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LR radio babble battle escalates; KSYG shifts frequencies hoping to outmaneuver entrenched KARN.

Talk is cheap, unless it's on the ??

In the Little Rock market, talk radio has become a battlefield, and war, as everyone knows, is hell.

The telephone lines and battle lines are drawn the old veteran vs. the young upstart, AM vs. FM.

KARN-AM, 920, has been the news and views commander-in-chief in central Arkansas for nearly 15 years. But KSYG, which has skirmished with KARN on the AM dial, is now going head-to-head and toe-to-toe by bringing talk to FM. And the gun it's toting is 100,000 watts strong.

"With 100,000 watts and a Class 'C' rating, we'll be the most powerful talk-radio station in the country," says Charlie Pride, KSYG sales manager. "We've looked and haven't found another one."

Signal Media of Arkansas, which owns KSYG and KKPT-FM, bought KKYK-FM, 103.7, in late 1993. It changed the call letters and format of the veteran rock 'n' roll station May 1.

KSYG's FM station will be able to draw listeners - and callers - from about 75 percent of the state, Pride says.

The station's strong signal, says mid-morning host Chuck Martin, will be a particularly important asset.

"On our first day we got callers from all over central Arkansas," he says. "And people out further in the state are starved for talk radio, so we'll really penetrate into those areas."

A Little Rock native, the 40-year-old Martin has been working in radio and television in Fayetteville for the past 12 years - except for a brief stint at KARN in 1989-90. For the past 18 months he had a talk show on KFAY-AM, the only 24-hour talk station in northwest Arkansas.

Martin describes himself as an "irreverent conservative. My show will be the zaniest thing in the world one minute and then have an impassioned debate on family values the next." His 10 a.m.-1 p.m. show will overlap KARN's highly popular - agree or disagree, people listen - Pat Lynch.

Martin says he'll offer a conservative alternative to Lynch, a viewpoint more in tune with the views of most Arkansas listeners.

Lynch replies that the views of the host aren't as important as his or her ability to entertain.

"You have to be an entertainer with a sense of the news," Lynch says. "You have to understand both the art and the science of radio."

That there are more conservative talk show hosts than liberal ones "speaks to the stupidity and timidity of radio management. They think that because Rush [Limbaugh] is conservative, that that's what people want to listen to."

Rush Strikes Chord

Limbaugh, Lynch says, "has struck a chord with people not with what he says, but with his style. He's genuine, he's an entertainer and he's the consummate professional. He does a lot of research."

Would Limbaugh be as popular if he espoused a liberal philosophy?

"Well, he wouldn't be the phenomenon he is," Lynch admits, "but he'd still be popular."

Lynch is a 26-year radio veteran, having started his own talk show at Spokane, Wash., in the aftermath of the Mount St. Helen's eruption.

"All the qualified people were out of the station," Lynch says. His impromptu Saturday morning call-in show was such a hit, it became a regular feature.

Lynch came to Little Rock's KARN in October 1983, not long after the station switched to its news-talk format.

Martin doesn't harbor ideas of dethroning Lynch.

"Pat Lynch will continue to be Pat Lynch and he'll continue to have his following," Martin says. "But I think my program in particular and the station in general will continue to grow."

And Lynch does not take KSYG's move to FM lightly.

"I respect all competition, including KSSN and the other non-talk stations that happen to be the market leaders," Lynch says. "I think competition is good for the market, good for the format."

Neal Gladner, KARN general manager, says his station's long and established track record in the news-talk format will prove superior in the battle with KSYG.

"This is the place people turn when there's a breaking news story or if the weather is bad," Lynch says, "or even when Pat Lynch has a great guest. KARN is a part of people's lives."

Lynch adds with mock bravado, "We're going to continue our relentless pursuit of quality, dare I say excellence."

But Gladner says KARN can't rest on its laurels "because the only way to coast is downhill. We weren't resting when there was no competition and we aren't resting now. We'll listen to see what they do, but I don't expect to change the way we do things as a result. We're pretty satisfied with KARN. The market has been very receptive to us."

Economics Behind Shift

The Little Rock market wasn't particularly receptive to the classic rock 'n' roll of KKYK-FM, which garnered a 3.7 market share according to the winter 1995 Arbitron ratings - and that's the reason for the shift to talk: economics.

"KKYK just wasn't generating the business needed to maintain its format," Pride says.

Unlike more staid news-talk stations on the AM dial, Pride says KSYG-FM will market itself like a music-playing station that happens not to play music.

"We'll do on-air and location promotions just as if we had disc jockeys," she says, "except that they'll be talk jockeys instead. We're going to try to be out on the edge, putting together a whole new kind of station."

Pride doesn't see KARN as KSYG-FM's only competition.

"We're competing against everybody with a stick in the yard," she says. "But we're certainly not saying we're going to drive anyone out of business. There's more than one country station in town and more than one rock station. I feel like there's room for us all."

Talk shows are so popular, Lynch says, "because they're real. They're one of the few things in the medium that's not preprogrammed. You never know what's going to happen. The rest of radio is incredibly orchestrated and downright stale. Talk radio is spontaneous."

Another central Arkansas broadcasting company began carrying 24-hour sports talk earlier this year. KLPQ-FM, which was broadcasting a simulcast of classic rock on 102.1 and 102.5, turned the latter frequency over to nationally syndicated sports talk and renamed the station KBBL-FM, "The Ball."

Gladner says people are interested in what's going on in the world "beyond the sound bites you get out of television, and they like to express their opinions and see how other people think."

Very few listeners actually call to express themselves, Lynch says, "an infinitesimal number, really. Most folks aren't exhibitionists."

So they're voyeurs?

"I guess you could say that," he says. "They want to hear what others have to say."

RELATED ARTICLE: KSSN Continues Country Reign

Country music giant KSSN-FM, 95.7. is firmly retrenched in its No. 1 spot in the Little Rock market radio station ratings.

Except for a blip in summer 1994 when it unexpectedly dropped to the No. 2 slot, KSSN being on top of the radio heap is about as sure a thing as death and taxes.

KSSN scored a 15.3 share in the winter 1995 (Jan. 5-March 29) Arbitron ratings, exactly where it was in the fall 1994 book.

Elsewhere in the ratings, there was plenty of jostling.

The big loser in the ratings race is KIPR-FM, 92.3, which dropped 1.8 points in its market share from 11.6 to 9.8.

Last summer KIPR was indeed "The Power," handing KSSN that one blemish on its top-spot record. KIPR posted an 11.7 share to KSSN's uncharacteristically dismal 10.9.

KIPR is central Arkansas' flagship of urban contemporary music: hip, young black music that's heavy on rap and hip-hop with a few soulful crooners thrown in for slow dancing.

Gordon Heiges, KIPR general manger, says he hasn't studied the most recent ratings.

"I'm sure we'll sit down and analyze the situation," Heiges says, "but I don't think it will change the way we do things here. Stations' numbers fluctuate from week to week, month to month, book to book and year to year. Winter is generally a down book for us."

That's true. The winter '94 Arbitron ratings gave KIPR a 9.9 share, just a tenth of a point higher than the winter '95 book.

"The bottom line is that we're just about where we were a year ago," Heiges says.

Picking up most of KIPR's losses was KOLL-FM, 94.9 (Cool 95), which increased its share from 4.0 to 5.5.

"And all our other numbers in specific demographic groups looked good as well," says KOLL General Manager Stephen McNamara, "particularly women and men ages 25 to 54 - our target group."

McNamara attributes the success to "fine-tuning" the station's oldies sound to Arkansans' tastes. He also says that although the station plays music from the 1960s, it has a '90s attitude.

"Our on-air people, our jingles and our promotions are all very '90s," he says. "Right now we're giving away a jet ski, not a '57 Chevy."

Also posting notable gains were KURB-FM, 98.5, from 8.2 to 9.0 and KARN-AM, 920, from 62 to 7.1.

KMJX-FM, 105.1, dropped from 7.1 to 6.2 and KDDK-FM, 100.3, fell a full point from 6.8 to 5.8.
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Title Annotation:includes related article on KSSN-FM; Little Rock, Arkansas
Author:Treadway, Tyler
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:May 15, 1995
Previous Article:Three LR stores pace state's computer dealers: Complete Computing leads with 55.
Next Article:Welch earns reputation as top lawyer.

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