August 6, 2004
The hardest working word on radio these days is “The.”
Have you caught “The Buzz”? How about “The Beat”? Do you get “The Point”? Or fly with “The Eagle?” Will the boss let you play “The Bone” in your office?
There are many questions perplexing the Tampa Bay radio industry as it morphs and shudders under the weight of consolidation and indecency allegations.
Radio has been a medium of narrowcasting formats for many years now, but only in recent memory have so many stations in the Tampa Bay area taken on formal nicknames that management believes will convey their attitude and image to the ideal listener.
The real news is the spread of attitude. Because after years of homogenized morning shows and sound-alike afternoon drive DJs, many local airwaves suddenly have an edge. It’s in the music, on stations such as “Outlaw 92.5” and “97X,” and in the new personalities finding broadcast homes here, including Howard Stern and the “Monsters in the Morning.”
And there’s another twist: we’ve been invaded by out-of-towners. Stern’s show originates in New York. The “Monsters” are based in Orlando. Lex & Terry broadcast from Jacksonville. Bob & Tom wake up 150 cities from their base in Indianapolis. Don & Mike come from Washington, D.C., as do Ron & Fez. Tom Leykis is in Los Angeles.
Finally, like major radio markets across the country, Tampa Bay’s most popular and most successful revenue producing stations are consolidated in the hands of three media giants: Clear Channel; Infinity/CBS; and Cox (See sidebar).
• • •
The biggest news in local radio was undoubtedly the firing of Bubba the Love Sponge in February after his consistently raucous and sexually charged program drew a FCC fine of $755,000 for stations carrying his show. Love him or despise him, Bubba made a lot of money for his radio station, 98 Rock, and its parent company, Clear Channel – past tense.
“A lot of people say it was all caused by Janet Jackson’s breast. I happen to agree,” says David C. Reinhart, a regional vice president for Clear Channel Radio and the company’s market manager for the Florida Gulf Coast area. “If that had not happened at the Super Bowl, we wouldn’t have had the changes we’ve had in our industry, not just our market. It was a local decision based on how quickly things changed after the Super Bowl, a very, very difficult decisions, all-time top five, no question about it. But when you’re talking about putting your license at risk, you just can’t do that.”
Bubba’s show drew huge ratings that Clear Channel matched with huge advertising dollars. “Not all advertisers wanted to be part of his show,” Reinhart says, “but enough did.”
His abrupt dismissal caused enormous ripples in the market.
“It opened doors for a lot of people,” says Jay O’Connor, regional vice president for Cox Radio’s six Tampa Bay area stations. “Bubba was an anomaly. He hosted one of the largest drawing male morning shows in the entire country. While I certainly don’t think anybody will garner the audience share that show did, there probably are opportunities for a couple shows to do fairly well in Bubba’s absence. That’s where everybody is heading. We all thought, ‘Why don’t we put what we think is a good offering in the market and see what happens?’ Clear Channel replaced Bubba with the ‘Monsters’ show. Then they put Bob & Tom on (Thunder). So we thought we should put a new morning show on 102.5. It made a lot of sense to try Lex & Terry. Their flagship is our station in Jacksonville and they’re part of our syndication network. It made a lot of sense to try them.”
There is a great irony in the arrival of Lex & Terry in the Tampa Bay market: Bubba was syndicated on a competing station in Jacksonville and constantly talked trash about the duo. So even though most listeners here knew nothing about Lex & Terry when they started here on March 29, they had certainly heard of them.
“People heard Bubba talk about Lex & Terry; sometimes the best press is bad press,” O’Connor says.
Cox markets Lex & Terry as “Florida’s morning show” because they’re heard in 25 markets statewide. The only Florida market they’re not in is Orlando. Another point of irony: When Clear Channel dumped Stern from its Miami station, it replaced him with Lex & Terry.
O’Connor says that although radio stations once brought in syndicated or network programming to save money in years past, that’s not the reason four stations turned to out-of-town talent in a 90-day period earlier this year.
“It’s a desire to bring the best possible talent to one’s own radio station,” he says. “It kind of brings to light another issue – radio needs to start doing a better job developing talent. I don’t mean to pick on them in particular, but when Bob & Tom are on 150 radio stations around the country, surely on some of those stations there are people who could provide better local product?”
• • •
Just six weeks after Clear Channel pushed the dump button on Bubba, it gave another frequent FCC violator the boot as well.
Howard Stern is one of radio’s few household names from coast to coast, although his show was never carried in the Tampa Bay area. The self-proclaimed “King of All Media” hosts the nation’s most notorious radio show – carried in 45 markets — and is the author of two best-selling books and the star of a critically lauded autobiographical film, Private Parts. His morning show is videotaped and segments are shown nightly on the E! cable channel.
In April, the FCC levied $495,000 in fines against the six Clear Channel stations that carried Stern’s show. Clear Channel, which carried Stern’s show in Orlando and Miami, cancelled Stern on all of its stations, taking a big bite out of the radio personality’s income and potentially damaging his reputation.
None of this Stern business affected Tampa Bay radio at the time. But behind the scenes, Infinity was looking at new ways of milking its sometimes vulgar cash cow on a national basis. And locally, the company was thrashing about in search of a format that could made its station at 1010 AM profitable. As an all-sports outlet, it typically placed third in a two-station competition with 620 AM’s “The Sports Animal.” 1010’s most successful program was once called “The Replacements,” so named because it was thrown together overnight when Nanci Donnellan’s show, “The Fabulous Sports Babe,” was cancelled in January 2001.
“The Replacements” morphed into “Cowhead and Brent,” featuring its most popular ringleaders. (Cowhead – a.k.a., Mike Calta – was a former member of Bubba’s cast of characters.) The show became the radio equivalent of a cult hit and when Infinity reformatted its country station on 92.5 FM as “Outlaw,” Cowhead and Brent were moved there as its morning attitudinal anchors.
1010, meanwhile, largely threw in the towel on local sports, becoming an ESPN affiliate. That was a short-lived experiment, however, because when Infinity made Howard Stern its new morning personality on 1010, ESPN balked at following him.
Scrambling, Infinity quickly – and with some relief, no doubt – dumped sports altogether. (“We beat them pretty badly,” Reinhart says. “It’s the truth. I’m not trying to be mean.”)
1010 became “The Buzz,” a home for scatological humor, pranks and more nationally syndicated programs. But it followed Stern with more personalities who were recognizable locally. Don & Mike were carried on 1010 for several years before it went all-sports in the late 1990s, as was Tom Leykis. And Ron & Fez got their start on the old WYNF 95 FM many years ago on the hugely popular “Ron & Ron Show” (which had a brief run on 620 AM).
Stern, of course, is the real big news at 1010. Although exact dollar figures aren’t easy to come by, Stern is attracting big bucks for a station that was once an afterthought.
“We looked at growing our business,” says John Fennessey, general sales manager for Infinity’s Outlaw 92.5 and WQYK 99.5 Country. “The station that needed attention was 1010. There is no better fix than Howard Stern. People understand Howard and they’re willing to pay a lot more than they were before with the previous product. ”
“It has caused people to say, ‘Oh, there is another dial position!’” says Michael Remaley, general sales manager for Infinity’s The Buzz and Oldies 104.7. “And we don’t have to give it away. We’re able to match up a lifestyle, a cult. And we’ve addressed it as our prima donna.”
Charlie Ochs, a senior vice president of Infinity and its Tampa Bay market manager, calls Stern “more expensive than anything that’s ever been on that station.” That’s significant, because when 1010 carried “Imus in the Morning,” the licensing fee was a reported $500,000 annually.
But don’t cry for Infinity.
“Clients are paying,” Fennessey says. “They’re lining up to pay.”
Ad rates on the station are “significantly more” than they were in the past, Ochs says. “Significantly. You can put that in all capitals.”
The real test of such a move is in the way it plays throughout the rest of a day. For example, Howard Stern’s fans in the morning probably wouldn’t have stayed with the station in afternoon drive (3-7 p.m.) if it were still broadcasting ESPN’s syndicated programming. But going home from work with Don & Mike or Ron & Fez isn’t a giant leap.
“We went out and sold the big gun first,” Remaley says. “Now we’re filling in and people want to get in on other day parts.”
“People are cuming (radio parlance for sampling) the station that never did before,” Fennessey says.
• • •
Music is still radio’s greatest format commodity and the ground there is experiencing seismic shifts as well.
When Clear Channel gave up on the ill-defined “Star” music and replaced it with the area’s first urban contemporary station, it was a daring — but well-timed — move. Fans of modern urban music were underserved in the market. And just as rap, jazz and alternative rock fans materialized from out of nowhere a few years earlier and made hits out of WiLD 98.7, Smooth Jazz 94.1 and 97X, respectively, a mostly youth audience locked in 95.7 The Beat with their radio preset buttons.
“The change to ‘The Beat’ has to rank at the top” of recent format changes, Reinhart says. “It’s a totally different format for Tampa Bay. And it’s been very successful in half a year of life.”
Bubba’s disappearance from the airwaves impacted music stations, too, because his show once anchored the day at 98 Rock. “With the release of the spring (ratings) book, 97X became Tampa Bay’s No. 1 rock station,” O’Connor says. “Bubba going away certainly helped.”
Still, no one music format dominates the airwaves in the Tampa Bay area the way Q105, the Power Pig or WQYK once did, but potential advertisers can now focus their radio dollars on more appropriate matches between their products and services and a target audience.
“In the last decade, probably the biggest change in our market has been the new FM stations moving in,” Fennessy says. “WSJT 94.1 was a new station. 101.5 was previously a Christian station. 105.5 was a move-in. 97.1 is a new station – there have been perhaps half a dozen new FMs in the last decade. No one station will ever again dominate the way the Q did.”
Outlaw is the new country station in town. Its bad boy sound and attitude is dominated by Mike Culotta, a lifelong country music fan who came to WQYK a decade ago as producer of Cleveland Wheeler’s short-lived morning show and rapidly rose through the ranks under the mentoring of the late Tom Rivers. Now an operations manager for Infinity, he was given the task of revitalizing the company’s second country station in town, which for years — like 1010 — was a mere afterthought to WQYK.
Culotta wondered what a country station with a rock ‘n’ roll attitude might sound like. He not only gave it a signature attitude with Cowhead and Brent anchoring the mornings, he immediately fixed on a sound that at long last separated it from being a clone of WQYK.
“Mike is a Nashville mover and shaker,” Ochs says. “The time was right for that station because of what’s going on in Nashville. And what’s going on in Nashville has a lot to do with Culotta. They respect him there the way WiLD’s Orlando is respected in hip-hop. Big & Rich credit Mike with a great deal of their success, as does Gretchen Wilson.” Outlaw was the first station in America to play either artist, both of which became immediate chart-toppers.
“FM talk is open,” Reinhart says, “as is urban adult contemporary, which is different from urban contemporary, like The Beat. And there are no full-strength Spanish stations yet. Some day that will be viable for someone to consider here.”
• • •
New stations. New formats. New personalities.
But is there any new money out there? Or are Tampa Bay’s radio stations merely moving the same revenues and advertisers from one pocket to another?
“There certainly is room to move advertising dollars to radio from other media,” Reinhart says. “In the past, the radio piece of the pie wasn’t expanding. Now it is. Those who can’t afford over-the-air TV have moved to cable or radio. There is plenty of room for radio to grow.”
“We hope we attract more money that wasn’t being spent in radio last year,” Fennessey agrees. “The pot’s only so big. There are only so many dollars. We want to find ways of finding more dollars from other media.”
He says that combined revenue for Infinity’s two country radio stations “is not only growing but it is outpacing the market growth. Outlaw has shown phenomenal growth — and it’s not at 99.5’s expense.”
The likely effect of all the changes in the market is that radio will be far more competitive with other media than ever before. “While the radio pie continues to grow,” O’Connor says, “a lot of that is because the market is growing. We’re in a great place; it’s a great city, its vibrant. We have great in-migration numbers. It drives retail and business. As the market is healthy, so will be the media outlets.
“I remember five short years ago,” he continues, “when the top station had 10 percent of the market. Now the top station has 7 percent. Tenths of a radio point separate 15 radio stations. It has become ultra-competitive to garner as much share as possible. I think it’s good for advertisers; it’s probably good for the listeners because I think they’re getting more choice. And I think people worried about that when consolidation happened – is this going to be the death of more choice?”
• • •
Nationally, consolidation in the radio industry put thousands of stations — and billions of dollars in annual revenues — in the hands of a small minority of owners.
Locally, consolidation put management of regional groups in the hands of general manager who previously found running two stations — typically one AM and one FM with different formats — hard enough.
For example, when Infinity’s Charlie Ochs and Clear Channel’s Dave Reinhart first were competitors in the Tampa Bay area, each was general manager of two stations. Ochs ran WQYK AM and WQYK FM. Reinhart ran WFLA AM and WFLZ FM. Since Ochs returned to the market in 2000 after a decade away, his charge includes six local stations; Reinhart oversees 25 from the Tampa Bay area to Punta Gorda, plus the Devil Rays radio network and Clear Channel Traffic. The average station — remember, each one operates 24 hours a day — employees 25 people.
“Back in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, 25 stations was a fair size company,” Reinhart says, “and a CEO would be in charge of. Now it’s a partial regional division. But the requirements of the job are the same. We try to cram more into the same work hours. Something has to give; usually it’s the amount of hours you spent cumulatively on any one station. I’m in here at seven in the morning; I stay till 5:45 pm. It’s a long day. But you have to do that to keep from working weekends. Of course, we check and return email on weekends. It makes for a busy life.”
A better life?
“It’s what has to be done,” he says. “I don’t know that it’s better.”
Then surely the compensation increases relative to the greater responsibility?
“No,” Reinhart says. “For every two you pick up, it’s not relative. But it’s a good living.”
One difference between the Tampa Bay radio market and others is that it is still fairly collegial among competitors, at least at the management level. Maybe it’s a southern thing; maybe it’s a function of stability at the top.
“There are fewer people at the GM level to get together and have a luncheon,” Reinhart says. “But we’re not at each other’s throats. Charlie Ochs and Jay O’Connor are good radio people. I have a lot of respect for them; they’re good competitors.”
• • •
It’s too soon to measure the potential impact of another change agent in the Tampa Bay area radio market.
As of late July, Infinity no longer subscribed to the Arbitron ratings, the industry’s traditional standard of measurement among radio stations. Nationwide, Infinity can no longer use Arbitron results to compare its listenership with its competitors.
Ten, even five years ago, such a break would be unheard of. But in an era of narrowcasting on both radio and television – and when Oldsmar-based Nielsen’s TV ratings are under fire from many sources – many broadcasters hope Infinity’s gambit pays off and that they will all one day be freed of Arbitron’s shackles.
So how does a radio station sell itself without ratings? Not a problem, Ochs says.
“I’ve bought TV time, billboards and newspaper ads to advertise our stations. I’ve been a client of advertising,” Ochs says. “Since I was the guy writing the check, I understand that the most important thing to the guy writing the check is results. I’ve preached that to our people all the time. The cost per point means nothing. And that’s the way we sell. We sell the results you get on a massive country station such as WQYK, on Howard Stern, on the market’s only oldies station, or the only jazz station. The success we give our clients is all that matters. It’s a supply and demand business. The supply is finite. We can’t add another hour to the day.”
“In Arbitron, buyers are cost per point,” Remaley says. “Our new idea is cost per customer.”
“It’s a change in the way we do business,” Fennessey says. “With all change comes some apprehension. But it doesn’t change the value that the stations offer.”
“It’s a whole new approach to a lot of people who have never sold without ratings,” Remaley adds. “But we’re selling the lifestyle of Outlaw and the personalities of Mason Dixon and Orlando. You’re getting involved with the station as opposed to the ratings. We’re selling qualitatively to fit what they’re willing to spend to get the customer.”
Reinhart says that approach isn’t substantially different from the way his stations sell themselves.
“We sell the attributes of our stations and the responses we get for clients,” he says. “We don’t just reel off numbers. Rather than selling against a competitor, we’re selling for our stations. Half our stations appeal to men, half to women. We can appeal to the full market. The only lifestyle we can’t appeal to is country.”
Infinity’s stepping away from Arbitron will have an effect on Clear Channel, Reinhart says, in that his people won’t be giving out Infinity’s numbers in comparison with their own. (The service will still measure the entire market; Infinity just isn’t licensed to know or use the results.) “We want to protect the product of Arbitron,” he says. “So we shouldn’t put out information that compares Infinity to us. We wouldn’t want to do it for them.”
Count Jay O’Connor as an extremely motivated observer in Infinity’s bold move away from Infinity.
I don’t know that’s it’s going to affect us one bit. I’m not sure it’s going to affect Infinity at all,” he says. “I think it’s a bold move. I hope they’re successful. I would love to think, to hope, that the big broadcasters might get together and work out an alternative service that makes sense for everyone. The rest of us pay a lot of money to Arbitron. Surely there must be conversations taking place at the top levels of the big groups. I feel Infinity has made an interesting move. We’ve come to a point in Tampa where the top station has a 1 rating and the No. 15 station has .5, so we have to do a better job of differentiating ourselves.”
Strike Three for Sports Franchises?
WQYK 99.5 FM was the flagship radio station for Tampa Bay Buccaneers football games for 13 years. It endured the low points and stuck with the team all the way through its 2003 Super Bowl victory. But a year later, like some of the team’s other corporate partners, including Publix and Bank of America, WQYK bailed.
When asked about the end of Infinity Broadcasting’s relationship with the Bucs, Tampa Bay Market Manager Charlie Ochs at first responds with uncharacteristic and stony silence. He is casting for a polite but firm answer that won’t offend the team.
“We really enjoyed having the broadcast,” he finally says. “It was a lot of fun, and a lot of people were involved in it. Personally, I became very close to a lot of the players; three of them live in my neighborhood and are friends. It was a business decision for me and the corporation. We’re in business to make money. In the negotiations this year it was going to be impossible to make any money. We haven’t made money with them in a long time. We decided it was time to treat it like a business. We told them we weren’t interested in negotiating any longer. It was obvious that their opinion of what the rights should be was not in line with what we thought.”
“We told them we were not interested.”
The decision was made some time before 1010 dropped its sports talk format, but getting out of that business no doubt made losing the Bucs broadcast much easier.
Exit Infinity, enter Clear Channel.
Thunder 103.5 is the new flagship station for the football team, with games simulcast on its all-sports sister station, The Sports Animal, 620 WDAE. But this year, the Bucs will produce their own broadcast rather than lave it to their broadcast partner.
The 10-year arrangement “carries less risk” for Clear Channel, says Dave Reinhart, market manager for Clear Channel Radio in the Tampa Bay area, “but it also carries less reward. But it was attractive enough for us to agree to it.”
Rights fees have gone up and up over the years, not unlike player salaries. “It gets to a point where return on investment makes you question doing it,” Reinhart says. “You’re seeing a national tendency toward teams taking their rights in-house and making arrangements themselves rather than stations buying rights from the team.”
This September, when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays season ends, the baseball team will be at the end of its 7-year contract with Newsradio 970 WFLA. Don’t be surprised if that marriage also ends in divorce.
“We don’t know what the outcome will be,” Reinhart says. The Devil Rays Radio Network is under his umbrella of responsibilities. “We had one meeting with the Rays that just scratched the surface. We’re not interested in renewing under the current framework because it’s been a money loser for us. We would listen to other possibilities. We didn’t own The Sports Animal at the time the contract was agreed to. That would naturally be the best place if there weren’t conflicts with our other franchises.”
As for the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, it may have a happier ending in store when its contract with The Sports Animal, ends in 2005. Unlike the Bucs and Rays, the Lightning are carried on the perfect vehicle, 620 AM, a sports radio station. The two are simpatico, unlike the Bucs and a country station and the Rays and a news-talk station.
One more difference between the Lightning and the other two teams, according to Reinhart: “The Lightning is profitable.”
The largest radio groups in the Tampa Bay area also dominate the dial in Orlando. Here’s a guide to who owns what locally among the big guns:
Clear Channel Radio
WFLA Newsradio 970 AM
WFLZ 93.3 FM
WMTX Mix 100.7 FM
WXTB 98 Rock FM
WTBT Thunder 103.5 FM
WBTP The Beat 95.7 FM
WDAE The Sports Animal 620 AM
WHNZ Impact Radio 1250 AM
WWRM Magic 94.9 FM
WSUN 97X FM
WPOI The Point 101.5 FM
WHPT The Bone 102.5 FM
WDUV The Dove 105.5 FM
WXGL The Eagle 107.3 FM
WBZZ The Buzz 1010 AM
WLLD Wild 98.7 FM
WQYK 99.5 FM
WRBQ Oldies 104.7 FM
WSJT Smooth Jazz 94.1 FM
WYUU Outlaw 92.5 FM
A Zookeeper’s Perspective
Bubba the Love Sponge wasn’t Tampa Bay’s first or even most controversial morning radio personality. And in terms of audience share he couldn’t touch Cleveland Wheeler and Scott Shannon, co-hosts of the old Q Morning Zoo.
Shannon left Tampa for New York many years ago. But Wheeler recently resigned as program director for Washington, D.C.-based XM Satellite Radio and returned to Tampa in August. The Maddux Business Report caught up with him by phone and asked his thoughts on the current business of radio:
• FORMAT SWAPPING: “If these guys can’t get it with a ‘Buzz,’ they’ll get it with an ‘Eagle.’ It’s happening all over the U.S. They’re groping for answers because they’re in a dead end. Nobody has new answers. They are people who do, but they’re rarely listened to. The solution, to me, is rethinking the presentation entirely – advertising, formatting and personality.”
• INDECENCY WITCHHUNTS: “Politically, it doesn’t really point to radio. Isn’t it convenient when all the nude clubs or massage parlors get raided at election time when there are new people running for office and the people currently in office want to show they’ve been doing something?
“I think it’s ironic that Clear Channel gave so much to the Bush campaign and they’re fellow Texans. I believe that it’s scary for the sitting administration that (radio) guys can be so political and influential with the lowest common denominator, people who are also a vote. These guys (Stern, Bubba) are not just in Tampa, they’re syndicated throughout the US. And they’re able to move mountains. (The Bush Administration) wants them silenced.
“We used to look at the FCC as nonpartisan but that’s not the case anymore. Clear Channel stood behind these (air personalities) before, for example when a pig was killed on the air (on Bubba’s show). Now the tone is set for an election and I think that’s all that is. I don’t think it has any moral merit. I think it’s dangerous. Censorship in the media, whether in entertainment or talk, is dangerous.”
• BACK IN THE DAY AT Q105: “Occasionally things would come from the top, a warning, or people wrote letters about us to the FCC. Our lawyers got those letters and said, ‘Back off,’ or ‘Be delicate about what you’re saying.’ It was never so threatening that we thought we’d be pulled off the air.
“I think we were a lot more responsible and conscious of our community position and considered that when things were about to be done. We weighed heavily the regard of the community. I felt we were Tampa. To parade naked women or taunt people was never going to benefit us. I never felt we were part of shock radio.”
• ADVICE TO COWHEAD, ET AL: “It’s really about loving where you are and having concern for where you are. Almost at the expense of your reputation, be true to yourself and your community. If it’s in the interest of the place you live, that’s the voice you should speak with. We took a lot of liberty with people who were elected to office. But we tried to find an entertainment vehicle to do it. It’s like painting a cartoon picture in your mind – how do I amplify this and make it entertainment and at same time let people know that I really care about where I live?”