The Oakland Press - On The Radio, October 1 2004
By: Mike Austerman
If all went according to plan this morning, WQBH-AM (1400) debuted its new sound - replacing local Christian-based programming as "Detroit's Community Radio Station" with broader-focused conservative talk, Christian teaching and/or contemporary Christian music. The smart money appeared to be on new owner Salem Broadcasting introducing a lineup that would feature syndicated talk from hosts such as Bill Bennett, Laura Ingraham, Michael Medved and Mike Gallagher - shows that are currently not heard in our market. Salem announced the $4.75 million purchase of WQBH earlier this year from the estate of station founder the late Martha Jean "The Queen" Steinberg. The deal received regulatory approval in the summer but the sale was not officially closed until today. Along with new programming, the station will change the call letters from WQBH ("The Queen Broadcasts Here") to WDTK. Although Martha Steinberg died in 2000, her voice has lived on through taped broadcasts on WQBH up until Thursday. For many regular listeners, it as though they are living through Steinberg's death all over again with today's changes.
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Detroit will retain its status as the country's 10th largest radio market for the next year in the eyes of ratings company Arbitron. In fact, Detroit came within 7,100 listeners to catch ninth-place Boston; the difference was 29,100 last year. Eleventh-place Atlanta was 84,500 people behind Motown - a bit closer than last year's 109,000 difference. Maintaining a spot in the Top 10 is important to all the stations in the area for many reasons, including prestige in landing talent, ad rates and station monetary values.
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Fans of Howard Stern, heard locally on talk WKRK-FM (97.1), have been flocking to his Web site (www.howardstern.com) to purchase uncensored viewings of his E! TV network shows. Prices start at $4.95 to download and view a single episode, which is recorded for TV during his daily radio show. Stern said he will personally profit about $1 per sale, with the money being funneled directly back into his Web site. Partners Movielink will take home about $2 per sale, with Viacom, Stern's employer, also taking a portion of each sale. "My plan is to create a Web site where we can communicate with the audience the day we get thrown off the air," Stern says in explaining the new online feature. "We won't have to rely on terrestrial radio when the FCC finagles a way to get us thrown off the air because they put too much pressure on Viacom and all the other companies we work for." This is a great idea; if proven successful, it'll open an avenue to those who want to take in uncensored programming without compromising the free airwaves.
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Don't be surprised if sometime soon you turn on your favorite radio station and hear programming all in Spanish. Clear Channel, which owns WMXD-FM (92.3), WKQI-FM (95.5), WJLB-FM (97.9), WNIC-FM (110.3), WDTW-FM (106.7), WDFN-AM (1130) and WXDX-AM (1310) locally, recently announced plans to covert at least 25 of its stations across the country to target Hispanic listeners. "A large Spanish-speaking population is just one consideration in determining where to launch stations," says Alfredo Alonso, Clear Channel's new senior vice president for Spanish-language stations, commenting specifically about Detroit. "It will not always be (based on) a population figure. For instance, Detroit doesn't have a huge Hispanic population, but the Hispanic buying power in Detroit is a billion dollars. We've identified around 50 markets that have enough buying power to be turned into profitable radio markets." There is no timetable or specific station identified as a likely candidate for a switch to a Spanish format here. It does, however, kind of make me wonder what the buying power of other unserved audiences - classical, for instance - in this area might be.
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Columnist Mike Austerman has covered radio for The Oakland Press since 2001.