Monday 26 Sep 2016

Radio and Music
Matt Seinberg

I like 1970s Classic Rock and Contemporary Country music. In the 1970's, rock was straightforward and the lyrics were understandable. "Boston," the "Doobie Brothers," "Steely Dan," "Fleetingness Mac" and others recorded music that has held up over the years. We have favourite songs, from the 1970s, that we can name and hum without thinking.

Why, today, do I like 1970s Rock and Contemporary Country music? There seems such a disparity. Still, I wonder.

I find Country Music, from the 70's, whiney and rural. Today, Country is much more upbeat, with some great artists, such as Brooks and Dunn, Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, "Rascal Flatts" and Carrie Underwood.

What stinks is the New York and Long Island area does not have a Country Music radio station. Sure, we have WLTW-FM high-density radio (HD1) and WALK-FM HD1, but nothing on AM or FM, which everyone can receive. I just put an HD radio in my car, so I'm happy on that count.

I understand advertising agencies won't buy time on a Country station, for their clients, because the demographics are not right. Are they kidding? The typical metropolitan Country Music fan has the disposable income advertisers covet! If the desirable audience doesn't exist, why do most top-ten radio markets have one or more Country Music stations?

This is another example of corporate radio misreading the market. Clear Channel, CBS, Emmis, Spanish Broadcasting System (SBS), Univision and Citadel own most signals in New York City. When one, of these chains, changes a station format, Country Music doesn't have a chance.

How do these radio chains choose a format to put on a radio station? If a format is doing poorly in the ratings, the hole in available formats should top the list of possibilities. This, however, is my hope and not the truth.

Market research is a big part of the decision, as is public relations. Research usually infers the radio chain must play it safe: use a format everyone uses. When the station and format, in question, is a market heritage, that is, long-standing and listener favourite, a public relations nightmare follows a decision to change.

On 3 July 2005, the CBS radio chain flipped the formats for two of its New York City stations: Oldies WCBS-FM became JACK-FM and Rock WXRK-FM became Hot Talk WFNY Free-FM. What a mess. Beloved and famous radio personalities, such as "Cousin Brucie," that is, Bruce Murrow, lost their jobs.

Outranged, fans of WCBS-FM picketed outside the CBS corporate headquarters. They also picked the Hudson Street studios of WCBS-FM. Staid CBS felt a moment of chaos. Oldies fans are loyal: they wanted their radio station and the DJs that mattered to them back, immediately.

What CBS should have done was leave WCBS-FM alone and flip WXRK-FM to Country Music. The CBS corporate research was wrong or not done. JACK-FM is a low cost and high revenue format, devised by the CHUM radio chain, in Canada; the goal was to make money and nothing else.

Smeared by the media, Joel Hollander, president of CBS Radio, took cover. Changing a heritage format is risky. JACK-FM was the work of the enemy. Oldies fans made sure their message got out; the format change was national news.

JACK-FM, a radio franchise, of sorts, relies on a single voice, Howard Cogan. His unctuous voice provided what personality JACK-FM had. Remember, CHUM radio, which created the JACK-FM format, did so to make money: one voice, paid well, saves much money.

On 12 July 2007, WCBS-FM reverted to the Oldies format as "New York's Greatest Hits!" It wasn't the same station, but enough remained to satisfy most former fans. The return to the heritage format coincided when Dan Mason replaced Joel Hollander as President of CBS Radio.

Some WCBS-FM air personalities, such as Bob Shannon, Pat St. John and Dan Taylor returned. "Broadway" Bill Lee joined the lineup, formerly working WQHT-FM and WKTU-FM. Joe Causi, formerly of sister station WNEW-FM Mix 102.7 and WKTU-FM, also joined as did one of my long-time radio sisters, Sue O'Neal also joined the new lineup.

Sue O'Neal has been in New York since 1977. She worked WXLO-FM 99X, WQHT-FM, WKTU-FM, WNEW-FM Mix 102.7 and WCBS-FM, in 1994. Sue was also the first woman on-air personality at WCBS-FM.

When Emmis dropped smooth jazz on WQCD-FM, in New York City, in 2008, the rumour was they would change to either Country or Rock. Well, Rock won; the City then had three Rock formats. WRXP-FM is the "Rock Experience"; WAXQ-FM is Q104.3 and WXRK-FM, again, rocked.

The three-way competition didn't last. In 2009, WXRK-FM changed to Current Hit Radio (CHR). Rock radio fans, in New York City, have much choice. Country Music fans remain in the void.

Matt Seinberg lives on Long Island, a few minutes east of New York City. He looks at everything around him and notices much. Somewhat less cynical than dyed in the wool New Yorkers, Seinberg believes those who don't see what he does like reading about what he sees and what it means to him. Seinberg columns revel in the silly little things of life and laughter as well as much well-directed anger at inept, foolish public officials. Mostly, Seinberg writes for those who laugh easily at their own foibles as well as those of others.

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