Tucson radio listeners have shown they like the news-talk format, but all-local talk?
That’s the play a new Tucson radio station owner is making after buying one of Tucson’s better known talk-radio stations.
Amador Bustos, owner of Bustos Media, bought KVOI (1030-AM) recently and on Nov. 1 turned it into an all-local-talk, all-day format. Previously, the station had local talk for certain periods of the day, interspersed with nationally syndicated hosts such as Dennis Prager and Michael Medved.
“KVOI has been a news-talk station for many years,” Bustos told me Tuesday. “It had a certain amount of established following. I didn’t want to change the format from news talk, but I wanted to make it a lot more local instead.”
“I also wanted to diversify the programming,” he said. “I decided to make it local Tucson.”
The station will feature local hosts from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., but not just the conservative political hosts that dominate most talk radio. Then, Bloomberg radio will play overnight.
Bustos, who has been in the radio business for decades in California and Oregon, is making a broader play in Tucson-area radio. He also bought KTGV (106.3-FM) when Scripps sold its local stations to Lotus Communications but Lotus needed to spin off two stations to stay within regulatory limits. And he is considering an additional radio-station purchase.
The KVOI purchase was one of five sales made this summer by Doug and Mary Martin and their business, Good News Communications, as they got out of the radio business and pivoted to marketing and public relations.
Doug Martin told me Tuesday it had become increasingly clear that his radio business was becoming like a mom-and-pop drugstore in a CVS-and-Walgreens world. The stations needed economies of scale in order to compete, he said. With his sales, he said, there will be four main commercial radio groups in Tucson: iHeartRadio, Cumulus, Lotus and Bustos Media.
Of Bustos, Martin said, “He’s just a tremendous talent, somebody who has really done it.”
Bustos was born in Michoacan, Mexico, and moved with his family to California when he was 12. He got a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of California, Berkeley and a master’s degree in the sociology of education. He was working on a doctorate when he veered off into the radio business.
He built a Spanish-language radio network, Z Spanish Radio Media, and sold it to Entravision for $350 million in 2000. Then he started a new radio business that crashed in the 2008 recession. Then he started again with Bustos Media in 2011.
Now, Bustos has bought a home in Tucson and plans to spend much of the winter here while living much of the rest of the year in Portland. Ironically, his stations in the Pacific Northwest tend to be Spanish-language broadcasters, while the Tucson stations will be in English. Some of the stations in Oregon even broadcast Russian-language programming to the emigre population there.
Bustos had longtime local talker John C. Scott help out with the programming. After trying a variety of different options, he ended up expanding morning host Chris DeSimone’s show from three hours to four hours, 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Mark Bishop will do a local variety show from 10 a.m. to noon.
Bill Buckmaster will continue with his local talk show from noon to 1 p.m. That’s followed by Steve Rivera hosting a local sports-talk show from 1 to 3 p.m. Scott himself will host from 3 to 5 p.m. From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Dawn English hosts local cultural programming. Then Bloomberg takes over.
The extra hour could be a tough test for DeSimone, but Bustos said he wanted him to stay in the morning slot because “Chris has been the anchor of that station for the last six to seven years.” Bustos added he wanted the conservative DeSimone to stay on, “To continue to preserve the identity of the station, whether I agreed with his political philosophy or not.”
He hopes the other shows will balance each other politically and from other perspectives, like age, gender and topic.
Scott, for example, tends to be politically liberal.
He sees strengths and weaknesses in the shows he helped establish.
“I’m not totally thrilled with the lineup, but I love Rivera. He’s great, he’s a natural at what he does, and I get to do what I’ve done for decades,” Scott said.
The disappeared national talk shows have upset some local listeners, but Bustos said he’s used to that. Programming changes always come with complaints. Scott, for one, is happy: “I’m really thrilled they’re gone. Every time I turned them on, I wanted to turn the car into a telephone pole.”
But the radio business is in a tough position. Online streaming and podcasts have made broadcast stations almost antiquated, especially as cars increasingly feature satellite radio.
“Content will be king, and how you receive the content won’t matter so much,” Martin said.
Paying for the good content could be tough.
Joseph Morgan, an Arizona Daily Star guest columnist who had a Saturday show on KVOI, told me he was planning to do a daily one-hour show under Bustos’ regime, but he couldn’t make it pencil out financially because Bustos was asking him to pay $100 per hour for airtime and recruit sponsors who would cover the costs.
“I think it’s crazy that they’re charging the content producers,” Morgan said. “I was going to have to get my own sponsors, pay for my own show, do all the content creation, and I was getting zero support from the station.”
Bustos said he thinks the revenue-sharing system he’s established could work but he’s waiting to see.
”It’s an experiment for all of us,” he said. “I don’t necessarily know if it’s going to take root in this market.”
He said he’s willing to give the experiment about a year. If it doesn’t work, there are plenty of other formats to try.