Conway.

WHO has a long legacy serving the people of Iowa. It signed on April 10, 1924. Future US President Ronald Reagan worked at WHO in the mid 1930s. Clear Channel (now iHeartMedia) acquired WHO in 1998 and operates it today. According the Nielsen Audio, WHO had a 9.3 average-quarter-hour (AQH) in Fall 2015 – the number one station in the market. WHO is likely a big money-maker for iHeart.  The Iowa caucuses bring a windfall every four years.  Local folks say WHO is run as cheaply as possible.


Iowa Public Radio (“IPR”) [link] was created around ten years ago when the State of Iowa forced a merger of WOI (Iowa State University), WSUI/KSUI (University of Iowa) and KUNI (Northern Iowa University).  These stations and universities are fierce competitors and remnants of past disputes between them still surface occasionally.

The three stations also brought different cultures to the union. WOI focused on agriculture on WOI AM 640 and didn’t concentrate on its Des Moines FM. WSUI/KSUI was so sleepy they didn’t begin on-air fundraising until the early 1990s.  Doug Vernier at KUNI created a remarkable local network of stations and translators with two discreet program streams.

One handicap for Iowa Public Radio is that it doesn’t cover all of Iowa.  IPR lacks stations in two essential Iowa markets: Sioux City and Council Bluffs, part of the Omaha metro.  Here is an IPR planning map for the merger:

Despite the drawbacks, IPR today sounds terrific. It offers three distinct program streams: 24/7 NPR News, 24/7 Classical and Studio One, a dual format of NPR News and Triple A. 

IPR has two of the best daily talk and interview programs in the nation. Talk of Iowa, hosted by Charity Nebbe and River to River hosted by Ben Kieffer frequently receive PRNDI Awards for their excellence competing with some of the largest NPR News stations.


Below are charts showing listening in four Iowa markets. Nielsen Audio data for Sioux City and Waterloo/Cedars Falls was not available because local stations do not subscribe to the ratings.  IPR purchases data only for Des Moines so we dug into our archives to find illustrative results from older Arbitron reports. Of course, things have changed since then but these are the best estimates available.

DES MOINES: The two IPR channels that provide NPR News appear to be doing very well. IPR’s Classical channel is underperforming, perhaps due to signal coverage issues.  Northwestern College’s CCM giant KNWI has significant listening.

Not shown in the Fall 2015 is Triple A KFMG, led by my old progressive rock friend Ron Sorenson. Check out this remarkable LPFM station at [link].

CEDAR RAPIDS: All three IPR channels do well. Small independent Jazz station KCCR, based at Coe College, seems to have slipped a bit but they still provide a unique service.

QUAD CITIES: The “quads” are Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa and Moline and Rock Island in Illinois, bunched together on the Mississippi River. Because none of the “quads” are major cities, the market has a small-town feel. There are two notable noncoms: WVIK (Rock Island) where GM Jay Pearce has bought a once sleepy station to life, and Urban Contemporary WVGG, one of the highest-rated LPFM stations in the nation.

OMAHA/COUNCIL BLUFFS: People should pay more attention to KIWR, serving the Omaha metro from the Bluffs. It is known as The River [link] and it airs kick-ass modern rock that is loved (and supported) by thousands of listeners.

These data are provided for use by Nielsen Audio subscribers ONLY, in accordance with
RRC's limited license with Nielsen Audio.
Monday-Sunday 6AM-Midnight Persons 12+

Data Copyright Nielsen Audio.
Format designations are the sole responsibility of Ken Mills Agency, LLC.


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