The Oldies Return to WCBS-FM in New York, NY
The author is a former Oldies DJ for WDAQ-FM in Danbury, CT, and WCZX-FM in Poughkeepsie, NY. The former owner of Bluboo Radio, one of the Internet’s first on-demand radio programs, has a Master of Science in Education, a minor in Journalism and has studied the history of Rock and Roll and radio broadcasting.
On July 12, 2007, at 1:01 PM, WCBS Radio started its attempt to reverse the betrayal of its loyal listener base by canning Jack-FM, its voice-tracked, computer operated jukebox, and bringing back the successful Oldies format dumped unceremoniously on June 3, 2005, in favor of Jack-FM.
According to The Journal News, WCBS-FM will follow the trend of most oldies formats by playing hits from the 1960’s and the 1970’s, ignoring the 1950’s except through some special programming. While it will be good to hear Bob Shannon and Dan Taylor again, the old familiar voices of “Cousin Brucie” Morrow and his contemporaries will be sorely missed.
The cautious radio listener will avoid being dazzled by this blatant publicity move on the part of CBS Radio, which is still suffering the throes of ratings losses as a result of its mismanagement over the last two years. Besides the Jack-FM fiasco, CBS Radio took a major ratings plunge when it callously fired Don Imus. In short, they are likely to lose a major lawsuit that will require them to pay-off the remaining $30 million on Imus’ contract. In that light, this is a move by CBS Radio to garner radio ratings and advertising revenues, not to be penitent to the listeners it betrayed.
If you cannot forgive CBS Radio, and you really have no reason to forgive them, there are plenty of great oldies stations to choose from in the metro New York market, including: WVLT-FM (92.1, Vineland, NJ), WTKU (Cool 98.2, Ocean City, NJ), WJRZ-FM (100.1, Manahawkin), WMTR-AM (1250, Morristown, NJ), WMID-AM (1340, Atlantic City), WNNJ-AM (1360, Newton, NJ), WHTG-AM (1410, Eatontown, NJ), WGHT-AM (1500, Pompton Lakes), WRNJ-AM (1510, Hackettstown, NJ) and WREF-AM (850, Danbury, CT).
If you still don’t think this move is self-serving, you may ask yourself why the publicity department has already rewritten the Wikipedia article about “Oldies” to put WCBS-FM back at the forefront of Oldies Radio. This is not true yet and may not be true ever again.
It is not uncommon for radio stations to shift formats or to modify its play list. However, when my employers at Cumulus Radio decided to modify our Oldies format at WCZX-FM (Poughkeepsie, NY), they also experienced a backlash from which they have never recovered. They have become another average, boring “adult contemporary” radio station. You may wonder why station management is dropping the oldies formats, and it goes beyond the simple fact that Oldies do not develop new listeners or that their loyal listeners are dying off.
In this modern age when conglomerates like Infinity, Westwood One, Cumulus and Clear Channel own most of the country’s stations, programming is designed to sell advertising at the highest possible rates. Clear Channel is the scariest entity of all, owning more than 50% our country’s radio stations. While the FCC limits and controls ownership of television stations, no such limitations (including foreign ownership) apply to radio.
A corporate entity may own several radio stations in a specific market. For example, in the relatively small market of Poughkeepsie, Cumulus operates six different stations. In many meetings following the Cumulus take-over, General Manager Chuck Benfer and Program Director Randy Turner made it clear that our strategy was changing. Rather than make an effort to place ALL our stations in the Top 5, certain formats were being instituted to take listeners from our two major competitors. The result would be that WPDH-FM (Classic Rock) would own the “Number One” spot in the market, and we’d likely have the number 4, 5 and 6 spots. More total listeners, especially with the “Number One” spot guaranteed would mean Cumulus would have the market’s highest rates.
In other industries, that would be called collusion, an illegal activity.
Radio ad rates are determined by, at its very best, an educated guess-timate of the total number of listeners in the market and the estimated people listening at specific times. Arbitron, which still uses antiquated paper log books to measure radio ratings, has compiled a somewhat unflattering profile of the average radio listener. You listen for about 23 minutes a day, so programming is designed to keep you tuned long enough to hear about eight minutes of commercials, three minutes of station promos and 11 minutes of music that you know well. Those 11 minutes of music have nothing to do with entertaining you … they are the hook to sell you the messages of the station and its advertisers.
What does this all mean? Don’t be a sell-out. Don’t let CBS Radio get away with stabbing you in the back and then trick you back so they can sell more advertising than they could on Jack-FM. If you really love your Oldies, get Sirius or XM so that you can have a wider choice of the music you like without the pain of radio ads and promos.