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.

Another Media Prediction

After the Janet/Justin Super Bowl incident, I predicted there would be repercussions at MTV – even though MTV is not regulated by the FCC. It didn’t take long before some of the more explicit videos they play were pushed out of prime time.

Videos are no longer a big thing on MTV, so this move isn’t as significant as it might seem. Still, a change is a change. It is certainly a reaction to an upwelling of public sentiment.

Now, in light of Howard Stern’s banishment by Clear Channel, I predict he’ll soon be gone from Viacom&#185 as well.

Let me preface my explanation by saying I have no political ax to grind. What will be will be. It’s fun to make these predictions in the blog because I really can’t hide from them later. Just remember – this is only my read on the situation.

Here’s the set-up. Tuesday, Howard Stern had the ‘other’ participant in the now infamous Paris Hilton video, on-the-air. They talked, and took some phone calls. One listener asked some questions which were crude and racist, to say the least.

Wednesday evening, Matt Drudge had a short transcript of the conversation on his website. I’m glad I got to read it. I’m just as glad it’s no longer there.

I would hope Stern has the ability to monitor and censor inappropriate material before it hits air. In this case, he did not.

On Wednesday, after hearing an aircheck, Clear Channel Communications took action and issued this press release:

“Clear Channel drew a line in the sand today with regard to protecting our listeners from indecent content and Howard Stern’s show blew right through it,” said John Hogan, president and CEO of Clear Channel Radio. “It was vulgar, offensive, and insulting, not just to women and African Americans but to anyone with a sense of common decency. We will not air Howard Stern on Clear Channel stations until we are assured that his show will conform to acceptable standards of responsible broadcasting,” Hogan said.

Though America’s largest broadcasting company, Clear Channel only runs Stern on a handful of stations. Viacom is the actual syndicator of the show, and also runs it in many markets nationwide.

In this case, the tail (Clear Channel) will wag the dog (Viacom)!

Viacom is between a rock and a hard place because of statements earlier in the week. From Reuters:

Viacom president Mel Karmazin reportedly has imposed a crackdown on sexually explicit material on Infinity stations, declaring in a recent company-wide conference call: “This company won’t be a poster child for indecency.”

So, what can they do? Considering the Congressional hearings post-Super Bowl and Karmazin’s own public pledge, how can they stand behind Stern… especially in light of what Clear Channel’s CEO said?

They can’t. End of story. Hang out the “Help Wanted” sign. Stern is done.

&#185 – Stern is syndicated by Infinity Broadcasting. Infinity, in turn, is owned by Viacom.