Ratings games spur radio identity crisis

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Posted by MadisonRadio.com on June 12, 2010 at 20:57:25:

In Reply to: Connie & Fish get lucky in Milwaukee? posted by Well.. on May 28, 2010 at 09:48:34:

Duane Dudek on TV/Radio
Posted: June 1, 2010
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Stunts and misdirection are radio traditions.

And we saw both of them late last week when WJZX-FM (106.9) and WQBW-FM (97.3) changed their formats.

On Friday, WQBW, the artist formerly known as 1980s rocker The Brew, formally switched to the high-energy contemporary hits format Radio Now.

But on Thursday, WJZX, the Milwaukee Radio Group station owned by Saga Communications Corp., went from smooth jazz to two "stunt" formats; "Tiger Radio," or songs about cheating inspired by Tiger Woods, and then patriotic songs over the Memorial Day weekend through Tuesday (if "American Baby" by the Dave Matthews Band qualifies as patriotic). And when, as expected, it switches to an all-Beatles format Wednesday, that, too, will surely be temporary.

Memorial Day is "traditionally a very popular day" for such changes, said Tom Taylor of a radio industry gossip website.

Taylor compared the format stunts being pulled by WJZX to "when the circus comes to town."

"Parading an elephant down the street alerts people that the (old) format is gone," he said.

There is much interest in and speculation and amusement over WQBW's identity crisis among those who follow the business of radio. But judging from the 100 comments on my blog The Dudek Abides, at jsonline.com/blogs/dudek, and numerous e-mails, listeners feel confused, frustrated and betrayed.

There are two schools of thought regarding these format changes.

According to one theory, plans already in motion by WQBW, owned by Clear Channel Radio, to switch to a more female-friendly format like Radio Now were accelerated when WJZX's switch to "Tiger Radio" suggested a possibly similar format change was imminent at WJZX.

This theory follows that Saga wanted the format but was outsmarted and has been vamping on the air ever since. That the FCC granted Saga the call letters WNQW (turn the Q to an O and you get Now, as in Radio Now), and that it failed to switch to a new format at noon last Friday as promised, tend to validate this theory.

Not surprisingly, Tom Joerres, president and general manager of Milwaukee's Saga stations, advanced an alternative theory.

Joerres would not directly address whether the stunt was a swan dive or a belly flop.

But in an interview last week, Joerres enthused that the change would drive listeners of The Brew to Saga's similarly formatted "wall of rock" stations, WKLH-FM (96.5) and WHQG-FM (102.9). He called the change by WQBW "a moment of celebration."

"To have a competitor get out of the format is huge," he said last week.

Tuesday, he seconded that emotion.

"Well, I guess, mission accomplished," Joerres wrote in an e-mail. "Not only did we get the Brew out of Classic Rock (the big prize) but there is great interest in what's next with all the misdirections that were planted."

Although "what's next" remains uncertain, the reasons behind all these changes are all too obvious: They are the chaotic advance ripple effect of stations adjusting to the new ratings measurement system called portable people meters, or PPM, being introduced in the Milwaukee market later this month.

Which means this isn't the last you'll hear about it, or the last I'll write about it.

Such changes always bring collateral damage, and here is what I know about some of it.

 As The Brew, WBQW was a co-sponsor of the Classic Rock Stage at Summerfest. Jeff Tyler, vice president and market manager for Clear Channel, said Summerfest was enthused about "using our other stations," like WRIT-FM (95.7), WISN-AM (1130) and even WZEE-FM (104.1) in Madison, to promote the stage, but that nothing has been finalized. I'm hoping for guests shots by Weird Al Yankovic and Peter Frampton on Mark Belling's WISN-AM show.

 It's too soon to speculate on the return of Connie and Fish, the popular morning show on The Brew, said Tyler. But "they have a big fan base here," he said, and they are still heard on WZEE in Madison. Tyler also said listening to WQBW via the Internet "went through the ceiling" as listeners here and elsewhere sampled the new Radio Now format.

 Patti Genko not only has the heart of smooth jazz listeners, she still has a place, to be determined, at Saga, if she chooses. Local radio veteran Genko was possibly the only live local body on the air at WJZX when it was smooth jazz. "She is valuable to our building," wrote Joerres in an e-mail, and "is weighing some considerations. We should be able to share (them) with you before the end of the week."

 There is no room for smooth jazz in a PPM world. Smooth jazz "is not a mass-appeal format," but "the people who like it like it a lot, and give it a lot of 'time spent listening,' " said Taylor. But, in people-meter surveys, he added, time spent listening is less important than the overall size of the audience. Since the advent of people meters, smooth jazz was abandoned by stations in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Houston and San Francisco, Taylor said.

The wheel turns once again at WISN-TV (Channel 12), where reporter Marianne Lyles becomes anchor of "12 News This Morning," from 5 to 9 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays, effective June 19. She takes over for Jason Newton, who replaced Mike Miller as weekend evening news anchor. Before joining WISN-TV in 2008, Lyles worked as a reporter at KAVU-TV in Victoria, Texas, and was an intern at WBBM-TV in Chicago.

WUWM-FM (89.7) presents a live remote broadcast of its "Project Milwaukee: Barriers to Achievement in MPS" series Thursday at the ground level of the Chase Tower, 111 E. Wisconsin Ave. Bob Bach will anchor the broadcast and conduct interviews from 6 until 9 a.m. Outgoing MPS superintendent William Andrekopoulos, MPS teacher Bob Peterson and former Journal Sentinel education writer Alan Borsuk will appear at 10 a.m. on "Lake Effect." The public is invited to watch the live broadcast, which is the culmination of a series of in-depth reports on challenges facing the district, its teachers and students.

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