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Originally published September 11, 2009 at 6:40 AM | Page modified September 12, 2009 at 12:38 AM

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KIRO radio's Luke Burbank show canceled over low ratings

After 395 shows, it's over Friday night for the quirky "Too Beautiful to Live," with Luke Burbank, at least as a talk show airing evenings on KIRO-FM.

Seattle Times staff reporter

After 395 shows, it's over tonight for the quirky "Too Beautiful to Live," with Luke Burbank, at least as a talk show airing evenings on KIRO-FM.

The show was canceled for the usual reasons: low ratings.

It will, however, live on in the Internet with podcasts.

The hard reality is that in radio, ratings rule.

Although recently The Weekly named TBTL as the best talk show in town, the July Arbitron ratings had it pulling maybe 1,400 listeners during an average quarter-hour in the key demographic of 25-to-54-year-olds.

That's about 1.4 percent of the 102,000 people in that age group listening to radio during the 7-10 p.m. weeknight time slot in which it aired.

"I was a little shocked it went on for as long as it did," said Burbank about the show having lasted 395 shows. It first aired on January 7, 2008.

"Frankly, if I was managing KIRO, I'd have done the same thing. We were always trying to do a nuanced show, with some very big shades of gray. Talk radio is not a place for nuance.

"Talk radio is mostly based on fake outrage and sort of fake friendships and creating a lot of tempests in a lot of teapots. We just didn't want to do that."

The show will be replaced by a local show hosted by Frank Shiers, currently on KIRO-FM from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.

That will make all of the KIRO-FM talk shows based on news events, with listeners calling in.

Rod Arquette, the station's program director, said research showed that its audience "expects from KIRO report the news in the community and then talk about the news, and we have to do that all the time."

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Burbank said that KIRO management "in a gentle way" said it'd be nice if Burbank's show "covered more local news."

That was not Burbank's style.

A typical evening went like this: "Welcome to the show! Another PSA: Jen (Andrews, the show's producer) shares an unfortunate traffic experience, and AwesomeNotAwesome presents public speaking skills, the AT&T beep lady, and a voice mail from Sylvester Stallone."

Burbank described his audience as, "NPR defectors... people who were married to NPR but were stepping out on them."

Burbank's show developed an ardent, if small, audience, and on Thursday night, those fans expressed their dismay at the cancellation on the show's Web site:

"My favorite radio show ever.

I will really miss this show. There's never been a radio show that has made me laugh and smile as much as TBTL. Not even close."

However, beginning Monday at noon, and every weekday at noon, those fans will be able to hear the podcast version of the show at tbtl.net, and will be able to log onto it from KIRO's mynorthwest.com site.

And they will be able to download podcasts of the show to listen to anytime.

The Internet version of the show will originate from Burbank's Mount Baker home.

He said he didn't want to do a podcast from the KIRO offices, and appear to be "a sad, diminished version of the radio show."

Burbank said his KIRO contract is until January, so he expects the podcast to last at least until then, since he'll still be getting his salary.

Arquette said that the station would try the podcast version "through the end of the year and see how it works... let's see if we can make this an online success."

And that success, he said, comes down to the same thing it comes down to in commercial radio: "Can you monetize it."

Arquette said that Jen Andrews, producer of TBTL, and Burbank's sidekick on the show, will be on staff for the next month.

Burbank said that he wants her to be part of the podcast, and, "Hopefully, her and I will work out some kind of arrangement."

Sean De Tore, the show's engineer and a frequent on-air presence, De Tore will continue working as an engineer at the station, Burbank said. But he expects De Tore also will make it to the podcast.

Burbank said he had high hopes for the Internet version of the show.

He said that in August, 250,000 hours of the show were downloaded.

Burbank, 33, said KIRO had hired him to do a show "to appeal to a younger audience."

He was a local kid who had gotten national exposure.

He was a Nathan Hale High and University of Washington grad who had worked at Seattle's KUOW-FM while in college and eventually ending up on National Public Radio in New York.

But there was a problem with going after that younger audience, said Burbank, and measuring success based on Arbitron ratings.

"Younger people don't turn on the radio," he said. "They go to work and listen the next day to the MP3 version of the show."

What mattered to KIRO management, however, is that they looked at the numbers.

They didn't add up and, on their station, at least, TBTL was history.

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