Because we think the future of radio is a “use it or lose it” proposition, we are introducing a new occasional feature: The Weakest Link Awards.
Weakest Link is not intended to place blame on individuals. The purpose of the award is to shine a light on stations that are clearly underperforming and show no sign of acknowledging or fixing the problems.
We believe that public radio will survive and prosper only if every station provides tangible benefits to listeners. For most listeners, the primary benefit is the programming. If a station’s programming is sub-par, the station may become irrelevant.
The Weakest Link Award is meant to encourage decision makers at sub-par public radio stations to improve their programming and community service on all media platforms. If they do not, they are a Weakest Link and devalue the good work of everyone else in the public radio system.
The first station to get a Weakest Link Award is a doozy: WKNO, Memphis [link].
WKNO is the only station that airs NPR News in Memphis, Tennessee, a metro area with nearly 1.4 million people. Memphis has a robust and diverse economy. It is known around the globe as a distribution center. WKNO-FM’s 100,000-watt signal has potential listeners in three states but very few of them now listen.
Memphis should be a place where public radio thrives. But WKNO-FM is not succeeding. It appears they aren't even trying.
How lame is WKNO’s performance? Check out the chart on the left.
WKNO’s number of estimated weekly listeners hasn’t grown in over 11 years. In fact, their number of weekly listeners reached a low point in the May 2018 Nielsen Audio ratings.
WKNO was one of the few NPR News stations that did not have an uptick in listeners around the time of the November 2016 election.
WKNO has fewer weekly listeners than WQOX, a station that airs a mainly automated oldies format.
WQOX's budget is less than $80,000 per year. It is operated by a school district in a Memphis suburb.
And, WQOX has more weekly listeners than WKNO.
WKNO has a dual format of the major NPR news magazines and Classical music. The station does not have a Program Director.
We’ve reached out to Michael LaBonia, President of Mid-South Communications Foundation, the licensee of WKNO, but we have never received a response. We will keep trying to LaBonia to engage in a discussion about how the station can improve.
Austin seems like a market of achievers who appreciate and support excellent radio. This causes more people to listen.
The big news in Austin continues to be the success of KDRP a/k/a Sun Radio [link]. In April we did a profile of KDRP [link] and called it the most inspiring noncom station in America.
Mediocrity is not tolerated on-the-air at this five-station combo. Though none of the stations have more than 100-watts of power, Sun Radio has big impact on Austin’s music scene.
Also in Austin, NPR News/Talk KUT added 40,000 new estimated weekly listeners between May 2017 and May 2018, up 14%. Classical KMFA has subscribed to the Nielsen ratings for a couple of years. We keep them on the chart because they are a great station.
In the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex NPR News/Talk KERA seems to be on another growth spurt.
Triple A KKXT seems to be stuck in a rut – this is the third straight monthly book where there number of estimated weekly listeners has declined.
NPR News/Talk WABE keeps adding new listeners despite head-to-head competition from Georgia Public Broadcasting’s WRAS.
Three years ago WABE dropped its dual format by moving Classical music to an HD channel. At the time, some folks at WABE wondered if they were doing the right thing. Now it is clear, they should have dumped the dual format long ago.
KUOW’s mojo keeps rising in Seattle-Tacoma.
Triple A KEXP lost estimated weekly listeners in May 2018 compared with May 2017.