One problem with doing something new is the lack of benchmarks to mark progress over time. Such is the case with BYU Radio, Brigham Young University’s (BYU) new 24/7 Mormon-oriented news/talk station in Salt Lake City.
BYU Radio was announced to the public with great fanfare in October 2017 [link]. The new format was part of a larger reorganization of BYU’s media properties. But, things didn’t go as planned.
At that time, BYU’s plan was to cancel Classical music on KBYU 89.1 FM and replace it with Mormon-oriented news/talk programming. Of course this didn’t sit well with the 100,000+ weekly Classical music fans. Classical music supporters vigorously protested the change. In April 2018, BYU changed plans [link] and announced the Classical format would stay on 89.1.
BYU also announced that the new BYU Radio would be heard on a newly acquired FM frequency, KUMT 107.9 FM. BYU Radio debuted on KUMT-FM in late August 2018. However, BYU Radio programming had been available to Utah listeners for several years via KBYU’s HD2 channel.
It is important to understand that BYU considers BYU Radio to be national satellite-radio network. BYU Radio is on SiriusXM Channel 143. The audio path goes from BYU to SiriusXM then to KBYU HD2 and finally KUMT-FM. In other words, BYU Radio in Salt Lake City is a simulcast of the SiriusXM programming and very little live, local programming from the metro.
“UP WITH MORMON” RADIO
Our reviews of BYU Radio at the time were pretty negative. We called it Up With Mormon because every program seemed to be gushingly good news about the Church, its leaders and its enterprises.
Several Spark News readers had similar reactions. One reader told us:
Headline reality: Theocracy 'bean counters' pull plug on PBS and classical music, so that BYU TV/Radio may be dedicated to pay, pray, and obey core mission of the profits.
Another reader added:
Now they can do whatever they damn well please to do. It could be…intermittent blasts from the past, such as the wisdom of Ezra Taft Benson on race relations. Or…whatever it is that Glenn Beck does or says that particular day.
Then, we saw a comment about the new format by Michael Dunn, Managing Director of BYU’s Broadcasting unit. Dunn told Variety:
“One of the few pressures we don’t have is monetization pressure. Our clarion call is to do better work.”
Dunn’s comment seemed exceedingly self-serving and is at odds with our philosophy of the future of radio.
Radio broadcasting in the multi-channel, multi-platform world needs to be committed to excellence in its programming and public service.
To us, Dunn seemed to be saying:
“We are producing this for ourselves and we don’t care what you think. It doesn’t matter if it is good or bad, we still get paid.”
PERFORMANCE IN THE NIELSEN PPM RATINGS
Now, several months after BYU Radio debuted on the Salt Lake City FM dial, we have several months of Nielsen PPM ratings.
The chart on the left shows the last four months since BYU Radio’s first “book” in September 2018.
Though it is too soon make conclusions, the ratings appear to say BYU Radio is having difficulty keeping listeners.