The Media Notepad: Dish, Nexstar settle differences

Also: Trump Country concedes; Rock 95.5 drops to a ratings low; DMA update

On Christmas morning, Dish subscribers received an unexpected present: the return of WGN-TV and WGN America to their systems.

A deal was reached late Thursday night between the satellite provider and Nexstar, owners of both the local Chicago television station, the cable network, and other local stations nationwide as the channels had been off Dish for the last three weeks in the latest of several retransmission dispute taking place over the last decade.

As usual protocol, terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. This follows another resolution of a dispute a few days earlier between AT&T and broadcast group Tegna, who yanked their channels off of DirecTV and U-Verse affecting stations in Dallas, Atlanta, St. Louis, and Houston, among others.

The deal is also notable given Nexstar has been pushing to expand WGN America’s reach with their new prime-time centerpiece NewsNation. In recent weeks, they struck carriage agreements with Fubo and Hulu + Live TV.

But perhaps the best present to viewers is non-Dish subscribers no longer have to put up with those obnoxious commercials on Nexstar stations bashing Dish, which often resembled political attack ads. Besides lying to viewers about the satellite provider yanking the channels (only the owners of the channels can do so), Nexstar ran one later blasting Dish for numerous channel blackouts, including those involving numerous regional sports channels and HBO. It’s a miracle Dish even agreed to a deal after such treatment, but mark it up to the weirdness of how television works these days…

Until the next broadcaster-cable/satellite dispute…

The latest PPM numbers are out and it’s not good news for iHeartMedia’s new rocker WCHI-FM, aka Rock 95.5. According to Nielsen, the station fell to a new low of a 1.7 rating, tying WSCR/The Score for 18th place.

Rock 95.5 debuted September 3 replacing the Big 95.5 county format after five non-competitive years and has been criticized for its all-over-the-place playlist and the hiring of Angi Taylor from sister station WKSC-FM (Kiss FM). So far, the numbers are about the same as Big 95.5’s when the plug was pulled, and the future diagnosis isn’t really encouraging.

As usual for this time of year, The Lite (WLIT) dominated the ratings with Christmas music, but did not sweep all day parts as it has done in the past. While The Lite won middays and afternoons, sister station V103 won mornings and evenings with syndicated shows from Steve Harvey and Keith Sweat, respectively as the Adult R&B station finished second overall.

Of note is the ratings for former Hip-Hop powerhouse WGCI, who last month scored its lowest numbers since 1978 (with a hybrid R&B/Disco format.) But the numbers are in line with other Hip-Hop stations across the country, who experienced similar ratings declines. In this book, WGCI is only ahead of rival Power 92 (WPWX) by four-tenths of a ratings point.

Another note is while Public radio stations set ratings records in New York (tie), Los Angeles, and San Francisco, Chicago’s WBEZ didn’t achieve this goal but still finished strong in a tie for fourth place.

Hell naw: In an update to story reported here back in September – and was expected given Donald Trump lost the presidential election to Joe Biden, the Trump Country branding at Sanibel, Fla’s. WXNX-FM was dropped last week and replaced by the slogan “Hell Yeah 93.7”, retaining the country format it previously had under Trump Country.

Owner Sun Broadcasting also changed the call letters to WHEL-FM, which serves the Fort Myers-Naples media market. Even though a station manger said they dropped the name because of legal reasons, it wouldn’t make sense to keep it anyway given the results of the election. 

The “Hell Country” branding should remind Chicago radio observers of a similar move almost thirty years ago here when former contemporary hit radio station WYTZ-FM rebranded Z95 as “Hell 94.7” in March 1991 in an ill-fated move considered one of the worst ever. The “fun” included bashing archrival B96 (WBBM-FM) on-air; airing Gulf War updates in Spanish; and directly copying B96’s dance playlist. The backlash was fierce; this nonsense ended after only a week and reverted back to a traditional CHR, rebranding as “Hot 94.7 FM” before the plug was pulled altogether eight months later.

The person who came up with all of this? None other than then-consultant Randy Michaels, who would later become a Tribune Co. executive and radio station owner with Merlin Media. Michaels had success flipping WFLZ-FM in Tampa in 1989 to CHR, branding it as The Power Pig and taking on rival WRBQ-FM (Q105).

So far there hasn’t been any known complaints about the Hell Yeah branding from Ft. Myers listeners; chalk it up to living in a different era now where coarseness has become the norm (though we haven’t seen any radio station branding itself as “Ass 98.5” quite yet.) Besides, there was already a 2003 R&B and pop hit from Ginuwine with the same title.

In the latest ratings report, Trump Country improved 50 percent in share from its previous rock format, but well behind of iHeartMedia-owned rival WCKT (Cat Country 107.1). And for the record, Michaels wasn’t behind these two branding stunts – although it seems like it.

Take this with a grain of salt for sure: the 2020-21 designated media area – or DMAs as we call them – rankings of 210 television markets were quietly released a few weeks ago by Nielsen as they were delayed by the pandemic and if you look at the chart, you notice a huge jump in television households in nearly all cities, Chicago included.

Why you ask? It’s probably because Nielsen has decided to add broadband-only households to its tally, meaning they now count in Nielsen’s universe – even if they don’t have a television set in the house. The move comes as Nielsen announced a sweeping change in the way ratings are tabulated in 2024, which now would include digital and streaming due to a major shift in the way we consume television. While it won’t make much of a difference for large markets like Chicago, it does impact a lot of mid-sized and smaller markets as they shift either up or down in rank.

Keep in mind these are estimates and measure TV only; these figures do not reflect on the overall health of a DMA given other measuring sticks (such as radio and print) also exist – though Covid-19 has decimated the media industry this year. And with almost all markets experiencing increases, comparing year-to-year figures is pointless. Also keep in mind many major markets lost population, notably New York and Chicago and the respective states they are in.

With that said, Chicago retained third place easily with a total of  3.47 million households, up from3.25 million last season. The news wasn’t as great in other parts of the state as Peoria-Bloomington (120 to 123), Champaign-Springfield-Decatur 88 to 90), and Rockford (138 to 139) all lost ground despite the gains. St. Louis stabilized in 23rd place. 

The exodus out of Illinois – not to mention New York state and California has to be concerning if you aren’t living in a metered market. After all…fewer television viewers means fewer customers means lower revenue.


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