Fresh FM vs. Stale FM

By Jerry Del Colliano

(Pictured left with consultant Todd Wallace and media broker Gary Stevens back in the day)

The radio industry knows a good thing when it hears it and it's jumping on the "Fresh FM" trend afraid of missing out and/or afraid a competitor will make them eat it.

The radio industry knows a good thing when it loses it, too, as CBS' WCBS-FM is proving since Radio President Dan Mason manned up and returned the updated but beloved "Classic Hits" format to the New York airwaves.

Look at the ratings already in virtually no time as reported by Tom Taylor in Taylor on Radio-Info:
"Just looking at the highly unofficial X-Trends-produced extrapolations – classic hits/oldies WCBS-FM is sitting in the second spot both 12+ and 25-54. That’s astounding, for a station that was tied for 16th 12+ in July, the month before. And with 25-54s, CBS-FM jumped from #14 to #2, July to August. As for the Arbitron-supplied three-month rolling 12+ averages for June/July/August – CHR Z100 is #1 by itself, for once, with a 4.8".
And "Fresh FM" is working for CBS in New York on another station as well and has been adopted by Jerry Lee's WBEB-FM, Philadelphia as part of his marketing strategy to stay on top. Except for hiring me for my first radio job at age 17, Lee hasn't made too many mistakes. He's making the changes while he's on top -- his usual M.O.

Lee in partnership with researcher Bill Moyes has beaten back competition over the years by changing formats, call letters, mascots, testing music, testing commercials, producing great TV ads and buying lots of TV penetration with the skill of a surgeon.

So when Lee and Moyes make this preemptive move -- I, for one, take note.

But I'm intrigued by the irony of "Fresh" new music (at least in perception) and "stale" -- what we could (for the purpose of this discussion) call the oldies franchise that radio lemmings couldn't wait to dump a few years ago.


Until Dan Mason returned and said, "enough". That's when (among other things) he righted the wrongs of his predecessor, Joel Hollander, with the single push of a station I.D. button and that wonderful JAM legal ID came blaring from 101.1.

Mason, in my opinion, understands what he's working with -- which is Gen Xers and baby boomers. There are tons of baby boomers still around (thank God) and a whole money-spending population of Generation X.

Knowing which listeners are available is tough enough (although not brain surgery), but it's nothing compared to knowing who isn't available to be a radio listener these days.

That would be Generation Y -- the years more or less around 18-24's who are coming of age.

To them "Fresh FM" means nothing because FM means nothing. They like "Classic Hits" music but you're not going to get them off their iPods, computers and social networks no matter how hard you try.

The reality is -- there are three hot formats.

"Fresh FM".

"Stale FM" (I know, that's an awful name because the WCBS-FM is fresh in a lot of ways but for the purpose of comparison work with me here).

And, "no FM" -- what the next generation is moving towards.

The radio industry could have fought for this demo. They could have made it harder for young people to abandon radio when they flirted with the Internet, but consolidators were too busy worrying about losing Wall Street. You know that story. Nonetheless, what's done is done and no matter how hard you fantasize, you're not going to change the last few paragraphs.

I think "Fresh FM" is a wonderful concept for the available listeners of FM music stations. It will work and I'd snap it up if available. As a former PD I wouldn't want to compete with the concept of "Fresh FM" if I'm in that genre (and ex-PDs are like ex-Marines -- there's no such thing! Once a know the rest).

Many of you already know I love bringing oldies back even if you have to call them "Classic Hits". Mason and company has done a skillful job integrating the 70's into CBS-FM -- no small task. With all those boomers in love with their radios -- go multiply. Give birth to "Classic Hits" stations everywhere. Program to the available audience.

"No FM" is really where I see the next generation and future ones heading. It is very unlikely they will redirect their attention from iPods, computers, social networks and, now, mobile devices back to a radio. And they certainly don't want a radio in these devices.

So, we have to fight them there because they aren't going to listen here.

The same creativity and shrewed marketing that is bringing great success to "Fresh FM" and "Classic Hits" needs to be applied to the generation we let get away.

Radio can do it, but not on a terrestrial signal.

Not on a terrestrial signal.

Even though recent reports show that streaming terrestrial radio formats are growing at a rapid pace online, they are also finding their older audiences online.

To get the next generation, we have to take it to them where they live and spend their time and right now that's not a description of a radio.

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