column written by Art Vuolo, Jr.
It's been far too long since last I submitted a column to Michiguide.com, but I have a lot of news and a great deal of opinion about what is going on in the radio industry, which is getting stranger every day. Don't misread me, I still love radio with a deep passion, but the people in charge of running it have been making decisions which are, at least to me, not in the best interest of you, the listener, nor the people working in the radio business.
We might as well start with very late breaking news that you may have just read about, regarding broadcasts of college sports. Both WJR-AM (760) and Michigan State University have just announced that the current five year deal to broadcast MSU football and basketball, has been extended for the next ten years! This will keep the Green and White on "The Big Stick" until the year 2020, when (oddly enough) commercial radio celebrates its 100th anniversary. Both WWJ in Detroit and KDKA in Pittsburgh went on the air in August and November, respectively, that year.
This news is not good for University of Michigan supporters. Many Wolverine fans hoped that after this season when the five year contract, which was announced on October 13, 2005, would be expiring that the Maize & Blue would revert back to Michigan's most powerful AM station. Ain't gonna happen.
Meanwhile, Spartan fans are no doubt excited to keep their teams on the 50,000 watt blow-torch, but it's not all bad for long-suffering U-M fans who hope the 2010 season of college football will be better than the last two. WOMC-FM (104.3) will again have ALL of the Michigan games this fall, and with nearly 200,000 watts of boost, that's not such a bad deal. Games will also, in all probability, be carried on CKLW-AM (800) which reaches from Fort Wayne, IN to the far side of NE Ohio. However, locally the FM is the clearest and most consistent signal for the games. We like to think of WOMC as standing for Where Only Michigan Counts.
According to industry "experts" the two most popular and profitable formats in radio today are country and talk. Yet, in Southeastern Michigan we have only one of each. WYCD has re-claimed its sole lock on country music when WDTW-FM (106.7), when it was known as 'The Fox' gave up as a distant number two. WYCD's only competition comes from far outside the market with stations in Ann Arbor (W4 102.9 FM), Toledo (K-100 99.9 FM), Flint (WFBE 95.1 FM), Port Huron (WSAQ 107.1 FM) and Lansing (WITL 100.7 FM).
For talk, WJR is pretty much it. Sadly, this great station is roughly 70% syndicated programming, as are the great majority of talk stations nationally. WJR's only live and local shows are mornings with Paul W. Smith, followed by Frank Beckmann and later in the afternoon a couple of hours with Mitch Albom and a news feature with Lloyd Jackson.
FM talk is the new buzz and, in many cities, AM powerhouse stations have flipped over to FM. I do not expect that will happen at WJR, but in several cities it has. In Seattle KIRO flipped to FM, as did WIBC in Indianapolis and KTAR in Phoenix. We could certainly use an FM talk station (done properly) in the Motor City. WKRK-FM (97.1) was more successful than WOW-FM (WOWF 99.5) which didn't even last six months back in 1993.
Dedicated radio buffs will recall that the first FM talker in Detroit was WDRQ-FM (93.1) which premiered after Father's Day in late June of 1971. They were truly far ahead of their time. It lasted about 18 months and then flipped to the Top 40 hits format that frequency is probably best remembered for.
In the Garden State, New Jersey 101.5 FM garners ratings that any broadcasting company would envy. They dominate with no syndicated fare, all local programs and originating from the state capital in Trenton. They cater only to New Jersey...not Philadelphia and not New York and it works! Why can't something similar work in Detroit?
Bill Doyle and Jeff Deminski were two of the more popular personalities to work on FM talk radio locally, but 2009 was not a good year for the duo while at classic rocker WCSX-FM (94.7). It wasn't a good fit. It was the wrong station. Interestingly the Bob & Tom show (available throughout Michigan, but not in Detroit) is a funny, mostly talk, syndicated morning program that does work and mostly on classic rock FM's. D&D were on a station known to be "music-intensive" and listeners didn't seem to accept their all-talk in the morning format.
Prior to segueing over to 94.7 FM, the boys sat out a full year of unemployment due to a "non-compete" clause in their deal with CBS, which owns 97.1 FM. When music was being interjected on their WCSX program, the handwriting was on the wall. Listeners were unhappy with the lack of classic rock in the morning and operations boss Doug Podell tried appeasing the audience with at least "some" music. It obviously wasn't good enough and at the end of the year their contract was not renewed.
D&D built their largest fan-base as an afternoon drive program at WKRK and didn't like it when they were pushed into mornings, as the station began to evolve as an all-sports outlet. This is unfortunate because Deminski & Doyle are very good and they like Detroit. Hopefully some under-performing FM station will adapt a talk format and make them their first hire for afternoons. Oddly enough both Bill and Jeff came to Detroit from a very successful run in afternoon drive at NJ 101.5.
Another morning show alteration, since last we met, was at WXYT-FM/AM (97.1 The Ticket) when Jay Towers either left on his own or HIS contact was also not renewed. It depends on who you talk to. None-the-less, Bill McAllister and Sara were left "Tower-less" until sports radio guru Tom Bigby and Ticket PD Jimmy Powers decided to try out former WDFN-AM (1130) host Mike "Stoney" Stone. Gentlemen you've hit the jackpot! Don't change a thing. Stoney works! It is a programmers dream come true when chemistry in the studio happens. Well, it's happened and just say "thank you God" and leave it alone.
Jay Towers future is, to an extent, uncertain. He has left CBS Radio and is slated to work for Clear Channel Radio, an arch-rival to CBS, as a "morning show consultant." I will have been in radio 50 years by this summer, and I've never heard of such a position. He is also supposedly going to continue working at WJBK-TV Fox 2 doing weekend anchoring and reporting.
Over the holidays I was on the west coast and in Las Vegas for nearly three weeks. Don't be jealous, in San Diego I had to scrape ice off windshield and no they don't have scrapers in southern California rental cars. It seems that everyone "in touch with today" has an I-Phone or a Blackberry rather than just an ordinary cell phone. Since I felt a need to be "SoCal Cool" I stopped into the world's ONLY Blackberry store at 14 Mile and Orchard Lake Road in Farmington Hills and picked up a new Blackberry Tour. My I-Phone friends made me feel inferior but, soon I learned how to get nearly every radio station I like on this phone. Very cool.
If you have one of these type phones, you can tune into nearly any station you want by simply downloading a special program or application (app) and bingo...you are connected. Folks at the Blackberry store helped me with two excellent app's. All Clear Channel-owned stations can be listened to with I heart radio, and you can easily bookmark your favorites. Most other stations can be heard with Radio Companion by Nobex. Both have web sites and are easy to understand.
While out in L.A. I could instantly punch up WWJ or WJR and find out news and weather information back home. I always felt in touch. The three-hour time difference was a problem at times, but it seems somewhat supernatural hearing stations from Detroit or New York a couple of thousand miles away! Best of all, you can run the audio output of these cell phones, via a simple patch cord that has a mini-stereo pin plug at each end, right into the auxiliary jack on most new car radios. The audio quality (in stereo) that fills your car from your cell phone is phenomenal. It will dazzle your friends. No longer, even while driving, will you be limited by the range of an AM or FM radio signal.
This week while Southern California was being slammed with floods, mud slides, high winds and even tornadoes I felt as though I was right there again tuned to WWJ's CBS sister station NewsRadio 1070 KNX. I recall how during the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, WJR ran a simulcast of sister ABC station KGO in the Bay Area. Now, we can be instantly connected to anyplace a major news story or situation is occurring!
This technology is changing everything.
With a promise to not be so absent from this site in 2010, I want to end with an update on former Detroit radio personality Joey Ryan. Joey is still in rough shape, but he's hangin' in there at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans. He truly enjoys hearing from old radio pals in Detroit. He even got a card from WOMC's Dick Purtan. Please send a get well card to him via his real name; Joseph Pietruska c/o Home for Vets, 3000 Monroe Avenue NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49505. If more convenient, longtime friend Kenn Christopher of Plymouth, MI has set up an e-mail account for messages of encouragement. E-mail Joey at email@example.com.