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Radio stations switching formats

Two longtime Spokane radio stations will swap formats Monday, transforming KGA-AM into sports radio and “The Fan” KJRB-AM into news and talk.

Both stations had carried a mix of programming, and owner Mapleton Communications LLC wanted to consolidate formats, said Don Morin, market manager. The switch also will correspond with the launch of hourly news broadcasts by The Spokesman-Review on KJRB.

Mapleton’s contract to carry Gonzaga University basketball games required they stay on 50,000-watt station KGA, Morin said, so that “played a bigger part in the decision-making process than anything.”

“We just looked at it and said, let’s commit one station to nothing but news talk and one to nothing but sports,” he said. “It just made a lot more sense.”

Los Angeles-based Mapleton last year purchased seven stations from Citadel Broadcasting Corp. Mapleton later announced a partnership with The Spokesman-Review, owned by Cowles Publishing Co., to broadcast newspaper content.

Starting Wednesday, recent Spokesman-Review hires and radio veterans Dan Mitchinson and Dick Haugen will broadcast two-minute news segments at the bottom of every hour between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Plans call for a week-in-review show that could air a couple of times on weekends and a call-in talk show that might have a sports component, said Carla Savalli, the newspaper’s senior editor for innovation and new content. Newspaper reporters might be interviewed as guests, she said.

Archived newscasts will be available online, Savalli said.

“It’s the same journalism,” she said.

“It’s the quality of work that we do, just imposed on another format. So in that respect it’s not strange at all. It just gives us a chance to go out and get another audience who will hopefully, presumably, subscribe to the newspaper if they aren’t already, or go online.”

Initially, the headline service will be broadcast from Mapleton’s south Spokane offices while a roughly $50,000 project to build and outfit a small studio in the paper’s newsroom is completed over the next few weeks.

The reformatted stations will square off against Morgan Murphy Media’s stations, KXLY-AM and KXLX-AM, “The Ticket.”

Both consistently have placed higher than their Mapleton-owned competitors in recent local station rankings, according to Arbitron Inc. Local ABC affiliate KXLY 4 and the stations share news reporting staff.

KQNT-AM, owned by Clear Channel Communications, also carries news.

“Even with the recent layoffs, this is still the largest news-gathering force in the region,” Savalli said. “So we’ve got a lot of muscle to throw at the airwaves, so I hope it makes a difference for Mapleton.”

But Roger Nelson, radio market manager for KXLY Broadcast Group, said he’s observed Mapleton stations rewriting and reading Spokesman-Review articles for years.

“It sounds like that’s the same thing they’re going to be doing, just using different voices,” Nelson said. “It looks to me like an interesting marketing project.”

Mapleton isn’t in a position to “create full reporting staff to go out there and dig up the news,” and will couple the immediacy of radio with the paper’s “extensive news coverage,” Morin said.

“Everyone I speak to about it sees what a great opportunity this is and how potentially powerful this could be in terms of putting together a truly strong talk radio station,” he said.