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Making Sense of The Latest Houston Ratings

The Houston sports radio ratings were published this week in the Houston Chronicle, and I usually refrain from interjecting my opinion on other ratings pieces, but given what I just read, I felt it necessary to do so.

One of the major challenges radio faces as an industry is having their story told by the print media. Most writers don’t understand the complexities of the ratings game or the way radio stations evaluate short-term and long-term success. They simply look at a number for one demographic (Men 25-54) and compare it to the one the station generated the month before. They then use that gain or decrease as the evidence to support their position on defining whether the station was a success or failure for the current month.

First, it’s clear that the intent of this particular article was to stir up controversy by using Josh Innes’ name as the centerpiece. I’m sure Josh won’t mind the exposure, and the publication is probably satisfied with the traffic they’ve generated from it, but unless you understand the way new shows are measured, this is simply an attempt to create buzz around manufactured drama.

Let me be clear, Innes is off to a slow start. That part of the story deserves to be told. But, most new shows take time to develop and capture an audience, which is why most programmers provide a 1-2 year cushion when evaluating the growth of a show. iHeartmedia in Houston didn’t hire Innes with the false belief that he’d lead them to the top of the ratings in 3 months. If it were that simple they’d have hired him sooner.

There are certain situations when shows on highly rated brands win faster, or certain shows are a mess and need to have the plug pulled sooner, but Innes inherited a small audience, and provides a stark contrast in style to his predecessor Charlie Pallilo. That means he has to build an entirely new audience because Pallilo’s listener’s are less likely to stick around for Innes, at least in the short-term. To expect Josh to reverse the station’s ratings woes in afternoons in 90 days is unrealistic.

I understand the local press’ affinity towards Pallilo, but he was given a long leash by the iHeartmedia brass in Houston. I’m sure local executives wrestled with making a change for a while before deciding it was time to change direction.

Every host understands when they accept an opportunity to host a show in this business that they’re a prisoner to the ratings. Unfortunately for Charlie his numbers weren’t there. That doesn’t mean he’s not talented, a good guy, or someone capable of helping another station make money and enjoy success. It simply means he didn’t generate enough ratings to satisfy 790’s business objectives.

The even bigger part of the story that was missing was the credit that Sports Radio 610 deserved for winning the month. There are some very talented people on the airwaves at 790 and 97.5, and to win the head to head competition against them and remain in control as 610 has done for the majority of 2016 is a feat worth highlighting. The station literally received one line of recognition in the first 8 paragraphs of the story.

Since the local outlet didn’t provide it, let me be the first to extend a congrats to Ryan McCredden and the 610 staff on their latest performance.

If the goal was to generate buzz off of negativity, one could’ve pointed to the fact that the ratings were down for all three stations during the past three months. It’s football season, and the Texans were playing for a chance to make the playoffs, and there was a lot of drama surrounding the team’s starting Quarterback Brock Osweiler. The Rockets were also one month into the season, and playing great basketball. You’d think those things would help generate a spike in listening, but for whatever reason, the shares were slightly lower.

Was that due to Nielsen losing 8% of their sample? Maybe. But even if the 8% was located, I don’t believe the numbers would’ve matched what each brand produced in October.

I realize the Innes-Pallilo story provides drama. That then leads to clicks, and given Josh’s track record in Houston and Philadelphia, he’s a newspaper media writer’s dream. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask for the whole story to be told.

I have no horse in this race, I just like seeing the performance of sports radio brands reflected in a fair and honest way. For Houston listeners, I see it as a positive that they have three good options to choose from when they’re in the mood to consume Houston sports radio. Regardless of the ratings, if the brands are generating revenue and showing a profit, then all will be fine inside the walls of each operation.

When you add it all up, here’s what you have.

Sports Radio 610 is in the driver’s seat, and has consistently led the market.

790 is in building mode and counting on Innes to provide a ratings boost in the future, but they need time to take that next step.

ESPN 97.5 remains in the conversation in second place, and is currently giving 610 their strongest ratings competition. Their best performance though is coming from Mike and Mike, which could be problematic down the line if changes occur with ESPN Radio’s morning show.

Here are the numbers the Chronicle published which show how each station and it’s key weekday shows performed in the latest December book.

STATION TIMESLOT/LOCAL SHOWS 16-Dec 16-Nov 16-Oct
M-F 6A-7P
Sports Radio 610 3.2 3.6 3.7
ESPN 97.5 1.6 1.7 2.2
SportsTalk 790 0.8 1.1 1.7
Mornings
Sports Radio 610 Mad Radio – 6a-10a 3.4 3.9 4
ESPN 97.5 Mike & Mike – 5a-9a N/A N/A N/A
SportsTalk 790 Proper Gentlemen – 6a-10a 0.8 1.3 1.8
Middays
Sports Radio 610 John Lopez & Cody Stoots – 10a-2p 2.6 3.5 3
ESPN 97.5 Granato & Ramzanali – 9a-11a 1.5 1.8 2.4
ESPN 97.5 Granato & Salisbury – 11a-1p 2.2 2 2.5
ESPN 97.5 Joel Blank – 1p-4p 1.6 1.3 2
SportsTalk 790 Koch & Kalu – 10a-12p 1 0.8 1.3
SportsTalk 790 Jones & Clanton – 12p-3p 1.1 1.5 1.8
Afternoons
Sports Radio 610 The Triple Threat – 2p-6p 3.8 4.4 4.5
ESPN 97.5 The Blitz – 4p-7p 1.7 2.7 2.7
SportsTalk 790 Josh Innes – 3p-7p 0.9 1.4 N/A
SportsTalk 790 Charlie Pallilo 2.3

*** Mike and Mike’s ratings were not provided but the show delivers the three strongest rated hours of the entire broadcast day on ESPN 97.5. From 5a-6a M&M produce a 5.8. During the 7a-8a hour they record a 3.0, and from 8a-9a they generate a 2.6.

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