Feb 26


WBEN is no longer Buffalo’s powerhouse radio station

In this week's Monday Morning Read, Jim Heaney reports that the station, home to right wing talk radio, has lost much of its audience in recent years. The prospect of left-leaning George Soros owning a significant piece of WBEN's parent company casts further doubt on its future.

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George Soros, the left-leaning billionaire and favorite bogeyman of the radical right, has bought a big chunk of debt of the bankrupt Audacy radio chain, whose local holdings include WBEN, 930 AM, and WGR, 550 AM. That positions his management fund to be Audacy’s largest shareholder when the chain emerges from bankruptcy and presumably gives him a voice in the content of its 220 stations. 

That prompted Alan Pergament of The Buffalo News to speculate what it portends for WBEN and its lineup of right-of-center talk show hosts. (Right wing outlets, including Fox News, are having conniptions.)

There’s a school of thought that jettisoning the likes of David Bellavia and Tom Bauerle would be bad for business, and that might have been true in the past. But WBEN has lost much of its audience in recent years. 

WBEN was the most-listened-to station in the Buffalo market according to Neilson ratings in June 0f 2020. Its market share of 13.3 topped WYRK (10.7) and WBLK (8.3).  The other 19 stations lagged behind.

Fast forward to December of last year, the latest Neilson reporting period. WBEN  ranked eighth in the market – eighth! – with a 5.2 share. Which is to say it’s lost more than half of its audience since the start of the pandemic. It’s clearly no longer the powerhouse it once was.

Of note, WBEN tied for fourth a few months earlier (September 2023). Of further note, WBFO, the region’s NPR outlet, had a 3.9 audience share in December, placing it ninth in the ratings. That was up from 3.3 in 2020.

What’s going on? Beats me. WBEN has suffered some retirements, including Sandy Beach, and nationally syndicated talk show hosts with large followings such as Rush Limbaugh are no longer part of the lineup. Perhaps the station isn’t giving its audience enough red meat, or maybe listeners are losing their appetite.

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The Gannett newspaper chain is taking a novel approach in Indianapolis: reversing the loss of readers by investing money to improve the paper. The Buffalo Newspaper Guild, which represents what’s left of the newsroom of The Buffalo News, has suggested Lee Enterprises does likewise with the 70-plus newspapers it owns. Jon Harris, president of the Buffalo Guild, lamented what he described as “Inferior digital products. Spotty customer service. A weakened newspaper when a runway of print revenue remains” in a tweet last week. (The News and Guild have commenced contract negotiations, by the way.)

In other media news, Vice News is now essentially out of business (here’s a straight news story and a bare-knuckled analysis), and the daily papers in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh found they can’t even give their product away for free.

Why the continued persecution of Julian Assange is a threat to a free press.

Just how high are property taxes in New York State? We rank as the six-highest. (It could be worse, we could live in New Jersey.) The median tax bill here is $6,303, compared with $4,626 nationally. That’s based on home values, which I have to are higher in New York than a lot of states. Our effective tax is also ranked as sixth-highest, however.

Gov. Kathy Hochul hails from Hamburg. She’s taken up residence in Manhattan.

It’s not just Republicans looking to curtail our freedoms. Some conservative Democrats in the New York Legislature want to criminalize some forms of protest.  

The nation’s prison population is growing.

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I just got through reading Chasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom, Carl Bernstein’s account of his first five years in the news business. He started at the tender age of 16 at The Washington Star. Was writing front page stories when he was still a teen-ager.  Let’s just say he was born to be a reporter.

Bernstein is, of course, best known for his work with Bob Woodward breaking the Watergate scandal. Also of note is a prophetic piece in 1992 for The New Republic entitled The Idiot Culture in which he wrote: “We are in the process of creating, in sum, what deserves to be called the idiot culture. Not an idiot sub-culture, which every society has bubbling beneath the surface and which can provide harmless fun; but the culture itself. For the first time in our history the weird and the stupid and the coarse are becoming our cultural norm, even our cultural ideal.” 

Elsewhere in his essay, Bernstein penned what is my favorite quote about journalism: “Reporting is not stenography. It is the best obtainable version of the truth.” I taped that quote to the side of my computer terminal when I worked at The Orlando Sentinel and The Buffalo News and it adorns the wall of our newsroom at Investigative Post.

Words to live, and work by.

Investigative Post

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