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Columnist
Sports stations thrive on people meter
By Ted Cox | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 10/16/2008 3:09 PM

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"The format is strong," says WSCR 670-AM Program Director Mitch Rosen, "as strong as it's ever been."

What he's referring to is the all-sports radio format, and not just the Score, but also arch rival WMVP 1000-AM.

The numbers from the newly released summer Arbitron ratings book, the first under the new people-meter system, bear that out, as they find both stations thriving.

The Score claimed a 2.5 percent share of the overall audience 12 and older, a record for the sports-talk format in Chicago. WMVP posted a quite respectable 1.6 share.

In the male 25-54 demographic both stations target, the Score led overall 3.9-3.5. Yet take away the White Sox on evenings and weekends, and WMVP led in the demo in "radio prime time," from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., 4.3-3.6.

Included in that, ESPN Radio's Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic on WMVP finished fourth in the market in the target demo from 5 to 9 a.m. with a 6.1 share, while the Score's Mike Mulligan and Brian Hanley posted a 3.6, but that still placed them in the top 10, and their overall number for their shift proper, from 6 to 10, was a 4.1, up from the 2.9 Mike North posted in his last book in the spring.

From 9 to noon, WMVP's Tom Waddle and Marc Silverman led the Score 4.2-2.3, reflecting the Score's transition moving in Laurence Holmes and Dan Hampton from 10 to noon. The Score and Mike Murphy led ESPN Radio's Mike Tirico from noon to 2, 3.5-3.2. WMVP's Dan McNeil, John Jurkovic and Harry Teinowitz fell from the top spot in the demo in afternoon drive to a seventh-place 4.2 share, but that still edged the Score's Dan Bernstein and Terry Boers, who did a 4.0 to make the top 10.

"I'm pleased," says Justin Craig, Rosen's counterpart at WMVP, "but I'm not even close to being content."

Still, the first people-meter figures give the all-sports stations a lot to like. The people meter registers what station a person is actually listening to from moment to moment, where the old Arbitron diaries relied on a person to write down what he or she was listening to when.

That, Rosen says, has enabled the Score to go to "less clutter, and fewer bells and whistles." Where a station previously had to pound it into a listener's head what station he or she was listening to, the better to remember to write it down later, now he says they can concentrate on "content over imaging, and the best content wins."

The people meters also deliver precise numbers in small increments of time, not just four-hour blocks. Craig points to how Waddle & Silvy spike each Tuesday when WLS Channel 7 sports anchor Mark Giangreco joins them. For that reason, listeners can already notice that shows are sticking to their regular segments - say, Waddle & Silvy's "Would You Rather?" or Boers & Bernsy's "Who You (Foolin')?," which is typically second in the demo when it runs - at set times.

"Appointment listening is huge," Craig says. "If you move it too much, you're just going to get random listening."

"It's my job to make every show appointment listening," Rosen adds.

To that end, he's got some work to do on Hamp & Holmes, who sometimes make a listener pine for Da Bull and Da Bear. Yet he insists Hampton is passionate about the new daily show and eager to learn and pick it up as he goes.

As a programmer, Craig would no doubt love to move in another local show in place of Tirico, but he does say he's satisfied with Tirico's ratings growth.

In short, the people meter might be giving the stations better data, but it's not changing the programming except to make them more intent on its quality from moment to moment.

"You can't let it change things," Craig says. "You have to base everything on personality. ... It's our job to reflect the mood of the city."

Both stations are doing just that where sports is concerned, and it shows in the latest ratings.

In the air

Remotely interesting: A&E presents the Jose Canseco documentary "The Last Shot" at 9 p.m. Monday. It looks into Canseco's attempts to rehabilitate himself and his reputation in baseball's steroid scandal.

"Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel" does a profile of baseball pitching surgeon Dr. James Andrews at 9 p.m. Tuesday on HBO.

End of the dial: Dan Plesac and Todd Hollandsworth are being mentioned as potential partners for Ed Farmer next year on White Sox broadcasts on WSCR 670-AM if Darrin Jackson declines the team's offer to move to radio. I'd hope Dave Otto would be under consideration as well.

WMVP 1000-AM is negotiating to extend Bruce Levine's contract at the station. "Obviously, we'd love to retain him," said Program Director Justin Craig. Yet Levine is also a favorite of Score Program Director Mitch Rosen.