May 15th, 2009 5:33 pm | by KELLY CLARKE News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics

UPDATE x 2: Rick Emerson Show Fans Want More Talk. CBS Radio Talks Back...and so does Rick.


Update Tuesday, May 19—Scroll down to the end of this post for Rick Emerson's first official response to the CBS/RES sonic kerfuffle.

Well, apparently a lot of Rick Emerson Show listeners have been doing some talking and typing of their own. Since I posted news that KUFO had recently slashed the amount of time Emerson and co-hosts Tim Riley and Sarah X. Dylan spend jawing about local news and geek-fabulous topics to a paltry 90 minutes over the course of four hours last Monday afternoon, more than 120 fans have commented in varying modes of anger or anguish—most in favor of CBS Radio changing RES back to its more talk, less rock format.

But according to both CBS Radio's General Manager for Portland Dave McDonald and KUFO programming director Chris Patyk it's not that simple. I spoke with both managers this past Wednesday and Thursday. (My apologies, I would have posted their responses earlier but I've been on deadline for other projects. I suck.) Host Rick Emerson and crew still have no official comment on the format changes.

So, what's the hell was CBS thinking when it moved a meandering, beloved local pop culture talk show to a hard rock station's morning slot?

“We didn't look at this as moving the Rick Emerson Show. We looked at it as making the best show for KUFO,” McDonald says. “We're trying to create a broadly appealing show using the terrific talent of Rick Emerson… There's a different context to a midday show to opposed to a morning drive show where people's lives are operated at a different pace—especially a station known for its music…”

KUFO programming director Chris Patyk had much the same reaction. “Morning listening is different,” he told WW. “We need to look at all angles and figure out what the right combo of service elements: news, weather, make the show appealing for a broader audience.”

It's that very attitude that seems to get longtime RES listeners riled up. When the KUFO move was announced in March, host Emerson as well as Patyk both noted on air that the format of RES would not be changing substantially. Super fans, many of whom have been listening to the talk show for years on one station or another, see the big move toward more music as a bait and switch; a violation of terms. And they're pissed.

But, when it comes to corporate radio, it's not all about small groups of loyal fans. McDonald, who has been in the Portland radio biz for a quarter-century, admits that he doesn't think that the station has at something “comfortable” for Rick or his listeners yet. “No one's thrilled with the way it's going right now. And I don't say that in any mean way,” McDonald says. “It's a work in progress and it will find its rhythm.”

And that rhythm might make for a show that longtime fans don't connect with. According to Patyk, radio stations have to take what's happening in their industry seriously. He mentions the fact that the “Portable People Meter” a new Arbitron electronic ratings tracking device that monitors not only what radio shows listeners tune in to, but when they change the dial during ads, talk and music, will be coming to Portland in September.

“CBS Radio is seeing patterns on what works and doesn't work for PPM,” he says. “Ad buyers look upon Arbitron to make decisions. The business of radio is a very different landscape than it was 10, 15 years ago. So, we're all feeling the pinch of the economy.”

McDonald says that CBS Radio operated RES at a loss on 970 AM “for a long time.” [I wasn't able to confirm this info with Emerson or his crew]. And, to be blunt, that's what this is about—ratings and ad sales (oddly enough, that's what fans say the new format will kill). “The entertainment biz is built on people who like [the shows] and numbers that can help it sustain it,” he says. “When [Rick] has guests or does celebrity interviews I don't think there's anyone better. I hear that brilliance and I just can't resist trying to make that work on a platform that is commercially viable.”

So, is there a place for a local, all talk radio show in ratings driven contemporary radio anymore? “Well, the news stations do that. The last free-for-all show that got ratings was Howard Stern,” McDonald says. “If you go back through history, most shows were variety shows that stars grew out of. Look at Mark and Brian, Howard Stern…they don't play records anymore. Anything can happen….”

When I asked McDonald, bottom line, whether CBS would consider lessening the amount of music on a morning show, his answer was non-committal. “We might,” he admits. “Whatever it takes to make the show successful as it can be on KUFO.”

As for the fans, Patyk says he understands their anger. “We're listening to them. We appreciate their candor and passion. That's something you don't see for a lot of programs these days,” he says. “[People] have really grown to love the show. I'm just as much a fan of radio and TV and when things get tinkered with and changed I understand the outcry. I used to love Freaks and Geeks. [When it was canceled] I wrote letters myself.”


Rick Emerson himself finally weighed in on the radio clash via an email to WW on Tuesday, May 19. Here's his (kinda cryptic) statement:
"CBS is the network of Cronkite and Murrow, the network of Walker and Welles. CBS has a proud tradition of exceptional broadcasts and compelling personalities. I respect CBS and their history. I believe that they, in turn, will respect the wishes, desires, and loyalty of the Rick Emerson Show's audience."

Read the original WW post, Stop the Music: Rick Emerson Show Fans Fight for More Talk.

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