WMAL had a rich history for many years as a news and talk station. IQ is starting from scratch.
WMAL is a Cumulus station which, like WABC, has chopped away at its budget over the years and split up a formerly successful morning show to save money (veteran Andy Parks now does an entertaining afternoon show in tandem with Washington Times correspondents on 730 WTNT). They flushed their most recent morning co-host after she declined to develop a syndicated show in a few days without a support staff. And Washington is another difficult market for talk and for AM. News WTOP departed for FM with notable results a few years ago. WMAL's move to FM was probably smart given the difficulty of AMs covering the whole market. Whether or not they settle on a morning show may determine whether or not they gain some more traction. Meanwhile, the remainder of the talk talent is strewn accross several AMs with compromised power and/or signals. And the NPR outlet is often number 1. This is Washington. That said, WMAL essentially runs Cumulus' lineup and Limbaugh, Hannity and Levin (the FM side tried Imus back in an Oldies incarnation to no avail), so their costs are built in. And CBS has brought in a new FM all-news competitor to WTOP which has yet to make a ratings splash. It takes time.
So the question is: What does IQ have going for it that WMAL doesn't? As posted elsewhere, if anything, Philadelphia has been more adverse to Rush and his syndicated conservative talk cohorts than other markets. It was the LAST top 50 market to clear Rush on a major all-market signal. Beck and Hannity have been missing from the market for months.
As discussed earlier, Rush made a late debut in Philly because WWDB's programmers had their heads 'insulated from reality' for awhile. Once they belatedly added Limbaugh, the ratings soared. CBS cut the other two Premiere shows because they thought they could sell cheaper local shows. But they'd better have a sales staff that can shop low numbers.
It's not 1995 anymore. Rush doesn't have the draw he had then.
That's true, but no one has come along to replace him. The younger skewing lifestyle "hot" talk formats have failed to draw a significant audience in just about every market where they've been tried. You can only have so many low-rated sports stations in a market (DC has 3). Conservative talk is the strain of the format that continues to draw consistent numbers. Whether or not it needs younger hosts with more variety in delivery is open for debate.
IQ has an incredible uphill battle ahead.
Maybe, but it won't be due to competition or lack of programming. PHT's ratings will be Phillies dependent now that their schedule is full of undistinguished talent with no one but Dom and the shell of Smerconish as names. WNTP doesn't compete in the same arena as other talkers. That leaves 106.9. If they can establish a compelling news-talk morning show and use the cream of the syndicated crop for the remainder of the day, their costs will be low and the potential for revenue good. I think there are still enough advertisers who are savvy to the manufactured 'boycotts' that pop up from time to time when a liberal dunk tank get's it underwear bunched, that there is revenue to be had. That plus the FM advantage makes it likely, if not a sure thing, that IQ will be one of Merlin's more profitable ventures (how are the Chicago music stations doing?).
IQ should give us an indication of whether a single talker with a good lineup can thrive in Philly. PHT has always been compromised by either the Phillies or cheap programming decisions (Imus for years). IQ has a clear field to establish whether Philadelphia is really a 'special' market or whether its predecessors were just not up to programming the format to its best advantage.