Wednesday, March 21, 2018


Nielsen Audio’s PPM ratings for February are being released this week. Today we have the numbers for the San Francisco Bay Area and the big story is still KQED’s dominance in the market.

Not only does KQED lead all noncommercial stations, it also is number one compared to commercial news/talk station KCBS-AM/KFRC-FM. In fact it isn’t even close. As you can see in the chart on the left, KQED had 928,000 estimated weekly listeners compared with KCBS-AM/KFRC-FM’s 890,000.

KQED also smoked KCBS-AM/KFRC-FM in average quarter-hour share (AQH).  During the February sweeps KQED’s AQH was 8.0%. Entercom’s KCBS-AM/KFRC-FM’s AQH was 5.7%.  KQED won every day part.

KQED also beat KCBS-AM/KFRC-FM in the adjacent San Jose metro. KQED had 229,100 estimated weekly listeners compared with 202,500 for KCBS-AM/KFRC-FM.

According to Nielsen, in the February 2018 book, KALW had a weekly cume of 11,900. This means that KQED has TEN TIMES the estimated weekly listeners than KALW.  Why is this happening?

In our post last week [link], we said this about KALW:

KEN: There are very talented folks working at KALW but the station – as a whole – seems to be locked in a sleepy status quo. Changing this corporate culture will be a big challenge for the new GM because it is deeply ingrained at KALW.

We heard that our observation about KALW caused some ripples at the station’s Mansell Street headquarters. We received the following comment from an anonymous reader who said the problem is KQED’s superior coverage:

KQED Coverage Area
ANONYMOUS READER: “I don’t think your core analysis of KALW’S “sleepy status” is wrong per se, but be careful how you explain it.

“KQED is a full Class B FM. Their signal is mammoth. The protected service contour goes well past San Jose at the southern end of the Bay. KALW is a Class B1 - much smaller. Their contour barely reaches the San Mateo Bridge.

“That’s a big difference when you are also trying to reach a lot of in-car commuters. The SF Bay Area is hell on FM because of all the mountains; even KQED has trouble in many places.”

KALW Coverage Area

As you can see in the coverage maps on the right, the reader seems to have a point. KQED pushes out 110,000-watts compared to KALW’s 1,900-watts. KQED's transmission antenna also has a bit more height than KALW's. 

As the reader said, the Bay Area’s terrain causes problems for all local stations.

However, there is nothing wrong with KALW’s signal.  It originates from the Twin Peaks tower site where several other FM and TV stations broadcast. Most people can get KALW fine or they can listen to KALW’s streaming audio.


On the left are two charts that compare both stations program schedule during key hours, Monday through Friday 6am to 7pm and Saturday 6am to 3pm. These are the times when most people listen to radio. To put it as kindly as possible, KALW’s schedule looks like a trip back to the late 1980s.

Note that for two hours each weekday, KALW has a checkerboard schedule of weekly shows ranging from Philosophy Talk to Alternative Radio to Latino USA. These programs have little in common and are guaranteed speed bumps that will repel listeners.

Look at weekdays 5pm to 6pm. While KQED is airing the news of the day from All Things Considered, KALW is airing BBC’s Business Daily and replays of their talk show Your Call. If it is Wednesday, it must be time for Inflection Point.

There is one place where KQED may be vulnerable. Note that neither station starts ATC early.  It is available at 1:00pm on the west coast, so why not air it and be “first with news” – a powerful positioning advantage.

On Saturday, during the fundraising “sweet spot hours” KQED has nothing but solid hits. Meanwhile KALW airs nice, but narrow appealing shows like West Coast Live and Thistle & Shamrock.

As researcher David Giovannoni said Programming Causes Audience. So the opposite is also true: Ineffective Programming Causes No Audience.


  1. KALW has a lot of potential for sure. I lived in the Bay Area long enough to see the station go through several cycles. It tries to slice the pie between KQED and KPFA and that hasn't been a winning strategy. The signal argument doesn't hold much water either. They both cover the San Francisco metro pretty well and digital platforms can make up for terrain related issues. The challenge for the school district is to hire a new GM who understands radio and believes KALW can significantly increase audience and knows how to fundraise. It's kind of odd that neither KALW or KQED's website aren't better than they are given their home is the center of the tech world.

    An experienced and energetic public radio professional willing to work with the School Board and the community should be able to make KALW a fantastic station. If they hire someone internally or with minimal management experience who doesn't have a plan on how increase the station's mission and money then it will enter another cycle instead of reaching its full potential.

  2. Ken, All Things Considered is an afternoon drive program, not even the NPR stations in the other west coast markets would do that. Doing that the NPR outlets in Alaska and Hawaii would make ATC a midday show and Morning Edition impossible for morning drive. ME would end before everyone got up. KALW needs a daily consistent program at least Monday through Thursday. Hey they could always take interest in Science Friday.