Archive for August, 2017

AM radio will not be saved with oldies

Monday, August 7th, 2017
When I was a kid living in Central Illinois Musicradio WLS was my world. From the mid 70s through the end of the music format….it was my constant companion. I thought so much of it that I turned it into a career of being on the air for 14 years. I remember my first radio memory being about 5 and on a family vacation in Southern California. I didn’t really thoroughly get the radio concept yet but I wanted to hear some music from the radio on the table. I tuned it to where I thought I got the good music at home. I think I heard KHJ 930 in LA as WLS 890 was a bit far away to hear in the daytime but it was close enough for me on the radio dial to work. I remember thinking it was not as good as the station at home but it would do…haha.
When I was 8 I got a shortwave multiband radio for Christmas. After having it for a few months I tuned around the AM dial at night and the most amazing thing happened…WCAU from Philadelphia came in…quite clearly as I sat in Central Illinois. This turned me into a true DXer looking for far away stations on AM FM Shortwave and TV. Too many good things to hear out there. AM radio…I was hooked.
So as I read this article I really would like AM radio to succeed but I do not see anything of the sort happening to AM. How DID it have a chance to succeed? As I stated before WLS was my station as a kid. In the 1960s WLS would regularly be the #1 or #2 station as the world of rock and roll was heard best on a really strong station. But by the 80s WBBM-FM toppled the Big 89 to become the top CHR station in the market. It was a slow slide to obscurity but there was one huge mountain of a molehill that slowed the decline of WLS-AM. There was a shock jock named Steve Dahl that was huge in Detroit prior to coming to Chicago. He was making a name for himself being the most obnoxious guy on the radio. He was the infamous leader of the riot at Comiskey Park for Disco Demolition. He finally landed at WLS-FM and his ratings were simply dominating Afternoon Drive. WLS-FM was a music station and apparently the Program Director and Dahl and Dahl’s co-host Garry Meier battled over music as Dahl’s talk intensive show truly flipped the format for his 3 1/2 hours…but Dahl was getting incredible numbers…but their fighting was legendary. Dahl even fought with Larry Lujack who was the morning legend still getting tremendous numbers on AM playing a Hot AC with plenty of gold. Lujack was getting 9s and Dahl was getting 6-7 so as a duo they were doing phenomenally well on an AM music station. As Lujack and Dahl were to trade shifts….Dahl to mornings on WLS-AM (which Dahl protested violently) and Lujack to afternoons (as he was sick of doing mornings for decades) Lujack stopped by Dahl’s afternoon show and threatened to push Dahl’s head through the wall and break Meier’s already broken leg again as their feud reached a climax. This was told again and again as a real event as opposed to a staged event. Eventually WLS and the programmers from ABC simply did not keep Dahl. WOW did Dahl bring “must listen radio”.
This could have been the most telling thing about WLS that they had a star in Dahl but because he could not follow orders he was let go. I forget his exact numbers but Dahl had fantastic numbers 18-34 and 24-55. Basically the audience told the programming staff at WLS what they wanted…connection to the people on the radio and have people on the radio that truly have a connection with listeners. Lujack’s numbers were interesting as the legend of Superjock left mornings where he was getting God-like 9s doing mornings and a young audience as opposed to Wally Phillips was getting better numbers but a lot more older people who could not be sold to. Lujack went to afternoons where he was mired in a 2.2 after Dahl just delivered 6-7s. Lujack showed the power of habitual listening. and the breaking of that habit The 2.2 was basically what the rest of the station was doing during the day. As WLS saw the ratings writing on the wall for a short time they allowed their personalities to talk more….then quickly reversed that and told them to play more music. They had the best jocks and didn’t know what to do with them nor did they let them be themselves. ABC had WLS-AM and they had an FM that has gone through so many formats that it could own the record for Chicago. One would think as they owned the ratings king WLS-AM they would see a synergy of having a CHR on FM perhaps even cannibalize the AM as the future was FM. But no. They simply could not swing that at a level of success. The flipping of formats on WLS-FM has been a testament to the fact that they just don’t know what to do with a good signal. As WLS-AM was floundering they did the ultimate humiliation….adding truly elevator music to their light Hot AC mix. Sending their numbers lower until the last song was played on WLS….Just You and Me by Chicago. Then….talk.
WLS even had a wildly popular show Sunday nights…Sex Talk with Phyllis Levy. It was done in a totally informational way and simply provided facts and interviews. It was good radio. It was supposedly too racy for a daytime audience so Sunday at 10pm to 1am was its spot. It too was gone after a few years.
So the moral of the story…I guess if there is one….is the fact that AM radio is lacking creativity to do something that will get listeners that offer a future. Rush Limbaugh supposedly saved AM radio but he also set up AM radio’s death as so many stations copied the formula but that formula only appealed to old white men. The amazing thing is that so many AM stations getting decent numbers have an AVERAGE listener age of 55+ which means you cut that rating in half. KFRC AM-61 was top 10 into the 1980s and they flipped formats…because their audience was over the sellable age. Oldies…don’t even have a good listenership on Sirius XM. It is like saying why doesn’t music of the 1930s make a great comeback. Um…..ok how about music of the WW2 era? Um…. Or why not music of the 1920s? Those songs do not resonate with the masses of today. They do not speak to the audience therefore the audience does not speak or listen to them. I see that my cable system music channels does not even have a 40s channel. Guess was logically is on the chopping block next….and this is on the cable system that has tremendous bandwidth to carry a non video audio only channel.
AM was king….it fell back on its laurels. It did not evolve because it was too scared to try and fail so what they are doing is not trying and failing. They are moving AM stations to FM or simulcasting to save them when the AM frequency could be just shut off. We will see many AM stations simply go dark over the next few years and the number of people who will complain about losing those stations will total 0. Even Steve Dahl does not talk to the audience today. ironically he is back on WLS and getting about a 1.7. His time came and went. Just as has AM radio. And as we see on Sirius XM the decades channels generally are stacked from the current decade being the most listened to….then the 2000s then the 90s then the 80s then the 70s then the 60s then the 50s and then the 40s. So when the AM stations play the oldies as a comeback maybe they will sell ads to the buggy whip industry.