By: Mike Austerman
Summer celebrations are in full swing at Channel 95-5 (WKQI-FM) and 97.1 The Ticket (WXYT-FM/AM) as both stations bask in the glow of ratings success. WKQI was the Detroit area's top-rated station among all listeners during the second spring ratings trend, offering some optimism that the gang at Channel have a legitimate shot at claiming an overall quarterly ratings crown for the first time ever. Mojo and crew in the mornings anchor the station's lineup and were third most popular in the 25-54 age group, behind WRIF's Mike in the Morning and WMXD's Steve Harvey.
Gone are the days that both WDFN and WXYT could claim to be the area's highest rated sports station. To borrow a sports term, right now the combined WXYT stations are winning in what amounts to a blowout, especially in the age 12+ ratings. WXYT-FM/AM carded a 3.6 share, well ahead of WDFN's 0.9. The move to FM certainly seems to be paying dividends, at least as far as listener numbers go.
In no way do I think that WDFN is ready to just give up - but clearly they need to something to grab back some of the spotlight for themselves.
WXYT's morning duo of Jay Towers and Bill McAllister continue to increase their profile and listenership too, improving to an 11th place showing in the coveted age 25-54 race and giving the stations their best combined early morning ratings performance in memory. There were plenty of questions posed on various Internet forums about the sustainability of a non-sports focused program on the station once the popular duo of Jeff Deminski and Bill Doyle exited - including several predictions of quick failure. Most of those critics have now fallen silent, but I'm not afraid of eating a little crow (again) and giving Towers and McAllister full credit for a job well done.
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Speaking of the Internet-fueled speculation machine ... one of the most persistent topics the past few months is that the winds of change might be blowing at WDTW-FM, 106.7 The Fox, sometime soon. Most of the speculation has centered on the frequency cycling back to a rock-based format of some sort in an attempt to take on WRIF, which might be viewed as more venerable to competition with the official breakup of the morning monopoly that was the Drew and Mike Show. Other armchair programmers have suggested that WDFN might move to FM to re-level the playing field against WXYT or maybe take on a talk format that could include a lineup featuring Deminski & Doyle and Drew Lane's new venture with Mr. Skin.
I have not been able to verify any of the rumors circulating about the future of The Fox, but that is to be expected. Ever since the station first dropped country back in 1999, format change rumors seemingly pop up every couple of years followed by either an actual format change or a big to-do over a renaming of a similar sound. Each change has always gone down pretty much the same way - rumors followed by denials, followed by some stunting, then the change is revealed to everyone at the same time over the air.
Will the July 4th weekend bring more shenanigans on 106.7? The country format is doing very well in other nearby cities, including Cleveland, Toledo, and Grand Rapids thanks in no small part to a bunch of young new artists that keep the format fresh for listeners. Only program director John Trapane and general manager Dom Theodore know for sure if change is on the horizon, but at this point nothing would surprise me. Except maybe for a format change to all-polka.
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There is an interesting battle in Washington D.C. going on between record and radio industries. Record companies are lobbying heavily to make broadcast radio companies pay royalties on the music they play - something they've been exempt from up until now. The dollar amounts being thrown around in this tussle are in the billions - no small potatoes.
The arguments on both sides are very compelling to me- The recording industry, which is often depicted as being nothing more than greedy, claims that if non-traditional broadcasters (Internet, satellite radio, etc.) have to pay, so should traditional radio. For their part, radio claims that without them, the record companies would have no way of getting exposure for their artists.
This issue screams for compromise, and hopefully one can be found. It doesn't seem fair that radio remains exempt from royalties while newer competitors have to pay. And it is equally unfair to think that very medium that made music what it is today shouldn't receive some kind of financial acknowledgement that the service they provide to record companies and their artists is indeed invaluable.
A vote on the issue will likely come before Congress sometime before the year is over and in the meantime, the National Association of Broadcasters is ramping up both the rhetoric and its lobbying in an effort to stop any legislation that would no doubt change the financials of being a broadcaster dramatically. While some of the bigger broadcasters like Clear Channel, Citadel, and CBS could probably figure out a business model to remain profitable, I worry about what would happen to smaller stand-alone radio stations and non-commercial operations that seem to barely survive with today's business models.
If the record companies appear close to getting their way, I predict a huge backlash with the radio listeners being the ones that suffer the most if broadcasters protest by stopping the music. Just image what radio would be like with no stations playing songs. That just might get some attention.
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Mike Austerman covered radio for the Oakland Press from September 2001 through April 2008 and can be reached at email@example.com or at PO Box 99392, Troy MI 48099.