Tuesday, February 26, 2013

We Haven't Done A Radio Rave-Out For Awhile ... And Today Just Seemed Like A Good Day To Do One!

No more Y103.9 - "Greatest Hits Of All-Time" ... the local station that gave us Jim Shea and Jeff James is now "The Fox", a "rebrand" as of 2 pm yesterday, giving Chicago yet another Classic Rock Station. (The Drive, The River, The Loop, The Fox ... thank GOD we now have another place to hear Steve Miller, Led Zeppelin, Bob Seger and John Mellencamp every time we push a button!!! Factor in the incredible volume of music played on WLS-FM by these same artists ... and the seemingly once an hour broadcast of these same tunes on K-Hits ... and you've now got about an 80% chance of hitting one of these grossly over-played artists every time you turn on the radio.) Yep, it just keeps getting better and better.  
This most recent change pretty much eliminates the bulk of the '60's for good now on the Chicago airwaves ... the '50's have already been gone for ages ... the writing is on the wall, people ... despite all of our efforts (and research to the contrary) ... the oldies are dead. (On the plus side the reign of the Tom Kent Take-Over has now officially passed!)
The trend is nationwide ... Scott Shannon just lost of one his True Oldies flagship stations when WAXB - B-107.3FM / 850 AM (in the Danbury, CT area) dropped the station because they were playing too much '60's and '70's music. (That's funny ... we didn't think they played ENOUGH '60's and '70's music!!!) In fact, if you tune into The True Oldies Channel, you'll hear more '80's music than ever ... because that's what the affiliate programmers want us to hear ... and the pressure is on for Shannon to "update" his playlist.   Hopefully Scott will be able to stand his ground on the Internet and still be able to give us a nice mixture of ALL of this music (including some of the late-'50's / early-'60's stuff he plays on Sunday nights.) Here's a man who is not ashamed to declare his love for the oldies.  In this day and age, most radio stations won't even utter the word! (kk)

The "Tom Kent Take-Over" as you like to call it is finally over!  I'm just not so sure the new alternative is any better.  The format that worked best for them was personalities like Jim Shea and Jeff James -- and a mixture of 60s and 70s music, some of which you didn't hear anywhere else.  That's what kept me tuning in.  Like you, I found myself listening less and less.  Now I may not listen at all.
It looks like the powers that be finally realized the Tom Kent Take-Over wasn't working.  Nice job, guys ... I've only been telling you that for over a year now ... and all of our readers have echoed that sentiment.  As long as radio continues to program with blinders on, things can't get any better.  We're doomed to the same old, same old, all day long ... on every station we switch to.  On the plus side, I was VERY happy to hear that they're going back to "live" deejays on The Fox ... that alone may breath some new life into the station.  With four Classic Rock stations to choose from in Chicago, somebody's got to bring SOMETHING different to the table to snag listeners.  Right now, that distinction belongs to The Drive ... they go out of their way to present creative programming and specials ... and they do it very well.  They LOVE the music they play ... and they've been tops with the listeners in this category for some time now.  Another rocker with a weak suburban signal may not have much of a chance capturing a share of this audience.  And, based on what Jim Shea often told us of Y103.9's listening audience, they've kissed the "soccer moms" goodbye forever with THIS format change!  (kk)

More on the changes at Y103.9 here:
Hi Kent,
In conjunction with the release of my book "WHN: When New York City Went Country" (Archer Books) on Tuesday February 26, there will be a on air reunion of the WHN staff from the glory days.
Lee Arnold, Larry Kenney, Dan Taylor, Mike Fitzgerald and Jessie (with Gene Ladd doing news) from 9:00 am until 3:45 pm on 89.1 WFDU, which covers the New York market. The broadcast will also be available via streaming audio at http://player.warpradio.com/php/WFDU-FM/
Lots of "forgotten hits", country style, will be played.
WHN switched to country music on February 26, 1973, and remiained in the country format for fifteen years, during that time they became the most listened country station of all time.  
Ed Salamon   

>>>It's not working ... Fans have been leaving WLS-FM in droves since their recent format change. I still don't get it ... they've hired back some of the biggest names from their old roster ... and then they don't let them talk and display any personality during their program ... which consists of the same 200-300 songs by the same 20-30 artists over and over and over again. Gee, I wonder why people got bored listening.   In the latest Arbitron ratings released this week, WLS-FM has fallen to 16th place in overall listeners. In the most desirable demographic (listeners aged 25 - 54), they don't place in the Top 15 at all ... although WJMK-FM / K-Hits HAS creeped in now at #15. Most of us don't even stop by the station anymore to see what they're playing ... because we already KNOW what they're playing ... which is EXACTLY the same thing they played earlier today, yesterday and will play again tonight and tomorrow ... there is no entertainment value or reason to come back. And the ratings really only show a small segment of a specific group of listeners ... a "target group" if you will ... my guess is the REAL numbers are far more dramatic. I don't know of ANYONE who used to listen to WLS-FM that still does. It's really too bad ... "historic" WLS is now just a boring wasteland of wasted on-air talent and an embarrassment to their broadcast legacy. (kk)  
Regarding your post dated 10-01-2012 on WLS-FM, the big shake up:  
I couldn’t agree with your comments and suggestions more. To echo the lyrics of a very popular song done by “Meatloaf”, you took the words right out of my mouth. 
The proof is in the ratings ... in fact, their mid-day show has dropped from 5th place to 15th place since they got rid of Scott Shannon ... proving once again what a great, genius move THAT was. Congratulations for a FINE job well done by Jan Jeffries, who has lead the station down the ranks with his "different and unique" formula of broadcasting. Yeah, right. (kk)   

You called it -- I don't know a soul who still listens to WLS-FM anymore. They insulted and then destroyed their most faithful audience -- there's nobody left listening.  
Jeffries promised a station unlike anything else in town ... and instead delivered a station EXACTLY like everything else in town ... a complete clone of what he thought was working (without any consideration of what their established audience really wanted to hear.) He insulted his audience ... and disrespected his most knowledgeable and beloved staff by removing Scott Shannon (who, in my opinion helped SAVE the station) and then delegating Dick Biondi to a shift where his greatest audience can no longer listen. And then, instead of an industry leader, he delivered a clone ... and a very WEAK clone at that, being the "new" guy in town. (Didn't he learn ANYTHING from that movie "Multiplicity"?!?!? You make a copy of a copy of a copy and each generation just gets weaker and weaker and weaker.) Yep, that's what we've got here ... Multiplicity-syndrome!!! On what USED to be the most powerful call letters in Chicago. What a shame! (kk)  

In case you missed it, here's our exclusive Forgotten Hits Interview with Scott Shannon from a few months ago when he was first let go from the station he helped to save:  
Click here: Forgotten Hits: EXCLUSIVE: Forgotten Hits Interviews Scott Shannon   

Unfortunately, you once again hit the nail squarely on the head regarding WLS-FM. The frustrating thing to me is, here you have a substantial amount of people who WANT to buy their product. We WANT to listen, but we want a reason to listen. Having only lived in the Chicago market (in northwest Indiana) my whole life, and nowhere else, I can tell you, as I'm sure you know, people are loyal here. Whether it be TV, radio, sports, people here are loyal listeners or viewers. But, they are NOT stupid. They will stick with you, but you have to give them a reason to do so. I do exactly as you do. In my car, I have XM. But I drive a truck all day that has AM/FM. And like you, I really don't even punch the WLS button anymore, I would actually prefer to sit through the ads on another station, or even just turn the volume down for a few minutes rather than see which Bruce Springsteen or Journey song they are playing, AGAIN. 
And it's frustrating to think that I, or you, or any number of non radio people, could make that station hum along in a minute. They sit on probably the best known set of call letters in the country, which right away puts them 10 points ahead of anyone else, and they have no clue what to do with it. On top of that, some of the best known DJs in the country, and again, no clue what to do with them.
And what is their idea of original programming? 60s at 6, 70s at 7, 80s at 8. Gee, what visionaries! While you're at it, why not Two For Tuesday, Get the Led Out, Breakfast With The Beatles? Good Lord! 
I have actually found myself enjoying the Sunday morning AT 40 repeats with Casey Kasem, if for no other reason, that show always highlights the sheer number of songs that made it into the top 40 but are ignored today. Sure, some of those songs should be ignored, but listen to AT 40 on Sunday, and there usually is at least one song every Sunday that will give you the Wow factor, one you forgot all about. It's the only time I will turn on WLS-FM anymore. Then promptly at 10:00, back to the same old thing, and I flip away. 
Oh, and I think you're being kind when you say they play the same 200-300 songs over and over. I would have guessed half that number. But again, I don't listen anymore, so you may be right.
Ken Durkel   

From Billboard:  
There was a time radio warranted critics; people who evaluated and analyzed what happened at our stations. Newspapers in most major cities generally had a person tasked with covering the ins and outs of local radio and TV. But today, that position has all but disappeared.
In some cases that’s likely due to struggles in the newspaper industry that have led to less local content and personnel. But in many instances, the radio critic was an easy cut to make because the medium just isn’t as captivating as it used to be. At least, that’s what three remaining local media critics seem to indicate.
“Everyone listens to radio. Even now listener penetration is over 90%, but no one writes about it,” New York Daily News radio and TV writer David Hinckley says. “It may be clich√© to say this, but radio’s not glamorous and sexy. TV has its visual thing, while people think of radio as background.”
Time Out Chicago media blogger Robert Feder, who covered radio and TV for the Chicago Sun Times for many years, says the problem is that there isn’t enough local news about the media to cover; a fact that played a big role in his leaving the paper. “There was no longer enough content to sustain a daily column about local radio and TV. Because of the cutbacks and consolidation in radio there was not enough going on.”
That led to Feder reinventing himself with his new blog at Time Out Chicago, covering a wider variety of local media than radio and TV. “I defined media much more broadly to include newspapers, Internet, print and magazines. If I had to depend solely on radio and TV it would be impossible.”
One topic that used to fill many columns for radio critics was the comings, goings and attention getting antics of radio hosts. But as the industry moved further toward national syndication there’s been less about that subject to cover. Atlanta Journal Constitution TV / radio writer Rodney Ho says, “There’s not as many local personalities and a lot more syndicated hosts. I’m not as interested in [Premiere syndicated morning host] Elvis Duran. I prefer covering local folks.” Feder agrees, calling Ryan Seacrest “the embodiment of
corporate radio. He’s a pro, but he’s not Howard Stern.”
Feder adds that great hosts once drove the medium’s appeal to listeners. “Radio, particularly radio in Chicago, used to be defined by personalities, and that was a large part of what made radio such an attractive and vibrant part of people’s lives. But those personalities are gone.” And the remaining hosts are muzzled by PDs, whom he says have more control of what goes over the air than ever before. “Program directors are now calling all the shots. They control, to a dangerous degree, what a personality can do on the air. It’s no longer a performance the way it was.”
That leaves both Feder and Hinckley wondering about the future of radio hosts. “[Arbitron’s Portable People Meter] seems to be driving or at least reinforcing the pre-disposition that broadcasters already had toward less talking and more music on the radio. So you wonder if there will be another generation of radio personalities or if there is no market for them,” Hinckley says.
He also sees the movement away from local, high-profile hosts having implications on radio’s relationship with the audience. “The cutback in personalities and homogenous sounds of voice-tracking put some distance between the listener and what’s on the radio. It probably makes sense for the corporate bottom line, but I don’t think it has served the listener.”
As an example he points to Cumulus’ recently launched country station WNSH (Nash-FM) New York, which he tuned in to when he learned of singer Mindy McCready’s death. While he realizes the station is currently running without hosts, he was surprised to not even find a produced drop-in talking about the artist. “They just stayed with their pre-programmed format. That’s a real disappointment.”
Feder says the bottom-line focus of many broadcast companies is what’s really behind the changes in radio. “It’s not about how can we capture the imagination of our audience or how can we serve them anymore. It’s about how can we monetize it and create a new revenue source.” He believes that attitude is fueling a lack of innovation in the product, resulting in less interesting items to write about. 
OK, so what exactly are we saying here? We ALL know and acknowledge what's wrong with radio ... and yet we're just choosing not to address it and fix it?!?! How is THAT best serving the public??? What's the deal?!?!? (kk)  

"They don't do dedications anymore, do they?"

It was Thursday, my wife's birthday, and she was musing about what people do to send their greetings. She'd gotten the requisite Facebook messages from friends and family, but she's an old radio hand, too, and for some reason it occurred to her that she doesn't hear song dedications on the radio the way she used to. "They don't do dedications," she repeated. "They don't really say anything."

Yep. Music stations follow the research; they shut up and play the music. When they talk, there's practically no interaction with the audience. That's all moved to social media, but there's no interaction there, either; It's mostly blandishments to enter contests or tune in for the next segment. Birthday dedications? Are you a Kardashian? No? Sorry, then.

Oh, I'm sure some stations still do dedications. (Art Laboe's still on the air, right?) But the old connection is missing. And maybe there's nothing radio can do about that, because there are other ways now to publicly proclaim whatever greetings you want to proclaim. Twitter, Facebook, Vine, YouTube -- you can get an international audience for your message, for free. Can't stop that train.

But you can still engage listeners more than you do, just by doing what radio used to do all the time. You don't necessarily have to take dedications, but you -- music or talk stations, especially talk -- CAN put listeners on the air, as callers, as clips submitted online, or by calling out their names for whatever reason. It's funny: People can make their own podcasts, their own videos, they can stream, but there's still a thrill to hear your name on the air on a real radio station, and to hear your voice there. Maybe that'll go away, too, but you should take advantage of that while it's still a thing. In a way, there's something special about radio that arises from how easy it is to do all the other stuff -- anyone can do a social media post or a YouTube video, but talking on the radio, even as a caller or as a name read out over the air, isn't as ubiquitous.

And you can use your station website for that, too. Your listeners are making YouTube videos and podcasts and posting Instagram photos? Why not make room for them on your site? You can have them submit their work and you can post it there -- embed codes make that extremely easy. Again, anyone can post stuff at YouTube, but to get the added exposure from their favorite radio station and the association with that brand is what you can add that someone else can't.

This is all to say that radio may be losing the exclusivity it had, and that might be permanent, but there's still value in the brands and personalities that still rattle around the old boneyard. And if there's any hope of retaining that value, stations and shows need to get more of that personal connection to the consumer. Look at it as if radio is the local Main Street shop and new media are the big box stores at the edge of town, moving in to eat up market share. (Funny how that works, considering consolidation left most of radio in the hands of companies who are definitely not Mom and Pop and not local, but hang with the analogy anyway, because it's not about ownership, it's about market position) If you're the Main Street shop, you can't compete on price or selection, but you CAN compete on service and relationships. Pandora, Spotify, Rdio, etc. have a wide selection of music and customization, but your friends won't ever say "hey, I heard you on Spotify," not even if they download your playlist. A computer can program and serve up music, but it takes a human to offer human interaction. For now, at least. Artificial intelligence is getting pretty good.

It isn't quite there yet, though. (Hello, Siri.) So, use the tools you have at your disposal to get that personal connection going again with your listeners. It's not just all social media, although that's important. It can be as simple as putting people on the air to answer a topic question, or talk up a song, or ... well, dedications are so 1972, I suppose, but you can do that, too.

Perry Simon 
Radio dedications were a big part of programming way back when ... and we still have a few here in Chicago (although some of the best ones have been tampered with.)

Of course to do a dedication show you have to have a "live" deejay ... and let's face it, there are less and less of those around. Checking the Billboard article from above, a country station couldn't even be bothered to break in with a live update on the death of Mindy McCready ... yet here in Chicago, we heard that on virtually every station, non-stop, country or not. (The same thing happened when breaking news hit about the death of Michael Jackson a few years ago ... all these pre-programmed, syndicated shows COMPLETELY missed the boat on that one ... probably the biggest music news story of the decade!)

We used to have two excellent all-request shows here in Chicago ... Dick Biondi's Friday Night Request Show conjured up music you haven't heard in 40-50 years ... some of which even I'D never heard on the radio before!!! Jeff James used to do a great "Saturday Night At The '70's" show, too, filling in with listener requests along with some obscure, long-forgotten '70's hits. (Y103.9 used to do the "live drive at five" on weekdays, too ... a full hour of requests that ALWAYS brought one or two surprises to our delighted ears.) Over at WLS-FM, Danny Lake did a similar all request show on Saturday Nights ... I'm honestly not sure if he still does that anymore or not with all of the changes going on over there ... I rarely even stop by the station anymore while button-pushing in the car because of what they've done with their play list!

Tom Kent does several request shows ... nationally syndicated ... but I've been disappointed more than a few times. While Kent tries to engage the callers in friendly, clever banter, I've also heard him not have the song requested by the listener on more than one occasion ... the most disappointing time being when a listener requested "Big Bad John" by Jimmy Dean ... this record was #1 for five weeks in 1961 ... how does an oldies station playing "the greatest hits of all-time" not have a copy of THIS one?!?!? Worse yet, I've heard listeners call in and ask him to play something that the station probably would have played within the next hour anyway ... what a waste of a phone call! The whole idea of an all-request show is to hear something DIFFERENT!!! (Unfortunately, this way of thinking plays perfectly into the hands of the consultants who insist they're giving the listeners exactly what they want ... or else why would they keep asking for it?)

Honestly, a nationally syndicated show is a GREAT idea ... now you'll get more variety than ever (as long as you've got a well-stocked play list of material to draw from). Somebody in Oklahoma will probably want to hear something different than the next caller in New Jersey ... and so on ... maybe even a few regional and obscure hits might find their way to the airwaves again. (Does Dick Bartley still do this??? He was a master at it) ... and, truth be told, there probably isn't anybody better poised in the country to do it now than Scott Shannon ... think of the all-request show HE could do! Go on the air LIVE for six hours on Saturday Nights and take nationwide requests from your True Oldies listeners ... if nothing else, it'll give you a clearer picture of what they REALLY want to hear. (I could be wrong ... but my guess is it won't be "more '80's"!!!)

Casey Kasem used to do his "long-distance dedication" as part of his American Top 40 Countdown every week ... but honestly an entire show running Saturday or Sunday Night playing nothing but requests would STILL be a big listener success. (Mason Ramsey does this on RockAndRollHeaven.net, too.)

But in order to do this right, you've GOT to have the resources and play list to fill these requests. If Biondi didn't have a record, he made it a point to bring it and feature it the following week! (Jeff James used to go out and BUY the record if he had to to fill a request!) Now that's dedicated programming ... and a commitment to doing it right and putting the listener first. (I remember ages ago when John "Records" Landecker was doing mornings on WJMK and he took listener requests ... most via email ... for a half hour every morning. Unfortunately, it was at 5:30 AM ... so you had to get up REALLY early to hear it ... but he played some GREAT, long-forgotten stuff on that program!)

Interaction with the readers is ALWAYS a good idea ... plus it gives the radio station valuable feedback as well. And in this day and age, quick editing to make sure the best phone calls go out on the air is a breeze. Give the people what they want and they'll continue to tune in and listen.  (Plus who doesn't like to hear their own voice on the radio?!?!)  With Internet Radio playing anything and everything, the listener request show shouldn't be dead ... it should be THRIVING!!! (kk)