On The Radio Columns: August 2005 Archives

There’s been plenty of migration on FM dial

Reprinted from the Daily Oakland Press, August 1, 2005

By: Art Vuolo

A couple of weeks ago, we had a history lesson on the many changes heard across the AM dial in the last three to four decades. Now let’s cruise down the FM band, where stability has never been a staple of the medium. First, it should be noted that FM frequencies 88.1 through 91.9 are reserved, in our country, for noncommercial broadcasters — known in the trade as “noncoms” — and are usually owned by high schools or colleges and universities.

Our WDET-FM (101.9), Wayne State University’s station, is an exception. From across the border in Windsor, a commercial outlet at 88.7 was first known as CJOM with progressive rock. Today, it’s 89X CIMX-FM, with alternative rock preceded by pop as Mix 88.7.

Locally, our first station, 92.3, has been home to many names and formats. It began as WLIN in Lincoln Park around 1964. Later, it was WCAR-FM, oldies WTWR, country WCXI-FM, urban WNTM and new age WVAE, and today it’s Mix WMXD-FM.

At 93.1, it began as hits WJBK-FM, then country WDEE-FM briefly before switching in June of 1971 to WDRQ-FM, Detroit’s first FM news-talk station. WDRQ evolved from top 40 into disco and then changed to WLTI Lite-FM before switching back to WDRQ and back to the hits. Recently, it became adult hits Doug-FM, though it retains the ’DRQ letters.

Again from Windsor is 93.9, which started out as CKLW-FM, then a plethora of call letters and formats from oldies to country, and today it’s CIDR Lite-FM. Recently, however, its pop music has become much brighter.

As the tour continues, 94.7 began as Birmingham’s WHFI with pop music and big names such as Marc Avery and Lee Alan, housed in a small A-frame building on Rankin Road in Troy. It became oldies Honey Radio WHNE, then pop WMJC, the first Majic 95 with Jeff & Jer. Today? It’s classic rock WCSX.

The roots of 95.5 show it as a true bastion of beautiful music known as WLDM. Then it changed to soft-pop Cozy WCZY, followed by Z95.5, and now WKQI, but became better known as Q95 and, currently, Channel 9-5-5. Are you taking notes?

What started out at 96.3 as elevator music WJR-FM flipped to hits WHYT in the early ’80s, followed later by modern rock The Planet WPLT. Today, it’s adult hit music WDVD.

There was more easy listening at 97.1 with WWJ-FM, followed by WJOI Joy 97 for many years. It was then WYST Star 97 with ’70s hits before becoming K-Rock WKRK going after rock giant The Riff. It failed, and WKRK is now Live 97.1 with a hot talk format and Lions football.

The 97.9 spot has been home only to ethnic WMZK and, for years, urban WJLB, staying amazingly stable.

WBFG was “We Broadcast For God” at 98.7, then it abruptly changed to rock WLLZ Detroit’s Wheels. You know it now as Smooth Jazz WVMV, or V-98.7.

One of the early homes of jazz was 99.5 WABX, which became a legendary “underground” rocker for years. Then it morphed into top 40, then WCLS “Class” before switching to eclectic-pop WDTX. It soon became hits WDFX The Fox, followed by a major shift to WOWF “WOW-FM,” another FM talker that lasted only five months. When it became Young Country WYCD, it stuck.

At 100.3, the saga began as WKMH-FM, then hits WKNRFM, which was transformed into Stereo Island pop music and then in 1973 to adult contemporary WNIC, which it still is today.

101.1 has been only two things — WXYZ-FM and, for 34 years, “Detroit’s Home of Rock & Roll” WRIF. Very stable indeed.

Wayne State’s WDET is one of just four FMs still with their original call letters.

At 102.7, we’ve seen a litany of names on the license. Macomb County’s WBRB-FM became WLBS urban-disco, then it was Kiss WKSG with oldies, then new age WXCD, Z-Rock WDZR, the Bear WWBR with Ted Nugent and then urban oldies and Kiss again as WDMK, which started as soft pop. Now it just switched to WHTD Hot 102.7 with hip-hop music.

Christian WMUZ at 103.5 is another call-letter original, and at 104.3, oldies WOMC has always stood for “Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties.” It started out with beautiful music and pop.

Many classical buffs remember 105.1 as classical WQRS for 37 years, then it stunned locals when it flipped to hard rock WXDG The Edge. After 15 months, that switched to jammin’ oldies WGRV The Groove, and then, 15 months later, became the second Magic with adult contemporary WMCG, which it is today.

105.9 stared out as jazz/black WCHD, then becoming jazz WJZZ, followed by WDTJ Detroit’s Jams. Now it’s adult urban WDMK Kiss 105.9.

The 106.7 spot began as classical WDTM. In 1970, it became WWWW (W4) which was beautiful music, oldies, rock with Howard Stern and, lastly, country for many years. Its current gear is classic hits WDTW The Drive.

Finally, our last unchanged letters are WGPR at 107.5, which stood for “Grosse Pointe Radio.” In the last few decades, it’s been rhythmic and jazz. That’s our fast-moving tour down the FM dial in Detroit. There will be a quiz next week.

Art Vuolo has published the Radio Guide for more than 30 years and runs Vuolovideo.com.


Reprinted from the Daily Oakland Press, August 8, 2005

By: Mike Austerman

Good ol’ regular radio is fighting back against satellite radio and digital music players with enhanced programming — for those willing to spend money on a new receiver. Most of the area’s FM stations now broadcast a digital version of their signals, giving listeners with “high definition” receivers near CD-quality sound. Now, three stations — rock WRIF-FM (101.1), classic rock WCSX-FM (94.7), and soft rock WMGC-FM (105.1) — are also offering multicasts, a separate stream of programming, as part of their digital signals.

WRIF2 offers alternative and independent rock, hip-hop and punk, and also features a heavy dose of local artists. RIF2 targets 18-24-year-olds and, while it’s rock based, the music mix is deliberately eclectic and highlights both new material and local artists with a focus on music from 1995 to today. Listen in over the Internet by visiting www.riff2.com.

WCSX’s Deep Trax (www.wcsxdeeptrax.com) features JJ & Lynne in the morning, followed by classic rock cuts not normally heard on the main station. WCSX personalities Ken Calvert, Karen Savelly and Steve Kostan also provide voices for the new offering.

Meanwhile, More Magic from WMGC features Jim Harper’s morning program, followed 10 a.m.-7 p.m. by Office Magic, a softer contemporary format with a mix of 1970s and ’80s icons and standards, along with Broadway tunes and jazz favorites. From 7 p.m.-6 a.m. and on weekends, Classically Magic consists of music-intensive, familiar classical favorites. Point your computer to www.moremagicradio.com for a sample.

Right now, most of us don’t have new HD radios since the cost is still pretty high, well above $500 on average. But as this technology catches on, imagine the possibilities for free radio programming.

If you haven’t tuned in to WRCJ-FM (90.9) since Aug. 1, you’ll be surprised when you do. WTVS-Channel 56 has taken over operations from Detroit Public Schools and is now broadcasting classical music 5 a.m.-7 p.m. and traditional jazz 7 p.m.-5 a.m. weekdays. It’s the first time since the demise of WQRS in 1997 that metro Detroit has had its own FM station with classical music, and it was way back in 1989 that WJZZ-FM (105.9) dropped jazz.

For now, the station’s shows are all piped in from other sources, but look for local hosts after October, says station boss Bob Scott. Quick, someone call ex-QRSers Dave Wagner and Davis Gloff ...

Buh-Bye: Kelly Brown has exited alt-rocker CIMX-FM (88.7), where she’d cohosted mornings for the past 15 years ... the syndicated “Connection” program on Michigan radio WUOM-FM (91.7) has ceased production, replaced by the one-hour talk show, “On Point” at 9 p.m. weeknights.

Speaking of Ann Arbor, National Public Radio’s StoryCorps, the largest oral history project ever attempted, arrived in A2 on Thursday to record local residents talking about their lives, opinions and philosophies. Those will be stored permanently at the Library of Congress and available to the families of the people who made them and to researchers and scholars. NPR’s mobile sound studio will be at William and Main Streets until Aug. 15, if you’d like to participate.

Rumors have been flying about a possible replacement for Howard Stern on talk WKRK-FM (97.1) once he moves to satellite radio in 2006. Some of the names being heard are former Van Halen front man David Lee Roth and Chicago shock-jock Mancow Muller. Stern himself is predicting he might be gone by the end of September, before the fall ratings period starts.

Adult Urban WDMK-FM (105.9) will host Tom Joyner’s “Big Break” on Wednesday at Hoop City Grille in Southfield. The singing competition will give local Detroiters the chance of a lifetime when three finalists compete live for a $1,000 cash prize during Joyner’s show 6-10 a.m. Friday on WDMK. Auditions begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday, when listeners have 60 seconds to wow a panel of judges made up of Kiss FM personalities Lady BG, AJ Parker and John Mason, who’ll select the three finalists for Friday. Visit www.kissdetroit.com for more info.

Set Your Dials: News-talk WJR-AM (760) morning man Paul W. Smith broadcasts live from the State Fair on Wednesday’s opening day. In addition to Smith’s 6-9 a.m. kickoff, WJR will host numerous live broadcasts during the Fair ... host Tom Wilson will revisits the 1950s payola scandal that affected the late Ed “Jack the Bellboy” McKenzie at 6 p.m. Sunday on WMUZ-FM (103.5).


Reprinted from the Daily Oakland Press, August 15, 2005

By: Art Vuolo

Last week, my colleague Mike Austerman reported on the debut of HD (high-definition) radio in Detroit. Besides offering a high quality digital version of a station’s signal, HD allows for “secondary” channels that can offer more specialized programming than their primary stations — all in the battle with satellite radio for listeners. Two years ago, the mammoth Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas offered a taste of HD, but I just experienced it locally and want to share what I saw and heard because it is impressive.

Today, for invited guests, the family-owned Greater Media of Detroit is showcasing its new multichannel broadcasting, which is created by the HD technology. Locally, Greater Media owns rock WRIF-FM (101.1), classic rock WCSX-FM (94.7) and soft rock WMGC-FM (105.1). If you have access to the Internet, you can hear what I heard last week during the demonstration of these new channels. Go to either www.riff2.com, www.wcsxdeeptrax.com or www.moremagicradio.com to hear the formats that counterbalance the FM parent stations you may already be familiar with. (RIFF2 offers alternative and indie rock, plus hiphop, with an emphasis on local artists. The Deep Trax channel has album cuts not normally heard on ’CSX, plus the station’s familiar personalities. More Magic features a softer contemporary format during the day with some Broadway and jazz hits.)

Listening to these on your computer is one thing, but hearing them on a new HD radio right off the air is far more dramatic. To put this new technology into perspective, here’s an analogy from history: In the mid-1960s, FM radio was starting to get noticed and the FCC made it mandatory that AM/FM stations offer separate programming on their FM outlets so they’d be more than just repeats of the AM broadcasts. Since most cars then had AM-only radios, those wanting to sample the new sound had to buy an after-market FM converter to mount under the dash. Though these were in mono sound, people were thrilled to have the new FM band with more music and far fewer commercials. Responding to consumer demand, automakers soon added the FM band to car radios.

Like early FM, HD radio will be basically commercial-free for the first year or two, and there is no monthly subscription fee as there is for satellite radio. Supporters believe this will make free, over-the-air broadcasting far more competitive with satellite and Internet radio since HD is as superior to regular radio as HD TV is to regular television. Like FM, this will work if consumers accept and demand this new technology, just as they convinced the auto companies to start offering XM and Sirius satellite radio in most new cars in the last few years.

During last week’s demonstration, I heard the table-top Boston Acoustics radio and a full-size Yamaha receiver, and the sound was amazing. Prices vary from $249 up to $1,400 to hear this superior sound, but, as with every other electronics gadget, prices are expected to fall as demand increases. What this all means is that your choices on the FM dial could double with the addition of the new HD-1 and HD-2 stations. In Chicago, where the oldies station WJMK-FM changed to the “Jack-FM” format imitating an iPod on shuffle mode like our WDRQ-FM (93.1), station brass brought the oldies back with live DJs on WJMK’s HD-2, figuring that would increase awareness of HD and the sales of new HD radios.

The same can happen here. Clear Channel owns six local stations and is expected to roll out its HD channels in the next few weeks and the same will happen at Infinity and Disney/ABC radio. In theory, you could easily have more than 100 local stations to choose from in the not too distant future. For radio fans, that’s great news.

This is the week when things are really revving up on Woodward Avenue for the Dream Cruise. Tonight, Rick Hunter on oldies WOMC-FM (104.3) gets it started with a live broadcast from Duggan’s Irish Pub in Royal Oak, leading up to the station’s Saturday live remotes from Birmingham, Ferndale and Royal Oak. Many of your other favorite radio personalities will be broadcasting along the Dream Cruise route this week. Even satellite radio is getting into the act as XM’s Phlash Phelps from the 1960s channel and West Bloomfield native Sari from the 1970s channel will be live at the GM display in Birmingham on Saturday.

Soft rock WMGC-FM (105.1) is running two broadcasts to salute women in the automotive industry. The first is 6-10 a.m. Thursday at General Motors headquarters at the Ren Cen; the second is 6-10 a.m. Friday at the Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills. For more, visit www.magic1051.com.

Quick Hits: Infinity local sales boss and WYCD-FM (99.5) veep Steve Schram has resigned ... Urban WHTD-FM (102.7) has moved night slammers Dre and Suga Rae to mornings, where they replace Russ Parr’s syndicated morning show. Getting the nighttime nod are Sean Anthony and Keith “Baby” Jones from Cincinnati’s WIZF-FM ... local DJ The Bushman of urban WJLB-FM (97.9) is being honored tonight at Flood’s Bar & Grill in Detroit for getting national exposure for the Detroit hip-hop sound that’s produced Eminem and Slum Village.

Set Your Dials: Hear the Greencards live 1-4 p.m. Tuesday on WDET-FM (101.9) ... and pull out the stops with pipe organist Father Jim Miller at 6 p.m. Sunday on WMUZ-FM (103.5).


Reprinted from the Daily Oakland Press, August 22, 2005

By: Mike Austerman

Tune down your AM dial this morning, and you’ll likely hear metro Detroit’s newest radio station. WFDF-AM (910) used to broadcast from Flint, but now it’s in the final stages of moving its transmitter to northern Monroe County. And that’ll allow it to blast the metro area with the sounds of Radio Disney, the pop format targeted at kids from elementary through high school.

It’s been quite the odyssey for the Mouse House. It purchased WFDF in 2002 for $3 million to create a new Detroit radio station, the area’s first new AM station since 1990, when WMKM-AM (1440) signed on after WCHB dropped down to AM 1200. Since then, there’ve been zoning battles in Monroe over the station’s new broadcast towers, multiple applications with the FCC to get the move approved and lots of money invested.

Last week, I dialed in to WFDF while it was performing tests. At times, the station would broadcast from its old Flint location, making it tough to pick up on the car radio. Then suddenly, the reception would clear up dramatically when the new facilities came on. When all of this testing is complete, the station will have one of the area’s strongest signals, rivaling all news WWJ-AM (950), sports WDFN-AM (1130) and sports WXYT-AM (1270) during the daytime. The station should also come in clearer than WDFN and WXYT at night, but not quite as good as WWJ. Also, the station’s “community of” license will change from Flint (where it has been licensed since signing on in May, 1922) to Farmington Hills. And I wouldn’t be shocked to see the WFDF call letters disappear soon to better reflect the Radio Disney name.

Yet the whole thing is curious to me. Spending millions to get Radio Disney on in Detroit seems like a waste since kids don’t listen much to AM radio these days. And with the musical content of Radio Disney also being carried on both XM and Sirius satellite radio, there’s already a way to listen if you want. Is Radio Disney really that profitable, and are advertisers that supportive of this format? As they say in TV news reports, only time will tell.

Speaking of AM radio, reader Ron wants to know why in Waterford and Clarkston it seems almost impossible to listen to AM in the car. He reports that the static in certain areas is so bad you can’t hear anything — and these areas appear to be getting bigger. What causes this, he asks, and are the stations doing anything about it?

Well, Ron, many things cause interference on AM radio these days — everything from power lines and microwave ovens to garage door openers. Everything that transmits wirelessly can cause some interference. Even all the electronics in your car can be a source of interference. Try listening to the radio with the engine off, and you’ll probably notice a difference.

At this point, there isn’t much that can be done about this interference, though digital radio might help. That said, some of the stations themselves are to blame. Take WXYT, for example. It used to broadcast from Southfield near 10 Mile Road and Northwestern Highway and had a good signal in much of the metro area. Now, it shoots its signal up from Monroe County, and even though it has more power, its signal is much more directional, causing weak spots in coverage that weren’t there before. That includes along the Troy-Sterling Heights border, where I live, in one of those trouble spots. What WXYT has gained in fringe reception areas, I think it has lost in its core listening area.

Thanks, Ron, for an excellent question.

The Detroit Lions obviously realized the limitations of AM radio, following the lead of other NFL teams by moving their broadcasts to FM. Already heard locally on talk WKRK-FM (97.1), the Lions have moved to FM in western Michigan this season, adding WKLQ-FM (107.3) Greenville/Grand Rapids and WKOQ-FM (92.5) Newaygo to their affiliate list. The Lions are also on FM in Lansing (92.1 and 92.7) and in the Tri-Cities area (on 104. 5 and 100.9). Like many fans, I enjoy hearing the games broadcast in FM.

Set Your Dials: The swing band Sounds of Swing Orchestra will be featured on “Somewhere in Time” at 6 p.m. (8-28) on WMUZ-FM (103.5).


Reprinted from the Daily Oakland Press, August 29, 2005

By: Art Vuolo

Nothing seems to continually fascinate people in the radio industry (and listeners) more than ratings. In the metro Detroit market, radio ratings are taken in each of the four seasons and each quarter is divided into three phases, one for each month of the quarter. Even though most of the season’s first college football games are this Saturday, it’s still summertime. And though the summer ratings book for Detroit won’t be released until late October or early November, the first phase just rolled out — with a few surprises.

News-talk WJR-AM (760) held on to first place, but just barely as archrival all-news WWJ-AM (950) is only one tenth of a point behind the megawatt home of Paul W., Frank, Rush and Mitch. WKQI-FM (95.5) program director Dom Theodore has to be pleased that his Top 40 station is number four in Motown, just behind urban WJLB-FM (97.9) and tied with oldies WOMC-FM (104.3). Theodore’s former competitor, WDRQ-FM (93.1) — now dubbed Doug FM — actually moved up by a fraction of a point without DJs— which is not a good sign for personality radio. But only time will tell if the jockless juke box has legs. And in the pop wars, Jim Harper’s soft rock Magic WMGC-FM (105.1) edged out competitor Chris Edmonds and crew at WNIC-FM (100.3).

Have you noticed that WMGC’s HD-2 station (known as “More Magic”) features all-classical music at night on special high-definition radios? What’s interesting is this returns classical fare to a frequency known for “music of the masters” for almost 40 years — when the station was classical WQRS-FM. So, to VP/GM Tom Bender (who pulled the plug on ‘QRS in 1997), you have been forgiven.

In other classical radio news, the CBC Radio Canada lockout, which began Aug. 15, continues — which is why Windsor’s CBE-FM (89.9) has sounded so strange of late. No new negotiations have been set but workers said they’d be launching a national podcast today. For more, check cbcunplugged.com on the Web.

An old acquaintance and former broadcaster Paul Donovan, who now lives near Marquette in the Upper Peninsula, sent an e-mail stating that he was “sitting up here tonight listening to 1270 Detroit. ... I hear the Tigers in the evenings on my back deck with a portable Sony radio.” Yet I have trouble getting the station in Novi. Fortunately, the sports WXYT-AM (1270) broadcast is available crystal-clear on XM Satellite Radio.

Fans of Howard Stern are counting down his remaining days on “free” radio. His controversial program is carried locally by hot talk WKRK-FM (97.1), where programmer Craig Schwalb needs to find a new morning show as time is running out. Insiders predict Stern will segue over to Sirius Satellite Radio by the end of September. Lots of possibilities for his slot are being considered. I know what show I would like to hear on Live 97.1, but as the Rolling Stones said in 1969, “You can’t always get what you want.”

Of all the radio stations that switched to the new “Jack” format (like our own Doug FM), the one that made the biggest news was 33-year oldies legend WCBS-FM in New York City. The early reports are not good. Listeners are still angry over the loss of their oldies. And former CBS-FM program director and Oakland County native Dave Logan has to be wondering what’s next. The “Jack” format took him out, too.

Blaine Fowler, the morning guy who looks too young to be in his 30s, checks in with a reminder to mark your calendar for Sept. 8. That’s when his pop hits WDVD-FM (96.3) hosts a 14 hour radiothon to benefit the Karmanos Cancer Institute to fight breast cancer. It’ll originate at Gordon Chevrolet in Garden City. See you there.

From our “Whatever Happened To” Department comes word that former classic rock WCSX-FM (94.7) host Carey Carlson has migrated to northern Michigan and has a new syndicated program called “Third Coast Café.” Her old ’CSX Sunday morning shows were known as “Over Easy.” Like that, her new show is an eclectic mix of classic rock and seldom-heard tunes, and it airs Sunday mornings on several stations around the state. Listeners in western Oakland County can catch the show 9-11 a.m. Sundays on classic hits WHMI-FM (93.5) in Brighton/Howell. Carlson also handles midday duties at Traverse City’s powerful country WTCM-FM (103.5). Back at ’CSX, host Pam Rossi ably helms “Over Easy” from 7 a.m.-noon Saturdays and Sundays.

The last Motor City Broadcast Reunion is less than a month away. If you know someone who should be a part of this historic event and might not know about it, go to www.vuolovideo.com and click on reunions for details. An amazing number of radio and TV legends are coming to town for this occasion. Though not open to the public, it will be heavily covered by local media.

Set Your Dials: The Ditty Bops perform in studio on the Martin Bandyke Show at 2 p.m. today on WDET-FM (101.9) ... Frank Beckmann and Jim Brandstatter head back behind the mike on WJR Saturday for the Michigan’s home opener against Northern Illinois. The same broadcast is also available on Ann Arbor’s sports WTKA-AM (1050) ... band leader Cab Calloway gives ’em the old “hi dee ho” on “Somewhere in Time” at 6 p.m. Sunday on WMUZ-FM (103.5).







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This page is a archive of entries in the On The Radio Columns category from August 2005.

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