McFeely: Reports of Joel Heitkamp's demise greatly exaggerated

Like him or not, the KFGO talker is still the top-rated host on local radio
Joel Heitkamp (submitted photo)

The most popular political talker last fall on local radio was Joel Heitkamp.

The least popular were Rob Port and Scott Hennen.

Lesson: Personality trumps partisanship in the entertainment format of talk-radio.

Well, that's not exactly true because Rush Limbaugh was the second most popular yakker you can hear locally.

There's no business like show business, folks, and the bombast and bluster coming from the mouths of Heitkamp and Rush are keeping you tuned in.

As for me, I wasn't any great shakes before quitting my 970 WDAY show in late November to avoid burning out into a heap of gray ashes.

Guess I needed more personality, bombast and bluster. Three strikes and I'm out.

Port is gone from the airwaves, too, his show disappearing from WDAY at the same time as mine. The Forum Communications Co.-owned station probably doesn't miss us.

After The Forum ran a story last week outlining the most basic numbers available for the most recent radio ratings -- KFGO, home of Heitkamp, was on top, as it has been almost forever -- I wondered how political-oriented shows did in a year when a divisive midterm election dominated the news.

My curiosity was also piqued, I'll admit, when Port wrote a blog using those most basic numbers to note KFGO's overall ratings decline, in Rob's words, "despite Heidi Heitkamp on the ballot." His thesis was that despite Joel's sister being a statewide story every day as she ran a U.S. Senate campaign to keep her seat, Joel's radio station was tanking.

Except that it's not.

A detailed look at the local radio ratings revealed The Mighty 790 remains the dominant news/talk station and Joel remains the dominant host, as much as that pains me to say.

Seems every time I click on KFGO during Joel's show, he's ripping The Forum for some real or perceived slight. Maybe he knows his radio station can't compete with this newspaper for dominance, considering The Forum's tens of thousands of subscribers, hundreds of thousands of online readers and millions of weekly web page views.

I worked at KFGO for almost seven years. There seems to be a chip on the shoulder about The Forum over there. Never quite figured out why. Nobody in The Forum building seems to care that much about KFGO.

But anyway, credit where due. Heitkamp is the most-listened-to talk-show host in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota. The Nielsen ratings from the fall of 2018 show as much.

The numbers I'm about to reference come from Nielsen's fall ratings, measured from September to early December by selected radio listeners who were given a diary to fill out. The figures come from the Total Survey Area, which includes 30 counties in eastern North Dakota, western Minnesota and South Dakota. They are for all listeners 12 years old and older, or "12+" as we say in the biz.

Heitkamp was No. 1, and among local politically oriented hosts it's not close. Heitkamp's show "News and Views," 8-11 a.m., had an average of about 6,400 listeners per hour and averaged about 17,000 different people who would tune in each week in the TSA.

Limbaugh's nationally syndicated conservative show, carried by The Flag in Fargo from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., averaged about 5,500 listeners an hour.

The rest of us local yokels (and Sean Hannity) fell in line behind El Rushbo: Tyler Axness, 2-4 p.m. on KFGO, averaged 3,000 listeners per hour; Jay Thomas, 2-5 p.m. on WDAY, 2,700 per hour; Hannity, 2-5 p.m. on The Flag, 2,100 per hour; me, WDAY, 2,000 per hour; Hennen, 8:30-11 a.m. on The Flag, 1,800 per hour; Port, noon-2 p.m. on WDAY, 1,700 per hour.

A radio executive I know once referred to Nielsen ratings based on written diaries as "a very expensive, very inexact science." But they carry weight because they are the metric by which small-market radio is measured.

And that measurement says Joel is still No. 1, much as some might not like it because he's such a pain in the rear. Facts, sometimes, are painful.