Monday, January 6, 2014

We Need Your Help! An Impassioned Plea To Help Save Chicago Radio ... From Somebody Who REALLY Cares!!!

Timing is everything!!!   

We started preparing this piece during our recent hiatus from the blog in the hopes of generating a movement that might get noticed by both radio listeners and radio station big-wigs alike ... and timed it in such a way that it would have the most impact once the world resumed its regular work activities after the long holiday break.  (We figured we'd be lucky to catch anyone at their desk during the last two weeks of 2013, much less in the right state of mind to actually be open enough to listen and consider what we had to say!!!) 

However, some major moves were made this past Friday proving that the radio world wasn't really in hibernation during this extended holiday period after all.  That being said, maybe we're still not too late to offer some constructive programming suggestions that just might improve the quality of listening choices on the Chicagoland radio dial ... so we're moving forward with our pre-planned campaign.   

Rumors have been circulating for weeks now regarding a major programming move here in Chicago by Cumulus Media.  They're the guys who own WLS (AM and FM) ... and both radio stations have been "under-performing" of late.  (I'm being kind.)   

Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey recently paid a visit to the station ... but most reports indicate that this was more of a morale-booster than anything else ... Dickey wished the staff a Happy Holidays and then left town.   

Speculation was that some sort of major announcement would be forthcoming ... there have been rumors floating around of flipping long time FM rocker WLS-FM to a country format ... or simply starting up a brand new country station in town.  (Cumulus has been pushing NASH-FM, a country station successfully launched in several other cities now, as the next big thing.)   

But Chicago is an "oldies town" ... we have supported this format since the late 1970's and early 1980's ... and now we're left without a radio station programming to his loyal and dedicated listener base.   

Instead, we're being force-fed cookie-cutter, clone broadcasting ... there are about six stations in town who all seem to be working from the very same play list, leaving absolutely NO variety on the radio dial.  Instead we get the same tired songs by the same over-played artists, day in and day out without any surprises or relief.  Many folks have given up on listening to the radio all together.   

"In-The-Know" radio big wigs tell us that listeners don't have the attention span for much more than this ... nobody stays tuned in long enough to hear the repetition ... and when they DO tune in, they want to hear something familiar, warm and fuzzy ... so they're ok with it.    

Once again, I say bullshit ... give the listeners a REASON to stay tuned in and they will.  Instead you're driving away more of your audience base every single day by this same narrow-minded programming.   

Chicago radio was built on personality ... it's what made stations like WLS and WCFL stand head and shoulders above the rest in the glory days of Top 40 Radio.  People tuned in and never left, flipping back between the two AM Powerhouses ... literally afraid of missing ANYTHING!  Today's jocks are lucky to get in six sentences per hour, squeezed in between giving out the time, temperature and radio station call letters.  Heaven forbid they should talk!!!  Why all those lost minutes might mean that the station could only play "Jack And Diane" SIX times today instead of seven!!!   

There is an untapped, proven audience here that is being ignored.  When WJMK flipped to Jack-FM a few years ago, listeners went to the Internet to find the music they really wanted to hear and the stations quickly failed.  Then Scott Shannon brought The True Oldies Channel to town and we immediately embraced it.  (Of course radio, in its infinite wisdom, continued to fuck with the format ... they just never know when to leave things alone and let them work and gel on their own.)  But listeners showed their true colors and PROVED what they really wanted to hear on the dial.  

WLS, one of the most important names in the HISTORY of radio, aired the format and brought back many of the household names that helped to build the reputation of the station way back when.  It seemed like a match made in heaven.  Incredibly, despite all of these heavy hitters, it was Scott Shannon's ratings that ranked higher than all the rest ... and his broadcasts came via voice-tracking out of New York!!!  

That's because HE knew how to work the format.  Once it was turned over to local management hands who kept trying to "improve" the formula by tightening up the playlist and minimizing the chatter, WLS began its Titantic-like venture in the ratings book.  And I feel that simply because his name was attached to the station, Scott Shannon took the brunt of the blame ... even though he no longer held the controlling hand ... he was simply going along with what those know-it-all corporate big-wigs wanted.  (WHY is there this constant, compelling need to "tinker" with what's working ... all the while continually driving the stations further and further away from its original concept????  I'll NEVER understand it!)   

Simply put, it spelled the doom of the station ... suddenly it wasn't about the music or the format or the ratings ... hell, the station flat out IGNORED the ratings ... instead it became all about the "outsider" programming to "our" audience.  Forget the fact that it WORKED!!!  Listeners LOVED listening to Scott Shannon because Scott Shannon truly LOVES the oldies.  He may be the ONLY radio person left on the planet NOT afraid to use the word "oldies" ... in fact, he loves them so much he named his entire radio network after the term ... and oldies fans from coast to coast tune in to hear this Hall Of Fame Broadcaster share his passion for this music over the airwaves. He's on virtually EVERYWHERE ... except Chicago!   

Cumulus is clearly looking to shake things up a little bit ... there is a concentrated effort on their part to improve their foothold in our market.  The smartest thing Cumulus could do right now is to bring back The True Oldies Channel to Chicago.  My guess is it'll be even more popular the second time around than it was the first ... because Chicago has been without their oldies now again for so long, fans of this format (and there are millions of us!) will rush back to once again embrace the station ... which has seen its ratings steadily decline since the departure of Shannon some 15 months ago.  (Sometimes you just don't fully appreciate what you've got until it's gone!  Radio should know this old  adage better than ANYBODY!!!)   

Chicago LOVES its oldies ... and what better station to carry on the legacy of the music it helped to pioneer than WLS?  WLS-FM could easily become the flagship station for True Oldies ... it could become the base from which all of the other 100-plus outlets coast-to-coast draw from.   

Wanna localize it a bit?  Then add in a daily segment that touts this legacy ... air vintage clips of WLS' hey-day in the '60's and '70's ... feature all these great, legendary jocks in their prime.  (The reaction to the recent loss of radio legend Larry Lujack proves once again that the fans don't forget ... these guys were a HUGE part of our lives growing up ... and instead of allowing their God-given talent and winning personalities shine through and hook us as listeners, they've been replaced by computers programmed to play the same 200 songs in virtually the same order 24/7.)  How sad is it that today you can flip through the stations on the Chicagoland radio dial several times a day and find the exact same artist playing on three of them at the exact same time ... and, in many instances, playing the exact same song?!?!?!  You call THAT variety?!?!  You seriously believe that THIS is what we as listeners really want to hear???  

Why  not program something that sets YOUR station apart from all the rest ... instead of just being lost in the shuffle so you can run with the pack?  It doesn't take a programming genius to figure out that THAT kind of mentality will get you absolutely NOWHERE ... or even noticed!  Listeners simply tune out ... because you can hear THAT anywhere ... radio no longer has an "identity" that helps to define a given station.  This narrow-casted thinking assures you a spot in the lower half of the ratings book.   

Do things like bring back The Silver Dollar Survey Countdown ... air it once a week ... a vintage "this week in rock history" segment that will show listeners what radio was really like back in the '60's when radio ruled ... something that sets you apart from all the rest. 

Don't change the call letters of the station ... there are maybe a handful of stations across the country that hold the rights to the kind of radio legacy that WLS has ... BUILD on that legacy and program something DIFFERENT for listeners to enjoy.  (Rewound Radio, one of the BEST examples of Internet Oldies Radio around, uses the slogan ... "It's not how old it is ... it's how GOOD it is.")  These are TIMELESS tracks that will win over new listeners every day once they are exposed to it.  It's "feel good"  music at its very best.

Beef up the variety ... beef up the personality ... and WLS-FM will once again have winning ratings.   

Please help us with this new campaign.  The regime that ousted Shannon is no longer in power ... the timing is right ... and the listening audience is primed.  It couldn't happen at a more opportune time.  You might not get another chance to win these listeners back.  Program something OTHER than the same song selections as every other station in town and allow WLS-FM to stand out as the "one of a kind" radio station it deserves to be.   

We are dedicating ourselves to making this change happen here in Chicago in 2014.    

Write to the station ... hell, write to Lew Dickey directly at Cumulus ... and let your voices be heard.  Chicago wants The True Oldies Channel back ... and we want it on WLS-FM where it belongs.  Get the word out through whatever social media network you use ... let the press know so that they cover our campaign. 

Send copies of ... or link to ... our latest radio tirade.  Get all of the other True Oldies Channel outlets across the country from coast to coast to help fuel the fire ... CHICAGO WANTS ITS OLDIES BACK!!!   

And who knows ... if somehow, someway this campaign is successful ... maybe our buddy Scott Shannon will even start to program more of the Forgotten Hits that people want to hear, too!!!  (Hey, if by some miracle we're able to pull this off, he'd owe me that much, wouldn't he?!?!)  One can only hope ... we're here to help in any way we can!  

UPDATE:  On Friday it was announced that Cumulus has purchased both WLUP-FM and WIQI-FM.  Word is they'll leave The Loop "as is" as one of the city's premier classic rock stations (but may deepen its playlist to better distinguish it from the other six stations in town playing virtually the exact same music) while WIQI will spin off into more of an indie / alternative mix similar to the old WKQX.  That still leaves Cumulus with one other radio station in town whose fate has yet to be determined ... so maybe the timing of this piece (originally conceived months ago!) isn't so ill-suited after all!  Recent reports indicate that the NASH / Country format is no longer being considered here in Chicago ... but there's still no question that WLS-FM needs to DRASTICALLY improve its foothold in order to continue.  There is FAR too great a legacy associated with this station to let it continue to flounder as it is.  The time to save this station and turn things around is NOW.  The eyes of the radio world are on you right now ... Cumulus is in the prime position of making a MAJOR statement here on the Chicago Radio Landscape ... and I have to believe they've got the best intentions of doing so, or they would be expending the energy they have these past few weeks.  Maybe they just need a little "nudging" from us to see that direction more clearly ... so again we ask ALL of you out there to help us with this campaign.  Please don't waste this opportunity by continuing to offer "clone" broadcasting on one of the best-known, best-loved radio stations in the history of the medium.
Kent Kotal
Forgotten Hits