14 January 2008

The Denver Radio Market

The Denver area supports a large number of radio stations, with a number of different formats, mostly owned by a small number of big companies.

The top 30 commercial radio stations and the top 3 public radio stations, combined, have a listener share of about 80% of radio listeners (the commercial radio numbers are from the March 2, 2007 Denver Business Journal, the public radio numbers are interpolations from some separate but comparable sources found on the internet). No individual radio station has more than a 6.0% share of listeners.

Radio that caputures more than two-thirds of Denver's radio listeners (68.6%+) comes from the 23 stations owned by five companies: Lincoln National Corp. (KYGO 98.5, KQKS 107.5, KJCD 104.3, KCKK, KKFN), Entrercom Communications Corp. (KOSI 101.1, KALC 105.9, KQMT 99.5, KEZW 1430), Clear Channel Communications (KOA 850, KBCO 97.3, KBPI 106.7, KRFX 103.5, KHOW 630, KTCL 93.3, KPTT 95.7, KKZN 760), Entravision Communications (KXPX 96.5, KJMN 92.1, KMXA), and CBS Radio (KXKL 105.1, KIMN 100.3, KWLI 92.5).

Three other companies own another eight Denver area radio station: NRC Broadcasting (KJAC 105.5 and KCUV), Salem Communications (KNUS 710, KRKS (AM and FM), and KBJD) and The Denver Radio Co. (KTNI, KSYY 107.1). At least one station, KBNO 1260 is owned as a sole proprietorship and, of course, several public radio stations (KCFR, KCFN and KVOD among them) are owned by non-profit entities, as are many Christian radio stations.

A meeting of representatives from each of the companies with any meaningful market share in the Denver radio market could be held comfortably in any decent sized conference room. Michael's Iron Law of Oligarchy is alive and well, as is the observation that markets where oligopolies prevail tend to compete based upon product offerings rather than price.

One suspects that the economies of scale associated with consolidated advertising sales departments and in obtaining financial capital to buy the rights to broadcast on particular channels are the key factors in industry consolidation. The equipment and day to day operating expenses for a radio station are very modest compared to the cost of the station itself and advertising related sales expenses. Royalties themselves generally track listenership which in turn generally tracks per minute advertising revenues, so royalties are only a factor for stations that can't sell ads, not a major determinant of the economics of consolidation.

Lots of viable radio stations don't necessarily translate, however, into an immense variety of programming options.

There is not a single radio station (not even a public radio station) with a predominantly news or talk format on the FM dial in the Denver radio market. This isn't due to an inability to attract listeners. More than 13% of combined AM/FM listener based market share goes to talk/new/sports formats on AM radio, even before one adds in listeners to public radio. KOA 850 AM, the king of the talk/new/sports radio market in Denver is the fourth most listened to radio station in the market, and several others have listener bases comparable to FM stations.

Country music has one FM dial giant (KYGO), the most popular radio station in the region, only also ran on the FM dial (KWLI 92.5), and a number of AM radio stations, none of which are dominant.

Spanish language radio, once exiled to the AM airwaves, currently has three reasonable successful FM stations, in addition to several of the more successful (in terms of listeners) AM stations.

Public radio stations offer jazz that isn't elevator music, classical music and other kinds of music that commercial stations basically aren't offering. There is also one commercial jazz station that offers the smaltzier stuff. They don't show up in my commercial radio figures, but there are also a number of reasonably successful Christian radio stations in the area, on both FM and AM bands, which, like the public radio stations, aren't entirely beholden to advertising sales for their ongoing operations.

At least fourteen stations are playing some subset of the larger rock genre. The second most popular station in the region (KQKS 107.5) has a monopoly on Hip Hop and R&B genre. KTCL 93.3 shares the "alternative rock" market with a small college radio station on the AM dial out of Boulder. KBCO's "world class rock" format, KBPI's metal leaning rock format, and KALC top 40 format now called "Modern adult contemporary" are the only other rock stations with anything recently released with any edge to them. There are at least nine stations that play some species of oldies or easy listening or soft rock with a formidable 23.4%+ market share as measured by number of listeners. The market rewards mushy moderate consumer tastes in a way that politics does not.

Several efforts to bring new genres including techno and reggatone into the Denver radio market have been attempted in the last decade, and failed dismally, apparently for lack of commercial support. The jury is still out on whether a couple of new entrants: liberal talk radio and kid oriented rock on Radio Disney, both supported by national syndications, will survive.

Satellite radio is thriving now, in large part, because even though it is far more consolidated, with only two provider companies and a 100% provider monopoly on any given satellite radio due to compatability issues, it offers far more diverse programming and far more channels than broadcast radio. Satellite and internet radio may also be undermining new format commercial broadcast radio by serving programming niches that might support small new broadcast radio stations, if the needs of the niche were met in no other way.

A few of observations:

1. Except when companies refuse to sell advertising for candidates, political speech is an almost indifferent issue in the radio market because commercial FM radio stations have very little meaningful political news coverage, with or without consolidation. By comparison, local TV news, which is pretty bad itself, looks like paradise. Political news apparently does not sell widgets.

2. IMHO, AM is already deeply immersed, for a variety of reasons, into a conservative subculture. Country music, talk/new/sports radio formats, and Christian radio are natural allies with overlapping audiences. There are a few holdouts in the Denver area (Radio Disney, a couple of NPR news stations, an alternative college station, some rebroadcast stations and some Spanish language radio) that are the exceptions to the rule. But, the migration of Spanish language radio to FM in Denver and the history of AM NPR in Denver (juxtaposed against the overwhelming FM to AM ratio of such stations nationwide) suggest that this state of affairs is temporary and ideosyncratic.

3. While the Catholic church is finally attempting to play catch up in religious radio offerings (Colorado Springs has a Catholic station and Denver has been trying, although I don't know if it has succeeded), the term "Christian radio" is decidely overinclusive. Virtually all Christian radio is of the conservative Evangelical protestant variety. Mainline churches have largely eschewed evangelization via their own radio and TV stations or programming (a few mainline churches rebroadcast their services in order to fill Sunday morning slots on smaller commercial stations or public radio or television without creating mass media specific programming), and the Catholics have done so only recently and are far, far behind the Evangelicals.

1 comment:

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

FM will have one less Christian radio station and AM will lose public radio again under a proposed transaction for this Spring. The combined public radio audience for Denver is on the order of 5% market share according to the article, which I think is an underestimate as it excludes KUVO and I've seen 6%+ numbers even without KUVO.