By: Mike Austerman
Welcome and thanks for reading the first "independent" version of the On the Radio column. While Art Vuolo has not yet decided if he will continue his contributions, I will be publishing on Michiguide.com a similar type of news and views commentary as what has been published each week in the suburban Detroit Oakland Press for years- Art and I took over the piece from Rob Musial back in September 2001. One of the biggest differences you'll notice about this online-only version of On the Radio is that since the column isn't submitted to a professional editor, there will be more grammar and spelling errors. Also, look for things to become more focused on opinions instead of reporting radio news. And because there no longer is a midweek deadline, the item that is published on the web each Sunday will be timelier, especially when things happen on Thursday and Friday.
Art and I are appreciative of the support readers have given us the past week when Art's final column ran. We are both very disappointed that the paper decided to cancel us due to space and financial considerations. Just like how we've commented on what's happened in the radio biz, neither of us can understand how cutting back on local content can help a product that should be increasing its local content instead of getting rid of it. Why subscribe to a newspaper when the majority of what you receive is wire copy that can be read in a number of other places? Why advertise in the paper when the product has next to no personal connection to its customers?
What I'll miss most about having the columns printed in the Oakland Press is the legitimacy that comes with being published and paid by a well-known newspaper. The extra money was nice, but that wasn't the real reason I did it for just over 6 ½ years. It was just genuinely fun to do.
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One of the most difficult things to cover over the years has been ratings information. Because neither Art nor I are anywhere near what you'd call wealthy, we can't afford to subscribe to Arbitron to get a regular look at the important demographic breakdowns. Any analysis we might do has been totally at the mercy of what people that do subscribe are willing to share or by what's published in other places. And, it seems fewer and fewer people outside of the radio business really care all that much about the relatively minor swings that occur with each ratings book. Susan Whitall of the Detroit News and John Smyntek of the Free Press both do a fine job dissecting the numbers in their respective publications, especially when it comes to evaluating morning drive. Rehashing age 12+ numbers has become repetitive and probably pretty boring to read too.
As an admitted sports junkie though, I'm always interested in what the numbers look like for WDFN and WXYT. Overall, WXYT looks like they are successfully holding on to the new listeners they found by adding the FM 97.1 simulcast last year. That's especially true for afternoon drive hosts Mike Valenti and Terry Foster who reportedly scored nearly a 9 share in last week's winter ratings book and were number one among men age 25-54, the money demo for both 'DFN and the Ticket. They've built a very loyal following for themselves, no doubt because of their on-air product but also because of an Internet presence at www.sportsinferno.com. While WXYT management has banished nearly any kind of reference to the site on the air, tons of listeners still congregate there to talk sports, show their love for Mike and Terry, and generally just to be part of a community that joins together new media and traditional radio. The combination of a dynamic Internet meeting place and interesting radio equals success and is something radio managers should take note of.
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Interaction and fun is why I've become a religious listener to XM's 60's on 6 during Phlash Phelps' morning drive show. Nearly every day, Phelps serves up a fast-paced program that, when live, combines listener interaction with current events to make it feel every bit like a small-town local radio program instead of a nationwide satellite program. The features that get listeners involved are simple, from guessing the location of a daily featured city from clues given at about 8:20am, to trying to figure out the location of a photo that Phelps has taken of himself from various landmarks across the country on his MySpace page (www.myspace.com/phlashphelps). He also takes listener requests and generally just makes it sound like he's having fun every time he opens the mic.
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I was glad to read that WRIF morning host Mike Clark and former host Drew Lane didn't allow the official break-up of their hugely successful morning show to spin into a big scandal. While some initial miscommunication was all over the news, the guys quickly resolved things allowing each of them to explore the next steps in their careers without having to constantly deal with that issue. Probably one of the most interesting things to watch in Detroit radio the next year will be the development of 'Riffs "new" morning show. With Clark now fully stepping out of Lane's shadow, the pressure to keep the show at or near the top of the ratings and revenue chart is going to be high. Especially considering he and program director Doug Podell now have a new boss in John Gallagher, the former WJR sales manager who is taking over Tom Bender's old job as general manager of Greater Media's WRIF, WCSX, and WMGC. I'm guessing that if there is any kind of sustained weakness in the program, Podell and Gallagher won't hesitate to give Clark any help he might want or need- even if that means adding or subtracting co-hosts . Losing morning listeners is never a good thing for a station's overall health and nobody in town knows that better than Podell.
I'm also going to be real interested to see if Lane shows up locally doing an afternoon talk program. With Deminski and Doyle also being on the sidelines for now, that's a ton of compelling talk talent that would like to be on the air during similar timeslots on stations that right now probably offer a completely different format. If someone could find a morning show that could successfully get after WRIF's morning audience and figure out a way to get Lane along with Deminski and Doyle in the lineup, you'd have a very compelling competitor for male listeners. And a very interesting war for listeners between WRIF, WXYT, WDFN, and any newcomer to the party.
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Mike Austerman is the founder of Michiguide.com and covered radio for The Oakland Press from September 2001 through April 2008.