Reprinted from the Sunday Oakland Press, December 18, 2005
By: Mike Austerman
Raise your hand if you were surprised to hear the changes at public radio WDET-FM (101.9) this week. Me, too. After all, it was just in September, 2004 when several popular NPR and weekend shows were dropped as former general manager Caryn Mathes tried to develop a more consistent focus for the station’s Adult Alternative music programming.
Those changes, however, brought a softness in both ratings and pledge drive support so new boss Michael Coleman undid those changes — and then some. Back on the schedule at the Wayne State-owned station are popular NPR programs “Fresh Air,” “Car Talk” and the “Tavis Smiley Show,” along with local music shows hosted by Matt Watroba, Larry McDaniels, Robert Jones and Chuck Horn. In addition, “News & Notes” hosted by Detroit native Ed Gordon, “Democracy Now” and other talk-based shows have been added, replacing all of the station’s daytime weekday music programs.
Coleman believes the changes will help give Detroit the kind of premier public radio service it deserves. “Our entire community needs access to intelligent, thoughtful and diverse voices about the issues and challenges facing all of us,” he notes.
But while many may rejoice at the return of Click & Clack the Tappet Brothers and Terry Gross, other fans of the old ’DET will argue that the dramatic cutback of music and departure of longtime hosts Martin Bandyke, Judy Adams — who’d been program director — Willy Wilson and John Penney has squelched an important part of our area’s music culture. ’DET had been the only station offering daily music programming covering local artists with a variety of styles — and providing a spotlight likely to never be replaced.
So now WDET is just like most other public radio stations across the country — with a focus on mostly syndicated news/ talk and public affairs during prime listening hours. And although Ed Love keeps his evening jazz show and Liz Copeland is still on board with music overnight, much of WDET’s uniqueness is gone. And how’d you like to have pledged in the fall drive for a music show that now has disappeared?
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Just Askin’: With both WDET and WRCJ-FM (90.9) airing jazz in the evenings, isn’t there an opportunity for an agreement between them? Ed Love could move to WRCJ instead of the satellite-provided jazz service, making room on WDET for Bandyke and/or Adams on WDET. And maybe WRCJ would be interested in hiring Wilson and Penney to bolster its weekend lineup. The stations could cross-promote one another, generating wider interest and monetary support. Could be a win-win situation… which is probably why it’ll never happen.
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Now that Howard Stern is done on regular radio — his “best of” shows are set to air on talk WKRK-FM (97.1) through the end of the year — it’s going to be interesting what happens after he moves to Sirius satellite radio starting Jan. 9. Stern’s audience, which had been about 12 million listeners daily, will be notably smaller since Sirius has about 3 million subscribers and it’s anybody’s best guess how many of those will tune in to Stern. And how outrageous will he be as he attempts to build an audience and move his free radio fans to Sirius in order to make his contract worth the reported $500 million he’s getting in the next five years? If he goes too far over the decency line, industry insiders believe Congress and the FCC will act to put the same kinds of restrictions on satellite radio content that exist on AM and FM radio — restrictions Stern claims have limited his creativity and ability to do the type of show he wanted.
For now, with the threat of FCC fines lifted, Stern will be able to show us if he is indeed the self-proclaimed “King of All Media” or if he’s someone whose better days are gone and who used government interference as an excuse.
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Glancing at November’s monthly ratings report card, there are a few eyebrow raisers as we await the final fall quarterly numbers available next month. The very early returns show that soft rock WNIC-FM (100.3) didn’t get a boost at all in November with its all-Christmas music marathon, while competitor WMGC-FM (105.1) enjoyed increased numbers with its regular music rotation. It's still too early though to get the full picture on that situation. The introduction of morning man Steve Harvey on adult urban WMXD-FM (92.3) helped push that station’s ratings back on an upward trend and further ahead of competitor WDMK-FM (105.9), the home of Tom Joyner. At Top 40 WKQI-FM (95.5), the Mojo in the Morning crowd is celebrating improvements in every category and has achieved a Top Five ranking in every demo and the No. 1 rating in every female demo. Meanwhile, rock WRIF-FM (101.1) duo Drew and Mike continue to reign overall in morning drive.
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Set Your Dials: For holiday music from organists Elani Eddington and Scott Smith of Lansing at 6 p.m. today on WMUZ-FM (103.5).
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Columnist Mike Austerman has covered radio for The Oakland Press since 2001.