WCBS-FM Is Number One Again. That’s Very Good For Everyone.

Not to use too many bird metaphors but CBS had killed the goose that laid the golden egg. Profits plunged. Nice going corporate bean counters.

Back in 1972 WCBS-FM became one of America’s first oldies stations. It was fabulously successful. That’s another way of saying it was very profitable.

By 2005 radio was changing. Though CBS-FM was still very profitable its operating costs were very high. Technology had enabled other stations to pare their budgets by cutting back on live disk jockeys. Profit is just as meaningful when it comes from diminished costs as it is from increased sales.

On June 3, 2005 CBS-FM became Jack-FM. The disk jockeys (the expensive disk jockeys) were gone. In their place was an automated station playing a wide variety of music.

The public took to Jack-FM like a duck takes to oil!

Not to use too many bird metaphors but CBS had killed the goose that laid the golden egg. Profits plunged. Nice going corporate bean counters.

To quote Wikipedia:

The “Jack” format experiment at WCBS-FM is widely regarded, inside and outside the industry, as one of the greatest failures in modern New York radio history, as the station fell to the very bottom of the ratings of full-market-coverage FM stations in the New York market.

That’s skill!

Seeing the error of their ways (and missing all that cash) CBS decided to go back to oldies on WCBS-FM in 2007. The switch paid off almost immediately. And now:

New York radio has a new No. 1 station. Classic hits WCBS-FM has taken the top spot in the ratings for May, according to the monthly ratings report from Arbitron, which was released Wednesday.

In the category of listeners aged 12 years old and up, WCBS beat WLTW-FM with a 6.4 share of the audience vs. Lite FM’s 6.0. Clear Channel Radio’s WLTW had been the No. 1 station every month since Sept. 2008, but while its numbers have held steady, CBS FM’s have climbed. – Crains New York Business

While companies like Clear Channel, Citadel, Cumulus and other large radio group owners have tried to make more by spending less CBS has decided to let superior programming and attention to local detail find its own level.

Don’t get me wrong. This is CBS. They are a corporation that mostly does things in a corporate type of way. They are not radio’s Mother Theresa, but they have come up with a winner in New York City by investing in the product.

Oh my God! Good triumphs over evil.

As an old radio guy (in every sense of that word) I have been disheartened by what radio has become. Too often you’re listening to someone who’s not live nor in your city. Local service is gone. One chain with a presence in Connecticut does their local news from Syracuse, NY!

I often moan that radio is dead. It was weakened at the exact time other technologies like iPods and Pandora were rising. And the death spiral was set in motion by heavily leveraged companies with neither the money nor desire to compete the old fashioned way.

The success of WCBS-FM could mean there’s still a pulse.

The 23&#162 Check

Hidden away somewhere, Helaine and I have 300 shares of Disney stock.

When I first came to New Haven, WTNH was owned by Capitol Cities Communications, which bought ABC, which was then bought by Disney (or maybe it was the other way around – who remembers). We thought it was a well run company, we bought some shares.

Today we received a notice. Disney has sold their radio station holdings to Citadel Broadcasting. Since Helaine and I are among Disney’s de facto owners, we will benefit.

Our 300 Disney shares gets us 23.038839 shares of Citadel stock. They won’t let you own fractional shares, so our stake was rounded down to 23 shares. We got a check to cover the rest.

It’s a check for 23&#162!

It’s surely just boilerplate, but on the check is the inscription, “only twenty three cents.” “Only!” Don’t you think that’s a little judgmental?

I know this stuff happens all the time. I remember, thirty years ago, my friend Peter Mokover’s parents had a 1&#162 check from LILCO hanging on the wall of their beach house on Fire Island.

What is the real cost of our check? It surely cost more than 23&#162 to print and stuff it in an envelope. It cost more than 23&#162 for postage. It will cost my bank more than 23&#162 to process it. Citadel’s bank has processing costs too.

The check comes attached to a form explaining the whole thing. It says “Retain for your records.” Yeah, I don’t want to serve time if I forget to declare this.

I hate to propose anything that might smack of corporate welfare, but maybe it’s OK to let companies off the hook for this little stuff. We are going through the motions and no one actually gains in this transaction.

Actually, let me take that back. I got a blog entry out of it.