A music intensive format can be turned into a winner, top five in demos, maybe even #1 in six months (with a little luck and a lot of promo money, three months); whereas a news-talk or news format, AM or FM takes years.
And yet several companies have flipped stations from music to sports talk and become winners in just two books. It happened in Boston. So if you provide the right kind of talk, it can be just like music.
But I ask you, if you're a guy with a limited budget, why would you invest that money in a news or talk format if it will take years to pay off? You wonder why new owners aren't coming into radio. This is why.
We were discussing news-talk and news stations. You've conveniently shifted the discussion to all-sports, which is a different breed of cat. For the record, I've worked in all three formats. But for the sake of discussion, sports-talk blooms a bit faster than news and news-talk. Boston is a major market with four major league teams to sustain consumer and fan interest. Buffalo and Rochester are different, with the Bills and Sabres driving interest. The ratings for sports stations in Rochester (WROC, WHTK) pale by comparison to Buffalo's sports station (WGR), which to date, has performed almost according to the season, strong in Fall and Winter, competitive in Spring if the Sabres are in the playoffs, and lagging in Summer. Now that WGR has the radio rights to the Bills, Summer ratings should be more robust and Fall ratings, traditionally very good, should be through the roof.
As to news-talk, I think SirRoxalot makes a valid point about newcomers avoiding the news-talk fray because the old guard owns most of the good spectrum (which used to be called 'signals' before the FCC revised its terminology and mission.) Brad Riter made a valiant charge on WECK, but the station was miscast and inadequately funded to compete with WGR and/or WBEN. News-talk, as we know, requires manpower, hard resources and promotion, all of which is capital intensive.
As an observer, WBTA Batavia seems to have a strong small market formula in place. Sandwiched between Buffalo and Rochester, WBTA (AM 1490) successfully offers a live, locally driven morning show and (automated) AC through the day, complimenting this with a very strong local news department and presence in all dayparts.