By: Mike Austerman
I look forward to the day when Internet access becomes easily available everywhere, but until then getting away from it all is still possible. So now it's time to play some catch-up.
When the spring ratings book was released last week by Arbitron, there were lots of smiles in the halls of WRIF, WKQI, and WXYT. Anyone that was looking for rocker WRIF to fall off its pedestal as one of the area's most popular stations is going to have to wait a bit longer as it again was tops in the age 25-54 age group, followed by contemporary hits WKQI. Channel 95-5 was also the highest ranked station among listeners age 12 and above - the first time that's ever been the case for the 95.5 frequency in Detroit. I think it's also the first time a hits/Top 40 station has been on top of those broad numbers since the days of the Big 8, CKLW in the 1970s.
While there has been some listener erosion at WRIF in the morning since Drew Lane jumped ship, Mike Clark has done a great job anchoring the program and keeping it on top which no doubt helps keep the 101.1 frequency locked in on enough radios throughout the day ... and makes program director Doug Podell a happy guy.
Putting sports on FM 97.1 has had the biggest sudden impact on radio ratings that I can recall. If you combined the age 25-54 listeners of WXYT-FM and AM throughout the day, they'd boast 15,700 listeners in an average quarter hour, good enough for second place. As it is, the FM is 5th overall in those 25-54 listeners, the best performance a Detroit sports talker has ever had.
I wonder if the Monday morning quarterbacks at Clear Channel, which owns Detroit's original all-sports talker WDFN, regret not being the first one to try the FM sports thing locally. The idea of taking WDFN to FM was presented years ago by former program director Gregg Henson but not agreed to.
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Speaking of WDFN... a big nice job to the station's afternoon hosts Mike Stone and Bob Wojnowski for helping to get over $116,000 worth of pledges for Leukemia & Lymphoma research during their 28-hour radiothon last week. Stoney and Wojo have been going all-out in their efforts for 11 years straight.
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No doubt the biggest radio news is again nationally focused. First there was the final vote of approval from Clear Channel's shareholders to take that company private as part of a merger agreement with financial companies Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners. The vote was nearly unanimous with nearly 97% of the shares that were voted in favor of the merger. Clear Channel should cease to exist as a publicly traded company by the end of the week - and then who knows what will be in store for the company's still-huge portfolio of radio stations.
When this whopper of a deal involving Clear Channel was first announced, it was reported that most of the radio stations outside of the biggest markets were going to be sold off and speculation swirled about the fate of a number of Michigan stations, including those in Grand Rapids and Muskegon along with stations in Ann Arbor and Battle Creek. While we know that Clear Channel is out of Ann Arbor and Battle Creek, it's still anyone's best guess as to what the future ownership situation will be for stations like powerhouse country WBCT-FM (93.7) and soft rocker WOOD-FM (105.7). As a smaller private company, the new Clear Channel will be free to make deals without nearly as much public scrutiny.
There is one thing that does seem clear with the pseudo break up of Clear Channel ... bigger isn't always better.
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The other big national news involved satellite radio with the FCC's long-awaited vote in favor of allowing Sirius and XM to merge. While it often seemed like a foregone conclusion, the entire process certainly took a lot longer than anyone predicted and it's certainly going to cost a lot more than I'm sure was planned for with the announced $20 million in fines that will have to be paid to settle issues with things like improperly licensed terrestrial repeaters and radio units that broadcast with too much FM power. If we've learned that bigger isn't always better with the Clear Channel example, this merger certainly should cause some concern.
No doubt buzzwords from the 90's like synergy and right-sizing will be flying around the Sirius and XM headquarters in New York and Washington D.C. respectively for the next few months as costs are squeezed out of the combined operations. The bosses will look like geniuses during the honeymoon phase and nearly everyone else will spend as much time on their resumes and air demos as they will working at their job.
But what should happen with a combined XM and Sirius is a real push to market their product once again and get some new hardware out in the stores that causes excitement. Unless you're a subscriber, close to the radio business, or buying a new car, XM and Sirius have become nearly invisible. Aside from news stories about this merger, there is almost no ink about the programming on either service. No big controversies from Howard Stern or Opie & Anthony. No buzz about channel lineup changes or even changes to current channels.
I still believe satellite radio is superior to things like MP3 players and most amateur-type Internet radio stations. I like that I don't have to do anything but turn on the receiver - no playlists to create, no songs to download, no Internet accessibility problems to be concerned with. There is still plenty of room for satrad in between local radio and personal music players ... it just needs to be remarketed to connect to consumers that have never really understood the product.
As a self-described satellite radio fan, I'm looking forward to the ability to have a receiver that can pick up the programming from both XM and Sirius, especially sports. From purely a consumer's standpoint, I like that there will be price caps for the next three years. But I just hope that my favorite personalities and stations won't be lost as the inevitable cost-cutting starts taking shape.
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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.