Tough Crowd: Listeners Tune Out Howard Stern’s Successors

According to early ratings released Monday, former Stern stations suffered serious drops in listenership.

The early results are in, and a good number of former Howard Stern listeners appear to have jumped to other pursuits in the morning. Based on preliminary numbers released by Arbitron for winter 2006 (November 2005-January 2006), stations featuring Stern’s successors — David Lee Roth, Adam Carolla and Rover — have suffered serious drops in listenership.

According to an analysis of the numbers released Monday by trade magazine Radio & Records, New York’s WFNY (92.3 Free FM) earned a 3.2 share (a share is the percentage of listeners tuning in to a broadcast in relation to all the people tuned in to that city’s radio stations at that time) in November and 3.7 in December during Stern’s final months. By January, Roth’s first full month, the share had dipped by nearly two-thirds, according to Arbitron. Those numbers ranked the station at #18 in the nation’s biggest radio market, compared to Stern’s #1 slot in November and December. In other words, Roth attracted an estimated 63,000 listeners per quarter hour in January, versus Stern’s 277,000 in December.

The news wasn’t much better for Los Angeles’ KLSX (97.1 Free FM), where Carolla’s show attracted a dismal 0.7 share in January, making KLSX the lowest-rated full-signal commercial FM station in the market during morning-drive time for the month, according to R&R. Even at his lowest finish, in March 2005, Stern’s old show got a 2.9 share. Radio ratings are typically based on a three-month cycle, so the early Arbitron numbers are not necessarily indicative of the final ratings the shows will have.

While Roth’s show got off to a bumpy start and was heavily panned in the New York press, experts have praised Carolla as having the most significant chance of drawing in Stern’s former audience due to his experience in radio and similar sensibility (see “Stern On Satellite: As Fans Scramble For Equipment, We Rate The Winners And Losers” ). The same can’t be said for former Cleveland morning-show host Rover, whose program on a handful of former Stern stations in the Midwest has suffered even greater declines, according to R&R.

Rover’s results in Chicago are practically off the chart. His WCKG (105.9 Free FM) show received a 0.4 rating in January and just a 0.2 in the 25-54 age range.

CBS Radio executives have said all along that they don’t envision any quick fix for replacing Stern and that they are committed to the Free FM format and the patchwork quilt of hosts they’ve hired to take over the shock jock’s former slots (see “David Lee Roth Replacing Howard Stern On Morning Radio” ).

In the weeks after the debut of Roth, Carolla and Rover, Infinity Broadcasting (now CBS Radio) President of Programming Rob Barnett said it could take up to 18 months for the new hosts to find their footing. “One programmer said to me if the Lord had replaced Howard Stern, the first 24 hours would produce nothing but negative comments,” Barnett joked at the time, saying the company plans to stick with the shows as they develop an audience.

“It’s far too soon to draw any permanent conclusions based on these preliminary numbers,” CBS Radio spokesperson Karen Mateo said. “We continue to have a long-range outlook for the Free FM stations and expect it to take anywhere between 12 to 24 months to see how it all plays out.” Mateo added that the network has no current plans to add or subtract shows from the lineup.

The Arbitron ratings from R&R are unofficial monthly “extrapolations,” with the official numbers expected next month. Stern began his new show on Sirius satellite radio in January, and due to the subscriber-based nature of the satellite business, pure ratings are not available. The company did report, however, that its subscriber base ballooned from around 600,000 on the day the Stern deal was announced in October 2004 to more than 3 million as of January 5, with more than 1.1 million signing on in the fourth quarter of 2005 alone.

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