Last week when I lost my favorite aunt it made me very sad. It was no doubt the way most of the staff of hits WDRQ-FM (93.1) must have felt last Friday when they were summoned into the station conference room and, in one fell swoop, informed that they no longer had jobs. Radio has never been known as a bastion of stability, but as fellow radio writer Mike Austerman noted in last Saturday's Daily Oakland Press, this was the biggest surprise format flip in Detroit since W4 Country changed to "Alice," WDTW-FM (106.7) on Labor Day weekend in 1999. That too, was a real stunner.
W4 had been the top country station in town, and it simply gave the entire country music audience to WYCD-FM (99.5) which today is still the only country in the city. Now, WDRQ has handed the entire teen and young adult demographic to hit-music WKQI-FM (95.5). Channel 95.5 program director Dom Theodore is happy to welcome all the new listeners, but sad to see so many talented broadcasters, many whom he considered friends, out of work at 'DRQ. Even long-time 'DRQ program director Alex Tear was among the casualties.
The only staffer safe for now (though he's not on-air) is morning host Jay Towers, who knows the value of a contract. His partner, the vivacious Rachel Hunter, was vacationing in Florida when the news was came down; she says "we were blind-sided - no one saw this coming." WDRQ jock Stick made a guest appearance on competing WKQI Friday night on the Tic-Tac show. Some will remember that Tic-Tac used to work at 'DRQ, left Detroit for Philadelphia and came back to the arch-rival WKQI. The pair fielded dozens of phone calls from confused listeners who were still thinking this was an April Fool's Day stunt. But it was not.
Renamed "Doug-FM," WDRQ has adopted a format known around the country as Jack-FM," which features a very wide variety of music supposed to make your radio sound like an iPod on shuffle. For the past couple of weeks, Mike and I have been predicting this format would invade the Motor City - it was just a matter of time - but the casualties left "on the beach" is sad ("on the beach" being radio biz slang for out of a job).
Steve Kosbau, the president and general manager of both WDRQ and adult-hits WDVD-FM (96.3), says making this change was not a snap decision. When this came down, he indicated it was the hardest thing he's ever had to do at a radio station, but business decisions often are exceedingly difficult. Now, radio competitors and listeners are trying to predict whether or not this was a good move on the part of ABC/ Disney, which owns WDRQ in addition to WDVD and news-talk WJR-AM (760). No bodies were seen flying out of the Fisher Building, so we'll wait for the dust to settle, the iPod to reshuffle and the next ratings trend to see if it worked.
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Quick Hits: Channel 95.5's Mojo in the Morning numbered new listeners who segued over from 'DRQ and one lucky listener was awarded $5,000 - not a bad pay-off for switching stations ... Eddie Haskell was once programming director of country WYCD here and is now out in Albuquerque, N.M., where he named his station "Fred-FM." Do you sense a trend here? But XM satellite radio, which has an alternative rock channel named "Fred," promptly served legal notice. With the station's new billboards were already up around town, Eddie stuck giant Post-It notes over the first two letters and re-named the station "Ed-FM." Creativity lives. You can tell the battle lines between satellite and terrestrial radio have definitely been drawn when the skirmish garners a front-page story in The New York Times, as it did on Tuesday.
And things are really heating up regarding the sharing of "content" by sat-casters: Did anyone else catch Michigan actor Jeff Daniels say on TV during Opening Day at Comerica Park that his XM radio lets him hear the Tigers' broadcast live with Jim Price and Dan Dickerson from sports WXYT-AM (1270) while he cruises on the freeways of L.A.? That's cool - but the deal XM cut with Major League Baseball to do this is driving terrestrial radio crazy.
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Set your dials: Big band lovers will want to dial in host Tom Wilson's tribute to George Gershwin at 6 p.m. Sunday on Christian WMUZ-FM (103.5) ... local recording artist Rufus Harris started a new Internet radio station - www.justradio.net - and it's been named "Best of 2005" by Live 365, the world's largest Internet Radio Network. The Web station features music by Christian artists. Kudos to Harris.
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Art Vuolo has published the Radio Guide for more than 30 years and runs Vuolovideo.com.