Skip to comments.Greater Media CEO: WTKK's ratings plunge prompted him to drop talk format
Posted on 01/17/2013 8:36:59 AM PST by raccoonradio
As CEO of Braintree-based Greater Media, Peter Smyth is always reluctant to change a radio stations format. It can be upsetting to fans, frustrating to workers and expensive to pull off.
But it was hard to argue with the numbers. Smyth tells me the that plunge in ratings for WTKK over recent years prompted him to start seriously considering dropping the stations talk format as long ago as last spring. Those discussions eventually led to the Braintree companys decision to switch from talk to a rhythmic adult contemporary music format earlier this month, branding it as Hot 96.9.
We couldnt build a strong enough constituency to make it viable, Smyth says. The appetite for that type of radio in the marketplace had really started to wane.
Smyth says WTKK vaulted into the top five stations in the Boston market for the key 25-54 demographic not long after the talk format was introduced in 1999.
But those strong ratings didnt last. Smyth says WTKK dropped out of the top 10 in the past two years, and showed no signs of recovering. He cites a number of factors, including the emergence of CBS Bostons 98.5 The Sports Hub, which drew a number of male listeners away, and a widespread frustration with politics during the budget impasses in Washington.
It was getting tougher to sell ads for WTKK, a problem that Smyth says reflected a broader industry trend: Middle-of-the-road talk stations were losing listeners, and advertisers were increasingly shying away from controversial left-leaning or right-leaning stations.
The station became unprofitable, Smyth says, but he didnt want to cut his way to profitability. Smyth knew it would be too expensive to launch an FM news station and compete with WBZ, and it didnt make sense to hop into the sports talk war being waged between Entercoms WEEI and 98.5. So Smyth sought a music format, one that wouldnt compete with his companys existing lineup of Boston-area stations Magic 106.7, 105.7 WROR, Country 102.5 and Radio 92.9. The format change was one of only a handful for Greater Media which also runs stations in the Charlotte, Detroit, New Jersey and Philadelphia markets in the past decade.
It was difficult (but) if you think with your heart, you would bleed to death, Smyth says. Sometimes you have to take your heart out of the business and look at it as a business, and (figure out) whats the best thing for the business.
The changeover didnt happen immediately. First, there were several days of trotting out fake formats, an industry publicity trick known as stunting, to build some buzz in the Boston area One day was dance, the next was classic rock. Finally, the true Hot 96.9 was unveiled. Greater Media bills it as the Rhythm of Boston with contemporary hits mixed in with those from the 1980s and 1990s, spanning from Michael Jackson to Rihanna.
The shift coincided with a couple staffing coups. Pebbles, aka Susan Lynne Semedo, had been just been laid off at WJMN (now Hot 96.9s main rival). She was promptly recruited to oversee Hot 96.9s morning show. Meanwhile, Greater Media recruited Cadillac Jack McCartney back to Boston to be the programming director for its Boston market. McCarthy had most recently been vice president for programming at Clear Channel in New York.
Smyth says other staff announcements are forthcoming for Hot 96.9, including DJs to cover the midday and afternoon shifts.
Smyth says such big changes arent necessarily easy for employees, but all of them are well aware of the ratings book. We get elected every week, Smyth says. Weve got to win those ratings.
96.6 reasons to listen to WRKO. Michael Graham in for Howie today. Could a change be happening between 9 and Noon?
Ya mean Jim Braude and Margery Eagan droned everyone to death finally?
Michael Graham is on for Howie today and when he appeared yesterday to plug it, Howie said the station died because of “mismanagement”. Er, like having hosts like Graham on? A touchy subject,
as he’s talking with former talent of a station who could have been one reason for the lower
ratings—or is it all based on advertising woes, or people turning away from controversial talk...?
Maybe Graham did OK, maybe E&B did OK, and maybe the rest of the station couldn’t cut it?
Who knows. Had Howie gotten to 96.9 in 07 or last yr would things have been different?
What if they had been offered Rush (or if they had, what if they took him)? Anyway
declining ad sales and listeners fleeing, etc.
96.6 reasons to listen to WRKO. Michael Graham in for Howie today. Could a change be happening between 9 and Noon?
what ever happened to Jay Severin?
Again, when I went on Facebook a couple yrs ago to pass along that E&B would be getting an extra hour, my liberal sister replied, “Jim and Margery? I LOVE them!”
Did hear a few min. of their WGBH appearance. Not quite for me.
I interviewed Donna Halper, an admittedly left-leaning radio
consultant, PHD, and author of “Boston Radio 1920-2010”. She said she had consulted/trained talk hosts in the past, “righties and lefties” and said in the old days talk was a bit more civil. (Every time the lefties bring up “toxic talk” I reply that lefty talk can be really offensive
too! Maybe even more!) We mentioned the likes of
Brudnoy, Jerry Williams, etc. She mentioned how Brudnoy could have Ted Kennedy on despite the idealogical
differences. (But I brought up Jerry having Ted on
and the sparks flew THAT day!)
(a bit of a raspy voice on my part...35 min. or so, if you’re curious)
Maybe people are turning away from talk because more and more people are “low information voters”. Who cares about the fiscal cliff or gun grabbers, we want the Super Bowl!
so, eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow....well, we all know what happens "tomorrow"...
They’re changing to a “Rhythmic Adult Contemporary” format. That should go over well.
Don’t know if they’d change 9-noon..they get paid $$ to
run Financial Exchange and they get an extra hr out of Kuhner. Would Graham fit in to that 11-noon hr maybe?
A “fastest 60 min of radio” deal?
>> if you think with your heart, you would bleed to death
That’s a great way to describe liberalism, isn’t it?
Reluctant to change format—but radio is a business.
WKRP IN CIN. FIRST EPISODE, after new program dir. Andy Travis switches it from elevator music. DJ Johnny Caravella
(Howard Hesseman) promptly drags a needle across the record and redubs himself Dr Johnny Fever
STATION OWNER MRS CARLSON: Young man this radio station is a business. It is not here for your personal listening pleasure.
ANDY: Ma’am, I know it’s a business. That’s why I had to change the format.
LES NESSMAN, NEWS: But there are already a lot of rock
and roll stations in Cincinnati.
ANDY: Well, why do you think that is, Les?
LES: Well, I think it’s a plot of some sort.
ANDY: (chuckles) No, Les, rock and roll is where the money is.
These days SPORTS is where the money is. And all these
stations playing pop music (there’s a reason why it’s
called popular). LMFAO, Minaj, Rihanna, etc.
In his shoes, the best bet to boost ratings quickly in a good advertising demographic would be to try an “MTV five year plan”. That is, team up with a local recording studio to produce local content, “The Boston Sound”.
Bring in all sorts of local musicians, punctuated with visiting celebrity musicians in town for concerts, with the idea of becoming “the” radio station for the high school, college, and young 20’s crowd.
It could be a loose format, playing recorded live shows at local clubs, studio interviews with popular musicians, maybe throw a few instrument specific symposiums.
But the meat and potatoes would be local bands and solo acts. And give them a lot of the responsibility to muster up an audience for their stuff.
After five years, they would know if it was a hit or if they needed to move on with other formats.
I would say that people who are turning away from talk, and those people are not low information anything, are turning away because it simply does not matter, there is no point in listening to it.
Same reason I no longer watch Fox. I could listen to people arguing all day for a year and learn nothing, effect not one thing. I would argue that watching cartoons is better, at least those are enjoyable.
Let’s take Sean Hannity. There is no pint in listening to him, I am sad to say, because he does make good points on some things. However, most of his show is spent advising republicans on what they must do as if they are actually listening and inclined to follow his advice.
They aren’t on both counts. Beyond that, he is preaching to the choir and arguing with people that he will never convince of anything at all.
In the end, it does not matter in reality how informed one is or not, Obama was re-elected. The only purpose listening to talk radio served over the last four years was to give the listener angst and defeated hope.
We are riding this train until the end of the line, and it simply does not matter how many people tell you along the way that the train is going to crash.
> what ever happened to Jay Severin?
They fired him for offending yet another identity group.
First he offended the Muzzloids.
Then he offended the fat lesbians.
Finally, he offended some other identity group, forget which one, now.
Three strikes, he was out.
Nailed it. I stopped listening to WTKK quite a while ago. Didn’t see the point. I haven’t watched Fox in years.
That could work but they wanted something immediate and figured they could appeal to a “good demo”. Who knows
maybe one of the other stations in town with that type of
format could be wounded and change to something else
(news-talk 94.5 anyone? naaaaahhhh...)
College stations like the one I’ve been involved with since
the 80s do have local bands on etc.—it’s admittedly a niche
type of deal as most people apparently are too involved
with national acts or what’s on their Ipods etc. What you’re mentioning sounds like the old WBCN or WFNX...and they live on via HD or web radio (wfnx.com, radioboston dot com) in some ways. But the times are a-changin’, it’s not like the old days. Maybe they considered it or maybe it can be suggested to them.
We had a guy down on Sunday with his electric piano,
singing and playing original songs and covers (Michael
Troy formerly of the band The Beloved Few). Former Boston bassist Fran Sheehan has dropped by (though he doesn’t
play anymore). Of course our station is only 130 watts.
(But we streamcast.)_
What is a “rhythmic, contemporary adult format”,,,sounds kinda kinky
I am also tuning out talk a bit as that last election was a killer, esp. here in Massachusetts...what’s the point? Though non-political talk thrown in can be fun.
>> it simply does not matter... The only purpose listening to talk radio served over the last four years was to give the listener angst and defeated hope. We are riding this train until the end of the line, and it simply does not matter how many people tell you along the way that the train is going to crash.
Yes. And I get a kick out of those on the left who complain that their side isn’t being heard on radio.
a) It is being heard. It didn’t succeed as commercial radio but there is plenty of liberal talk on radio, on powerful FM stations, and it’s taxpayer funded. It’s called NPR.
b) Gee around here they have 99 per cent of the offices.
What’s the point of liberal talk radio—it’s not like they’re struggling in terms of lawmakers. Conservative talk works because it’s the OPPOSITION of that type of politics.
And there are plenty of other places to get lefty
viewpoints believe me