Commentary by Art Vuolo, Jr.
By the time most of you see this, your radio dial may have already been seriously altered. In the radio business we refer to stations which cater to the African-American community as "urban." If you look up the definition of the word "urban" you'll see nothing about radio stations which program to black listeners. Are we to blame this on "political correctness"? Some say yes.
This could be why we no longer have problems...we have "issues". Also nobody dies anymore. They pass. I'm waiting to see a NO PASSING sign in front of a funeral home. A news item last week actually reported a sign at a mortuary that was being remodeled stating "Pardon our dust." But I digress.
Detroit's significant black population has a number of radio choices which cater to its wants and needs. In fact there are six. Clear Channel, America's biggest radio station group, owns two; WJLB-FM (97.9) and WMXD-FM (92.3). Radio One, America's largest black-owned broadcasting company has control of all the rest. They include: WHTD-FM (102.7), WDMK-FM (105.9), WCHB-AM (1200) plus LPFM (99.9), and now has control of WGPR-FM (107.5). Interestingly the call-letters WGPR originally stood for Grosse Pointe Radio. Later it was branded as "Where God's Praise Radiates." As it moved away from its gospel image, it was again re-worked as "The Rhythm of the Avenue." Now it may be returning to its earlier image, but at a new address. The 102.7 frequency has been home to many sets of call-letters and many formats on a signal that has always been considered "less than full-market" because it is first adjacent to 102.9 from Ann Arbor (WWWW-FM) and the transmitting tower being to the far northeast of Detroit in Macomb County. It was originally WBRB-FM Mt. Clemens. So, this "lesser signal" will be surrendered to God as it segues to "Praise 102.7" but will the call-letters be WGPR?
This makes room for WHTD "Hot 102.7" to relocate to what IS a full-market signal on 107.5 and become "Hot 107.5" with a hip-hop format going somewhat head-to-head with Clear Channel's longtime market leader WJLB-FM, known to most listeners as FM 98. Radio One's other big FM is the one-time WCHD, then for many years WJZZ, but now has the WDMK calls. That stands for Detroit, Michigan's Kiss. That station pretty much stays the same in a sea of changes.
The one place stations seem to shine with personalities and localism is in the morning. Yet, the "new" Hot 107.5 will continue to feature Rickey Smiley, who is syndicated out of Atlanta. After Sundays Lions vs. Falcons football game, Atlanta is not a favorite among Detroiters. Kiss 105.9 imports, from Dallas, TX, the Tom Joyner morning show who's good, but NOT local. At least Radio One has local Detroit talent Mildred Gaddis in the morning slot on WCHB (1200 AM and 99.9 FM.) The new gospel format of "Praise 102.7" has Yolanda Adams which is another nationally syndicated program heard in over forty other cities throughout the country. At the Clear Channel fortress in Farmington Hills, WMXD (Mix 92.3) features funnyman Steve Harvey who is very entertaining, but not local (he's in Hollywood, CA.) He's also the newest host of TV game show "The Family Feud" and is one of the best since Richard Dawson, of many decades ago. Kudos to longtime main-stay WJLB with its four-person local morning show featuring Coco, Foolish, Mr. Chase and Max! Three of the four are native Detroiters. All are live and local.
So, even through Radio One is making a great number of changes on the local radio dial, it shouldn't have too many people upset....unless you are a fan of Mason in the Morning or two FM's on 99.9 which you can no longer hear clearly.
John Mason is arguably the dean of black radio personalities in Detroit, but he fell victim to this most recent round of "musical chairs" of stations, formats and on-air personnel. Personally, I hope some station makes room for Mason in the morning...he's needed on the radio in Detroit.
You may have read right here in Michiguide.com how one of the two new low power FM's at 94.3 and 104.7 was forced off the air because of interference with a Toledo station. Smooth Jazz, The Oasis 104.7 was conflicting with Toledo rocker WIOT-FM, also on 104.7. They will need to find another frequency where it can be more clearly heard. Now, WCHB-AM (1200) has landed an LPFM to extend their coverage on 99.9. Oddly enough another Toledo station is on that frequency! Country WKKO (known as K-100) is popular south of the Down River Area. Up in St. Clair County, listeners to Sarnia's CFGX-FM, also at 99.9, may experience some co-channel interference.
The FM dial is simply getting TOO crowded. I can remember while living in the Ypsilanti area rotating my FM antenna and getting three stations at 100.7 from Lansing, Cleveland and Elkhart but now there is a new 100.7 in Windsor and another one down in Toledo. Yet, when the regional blackout happened during the Dream Cruise in August of 2003, I was able to pick up, on a portable radio in Novi, WNCI-FM on 97.9 from down in Columbus, OH because WJLB had been knocked off the air due to the outage. This proves that FM signals can travel amazingly far if there weren't so many of them on the limited number of allocations across the dial.
Lastly, God knows we have a plethora of Christian and religious radio stations in the greater Detroit area with several full-signal FM and AM stations, plus a whole lot of small coverage LPFM's that make up the K-Love Network. These Christian pop music stations are found on 98.3 in Detroit, 105.5 in Rochester, 102.3 in Ferndale, and 106.3 in Westland . As a regular church attendee I have always felt that the people who listen to religious radio stations are already right with their faith. The people who NEED to listen don't....but what do I know? I'll have more observations as the final days of 2011 unfold. Stay tuned.