Reprinted from the Sunday Oakland Press, September 24, 2006
By: Art Vuolo
Your traveling radio reporter has just returned from yet another radio convention, the last one of the year and the biggest by far. This was a combination of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and major radio trade publication Radio and Records (R&R).
As many of you know by now, the radio industry has been going through several years of extensive consolidation, where a single company such as Clear Channel, CBS or Greater Media owns a number of different radio stations. So, now, this phenomenon has spread to these confabs in an attempt to lure more broadcasters to a combination affair during these times of intense budget cuts.
This convention began with Southfield-based Jacobs Media putting on a mini-seminar initiated by David Rehr, newly appointed president and CEO of the NAB. The topics most seriously discussed were HD (high-definition) radio, the iPod competition and how to reach the under-25 listener.
Another interesting point raised by Rehr was his hope for a level playing field regarding terrestrial radio versus satellite radio. All radio needs to play by the same rules, he explained, as a number of people are getting satellite radio at no charge via either the Internet or satellite TV services including Dish Network and DirecTV.
He pointed out that Sirius CFO David Frear defends the practice of counting cars on dealer lots as subscribers and tells the Merrill Lynch confab in Pasadena that “it’s not a very big number” and it’s “dropping as a percentage of subscribers” over the past year from 10 percent to about 8 percent. In this case, it was 500,000-plus unsold cars that were counted as subscribers.
Local radio guru Fred Jacobs began the program with a sobering commentary — “Why my 14-year-old thinks radio sucks.” That got the attention of the crowd, which realized that reaching the 12- to 25-year-old market remains a challenge. He also reminded the radio folks on hand about a quote from local ad maven Mark Kaline, who said we need to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Talk radio and the future of the liberal network Air America were hot topics, too. Left-leaning talk host Al Franken recently told TV talk host Conan O’Brien that “we’re going to be fine.” That was after telling his own listeners, “If we do go into bankruptcy, I’ve flown on United (Airlines). They went into bankruptcy,” meaning that the show will go on. He told the New York Sun he discovered the cash-flow problems when his own paycheck stopped last week (“No cash has been flowing to me”).
The NAB/R&R Convention also was buzzing about the highly rumored return of Howard Stern to “regular radio” in addition to his Sirius gig. They had hoped Stern would bring at least 70 percent of his FM audience with him to Sirius; instead, it was a meager, disappointing 30 percent.
With the success of Opie & Anthony doing both XM and standard FM radio, the thinking is that the same can happen for Stern. Stay tuned.
A number of Detroit stations and personalities were up for awards at the big Dallas convention, and as of press time, rock WRIF-FM (101.1) did pretty well. The station won an award for best rock station in a major city, while morning yucksters Drew & Mike, program director Doug Podell and music director Mark Pennington all emerged winners. Mike Austerman will have more next week.
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On the home front, it came as a stunner that a new general manager is being assigned to both sports WXYT-AM (1270) and hot talk WKRK-FM (97.1), as longtime market manager Rich Homberg will handle duties exclusively for all-news WWJ-AM (950).
And the news we broke here a couple of weeks ago, although no station personnel would confirm it, has solidified. Opie & Anthony have segued over to Free FM 97.1 as “Rover’s Morning Glory” exits, and Mike & Mike from ESPN Radio take over mornings at ’XYT.
And the beat goes on.
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A week ago yesterday, it was exciting for me to be in attendance at the Michigan-Notre Dame game in South Bend. It was a great victory for the Wolverines among thousands of ND fans, but radio listeners seemed rather disenchanted with Don Criqui, the new Westwood One Network announcer for Notre Dame, who replaced the venerable Tony Roberts. Avid fans noted the new voice of the Fighting Irish made numerous mistakes during the football broadcast.
This is why U-M tried so hard to keep the radio team of Frank Beckmann and Jim Brandstatter together. When the chemistry is right between broadcasters, it’s magical — and you don’t want to mess with the magic.
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Get-well wishes go out to local WJR sales manager Bob Schick, who’s recuperating at St. John’s Hospital after being attacked by thugs on Detroit’s East Side.
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Set your dial: Tom Wilson will feature the music of Vaughn Monroe on “Somewhere in Time” at 6 p.m. today on WMUZ-FM (103.5).
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Art Vuolo has published the Radio Guide for more than 30 years and runs Vuolovideo.com.