Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Alternative Returns to NYC and Chicago.

A year ago Randy Michael's Merlin Media looked like it had a very interesting plan for FM News and some great tools to work with.  Randy's built some impressive News and Talk properties and so many consultants and researchers have been nearly assuring the success of FM spoken word formats for the last 10 years. You'd have to think this would work.   Also factor in the POTUS election with tons of story lines and campaign news to cover as well as local issues, congressional elections, health care, the economy and so many more big stories -- you clearly had plenty of content, even if there are 4-5 competitors in the field here.

You also had the new campaign spending rules that allowed unlimited spending from the Super PACs and given that there are estimates of over 300 million raised and the prediction that campaign spending will surpass a billion dollars this year.   Only one problem here - Illinois and  New York are solid Democratic states.   The GOP has nothing to gain spending a dime in either state - same for the Democrats as Obama has a huge lead in both states.   The other market is Philly and there they keep News on FM - at least this could be a swing state.   In the end News, Talk and Spoken word seems to still have a place mostly on AM in the radio format landscape.  Perhaps it will change, but it seems like the cards were stacked for it to happen and even with Randy's abilities and resources we are back to music formats for Chicago and New York.

The big opportunity here is to build an Alternative station for New York.  This is a huge opportunity, but one that somehow seems to never live up to it's potential.  NYC only has one station that could be considered in the rock arena - WAXQ - Q 104.3.   It's a very unique Classic Rock station that is very tied to the NYC scene of the 70s.   Artists that many CR outlets have left to the soft ACs years ago still live here - Simon and Garfunkel, Billy Joel, Elton John are all a big part of the mix on Q104.3.   You also have the early punk/new wave era of the early 80s with the Talking Heads, Ramones and others from an era when the club scene in NYC had more rock opportunities.  Mostly Q 104.3 is really a station aimed at the 45+ listener and leaves much of the 18-40 year old demo without any form of a rock outlet, unless they pull in signals from New Jersey or maybe upstate NYC.

While the hole is big for the music - it's been there for a long time and a number of stations have taken swings at this pitch over the last 15 years with no one getting much more than a single.   While some of the failure may have been not finding a music mix that really fit all the uniqueness of NYC there are also other challenges when you build any radio station that can't be ignored in markets like NYC and Chicago.

1. Social Media - Twitter and FB are huge keys to getting the word out here.  These are huge markets and you need over 100K in likes to move the needle.  Where is the big launch contest for either to gather Likes in NYC.  You could have signed on with tons of I Pads to hand out or other easy to gather prizes and linked up with a one of the FB Apps to give them away.   How about doing some creative Twitter tweets to get trended here.

2. Sell the Music - The imaging and the whole personality of New Rock 101.9 should be about bringing New Rock to NYC.  But with no one to intro it or sell it or no events to catch it live in the clubs and on the street - it's just a bunch of songs.   Most of the fans have that on their phones, and I pods - go beyond the jukebox from day one.   Or at least do a bunch of imaging that sells the new music.   They are tagging the songs but they could and should do more.  If you are not excited how do you expect the audience to get excited?

3. Get some Personalities - You don't need Howard to come back - that would probably ruin the music side of the station - but you need to bring in some known entities or a group that you can build into authentic air personalities pretty soon.   This is the home of big stars and big names in the big city.

The Chicago launch by using the old TV 6 frequency 87.7.  Why didn't they move it all to the 101.1 frequency where Q 101 has always been?  Why launch an experimental Adults Hits approach on 101?  Are there issues with the Q101 name still being with Emmis or is there something with the Q101 website holding on to the name is some way?  It's going to be an up-road climb for Q87.7 with the frequency confusion and they also need to build in the basics here.  Chicago does have more competition than NYC.  Q101 was fairly successful 10 years ago, but little by little they seem to fail to consistently build a strong bond with the market.  They also wandered musically.  Lots of challenges here - are all of them necessary?

Right now Alternative is a hot format musically.  New ground breaking acts are emerging, there are crossover songs in CHR and there is unique pop quality to the music that sounds new and fresh.  Especially in comparison to all the Idol/Pop and Diva Queen songs that have had the spotlight for over 3 years now.

The opportunity is ripe for the format in both markets, but it will take more than just playing the songs.  The usual 10,000 in a row is not the way to launch in NYC or Chicago if you want to impact a crowded music landscape.  Even if you have a pretty wide hole to shoot at - you still need to make a full impact.   Good luck to Jim Richards and Randy on their launches - both have all the brains and skills to pull it off - but it will be challenging.