The Media Notepad: Failed by Ferguson: 101.9 The Mix slides in the ratings

Also: The Lite launches Christmas format today; NBCSN closure date revealed; Biden nominates two to the FCC 

[Editors Note: The WLIT item was updated November 6.]

Approximately four years ago, I wrote a headline here titled “Fueled by Ferguson” as his morning show propelled 101.9 The Mix/WTMX to ratings success throughout the day.

But since the allegations of sexual misconduct against Eric Ferguson became public, ratings for the hot adult contemporary station have taken a tumble.

It’s basically now “Failed by Ferguson”.

According to Nielsen Audio figures released Monday for October (technically September 16 through October 13), 101.9 The Mix slid in overall performance. As reported by Robert Feder, the morning show – where Ferguson was pulled halfway through the ratings period – fell 22 percent from the last “book”, falling from fifth to a tie for ninth. And in the key female 25-54 demo – the show’s and station’s crucial sales demo – the station fell from fourth to seventh, losing more than 25 percent of ratings in the process.

Ferguson officially stepped down from his position last week, marking an end after 25 years of ratings dominance, first with Kathy Hart, then with Melissa McGurren, and then with the remaining cast of the morning show, now fronted by Brian Paruch (Whip), Nikki Chuminatto, and Violeta Podrumedic.

The turbulence reflects an overall weak book for the Hubbard-owned station – or what the station is accustomed to. 101.9 The Mix ratings fell 17 percent into a tie for ninth place. In afternoons, 101.9 The Mix tied for eighth and finished sixth in evenings. In middays, 101.9 The Mix didn’t rank in the top ten at all.

All-news WBBM-AM finished first overall and placed first in every daypart, a very impressive performance in the latest ratings period not impacted by Christmas music. And speaking of which…

If you saw the viral video where Mariah Carey taking a candy cane to a bunch of Halloween pumpkins, then you know what time it is.

iHeartMedia’s WLIT-FM announced Tuesday it is launching their annual Christmas music format Wednesday at exactly 4:05 p.m. The timing of the launch is in line when WLIT flipped in the past. This is the 21st consecutive year The Lite is doing the Santa Shake. 

In the last few years, WLIT has dominated local ratings in the final three ratings periods of the year and the Holly Jolly format showed no signs of slowing down. In 2020 as the nation was slogging through the pandemic, WLIT finished first in all three final periods.

Not surprisingly, other stations around the country have done likewise. Radio Insight tracked at least a dozen stations who flipped on Monday alone, the day after Halloween. Like WLIT, those stations will likely top their respective markets. On November 5, iHeartMedia simultaneously flipped 80 stations to Christmas music.

The guess here is Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas – the biggest Christmas song of all time in the rock era, will be played ad nauseum. Will it be the first on The Lite Wednesday at 4:05? [Editor’s Note: It was.]

We now have a firm date on when NBCSN is closing its doors, and to no one’s surprise it’s Dec. 31 – a date observers figured it would be when the announcement was made last January. It was expected the sporting events now airing on the soon-to-be-defunct channel would find new homes in the NBCUniversal universe either on USA Network, CNBC, or on Peacock – and that’s going to be the case.

The bulk of programming is shifting to USA Network, where it will devote more than 1500 hours of programming in 2022 to sports, starting January 1 with a Premier League soccer tripleheader at 6 a.m. In addition, USA would be the new home to NASCAR and IndyCar races, not to mention Atlantic 10 basketball, horse racing, golf, the Tour De France, and Olympic Sports.

A few sporting events would also wind up on CNBC, which is an upgrade from ad nauseum Shark Tank reruns. More live sporting events are also to be streamed on Peacock, although it’s likely it’ll be on the paid tier of the service.

“We are excited to transition the cable coverage of many of our premium sports events to USA Network, Peacock, and other widely-distributed NBCUniversal platforms, which will give us a significant boost in television homes and will put us in an even stronger position as we grow our business,” said Pete Bevacqua, who is chairman of NBC Sports.

“We expect this expansion of our live sports offering will both engage existing fans and bring in new communities to USA, further cementing the network as a top destination for the best and broadest entertainment in all of its many forms,” said Frances Berwick, chairman, Entertainment Networks, NBCUniversal Television & Streaming, in a release.

During the Tokyo Olympics, USA was the top sports/entertainment network, drawing 1.6 million viewers during the games. Programming on USA has gone full circle as in the 1980s, the cable network had the rights to MLB, NBA, and the NHL – not to mention WWE Wrestling, which it still has (WWE Raw) in addition to entertainment programming. When NBCUniversal had NHL rights, several playoff games aired on USA.

The last cable channel to close up shop was also on New Year’s Eve – in 2019, Nexstar closed local cable news channel CLTV at 6 p.m. 

As this space predicted earlier, the nomination of a fifth commissioner to the FCC is likely to end up in a partisan fight. The Biden administration is nominating current FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenwarcel to another term as chairman while also nominating net neutrality activist Gigi Sohn to take her place. Both are Democrats.

The nominations won praise from numerous industry groups, including the NCTA, CTIA, and the NAB, among others. The nomination of Sohn also won praise from LGBTQ groups as Sohn is openly gay.

But while Rosenwarcwel is expected to win bipartisan support, Sohn’s nomination could be tougher. Similar to everything else going on in Congress, there is a significant partisan split on display, with opposition from Republicans – not to mention two Democrats, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W Va.) and Kristen Sinema (D-Ariz.) Their opposition is also the reason why the infrastructure bill – the cornerstone of Biden’s agenda, has yet to pass. Because Republicans are threating to use a filibuster, it takes 60 votes to pass any legislation or nominations in Congress. Despite being Democrats, Manchin and Sinema are similar to the white Chicago “Vrdolyak 29” Democrats of the 1980s who opposed Mayor Harold Washington’s progressive policies at every turn than the party you see now.

If a deal to nominate two Democrats doesn’t take place soon, then it is entirely possible Republicans would have a 2-1 advantage at the FCC – that’s because Rosenwarcel’s term at the commission expired at the end of last year and she would have to leave by the end of this year (don’t ask me why.) Of course, the Biden administration had plenty of time to nominate these appointees before now.

Sohn’s stance on numerous issues – including net neutrality and opposition to media consolidation – is certainly a non-starter with Republicans. And with the divisive atmosphere on Capitol Hill, it would be very tough to get a 3-2 Democratic majority at the FCC. Even if they renew Rosenwarcel’s term, it would still be a 2-2 partisan tie, like we have now.

Despite the praise from industry groups – and several pending actions at the FCC (including Gray’s purchase of Meredith’s TV stations and an FCC complaint against Nexstar from Comcast over ownership of WPIX New York), it won’t be enough to persuade anyone in the GOP. While this standoff would likely frustrate a lot of those in the media industry, keep in mind Republicans have one goal and is to frustrate Biden, even if it means inadvertently frustrating others. 


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