How To Get A 29 Share in Radio

That's what Jerry Lee's WBEB-FM (B-101), Philadelphia got among women 18+ for the week of December 13-19. That's a 27 share adults 25-54. A 1.2 million cume and double the listeners of the number two station -- all news KYW. All this courtesy of the Arbitron People Meter.

A few days ago I wrote a piece about the irony of Christmas radio -- how an arguably increasingly secular holiday can work wonders for radio ratings.

As my programming friends in radio know, Christmas music is only a part of the success of a radio station for six short weeks of the year. The other ingredients are rarely discussed.

My first job in radio was working for Jerry Lee at that very same radio station. Marlin Taylor and Phil Stout put Christmas programming on the air albeit only for a few days but nonetheless the station started the trend.

Lee's trusted advisor is Bill Moyes. Again, I know Bill's fine work. He did strategic research for Inside Radio for many years when I owned it. We ran Inside Radio like a radio station to build it into a top brand. While I don't pretend to speak for either Lee or Moyes, I do know a little about the people and the station so I'd like to share some strategic thoughts with you.

1. Jerry Lee didn't build his radio station on Christmas. B-101 was programmed methodically and with great regard for the target audience and the advertisers all year long -- for many years. Christmas is simply a bonus for them -- not a destination. The station is still number one or number two the other 46 weeks.

2. No one I know buys TV advertising shrewder than Jerry Lee. He's been spending tons of money on well researched and produced TV ads for years. If you want the best explanation of why B-101 pulled a 29 share at Christmas, start with his television ads to promote the Christmas marathon of music. Most cheapskate operators just change the format and rely on word of mouth. Even they usually improve their December ratings, but a 29 share comes with the help of a well placed, deep TV schedule.

3. Having no competition helps. Lee owns the adult female market -- the one he wants to sell to advertisers. A few years ago Clear Channel made a run at trying to knock B-101 off with it's "Sunny" format, but Lee and Moyes rained on it. Clear Channel abandoned the format and Lee fought off yet another attempt to divide his winnings. (By the way, Lee once told me he goes to Las Vegas not to gamble but to think -- the sound of slot machines stimulates him. I've known him for years and I respect his idiosyncrasies. Anyway, I have a few of my own).

4. Researching the music is absolutely a passion of Jerry Lee. His stations play what his target demo wants without regard to his personal tastes or the gut of his program directors. In the years Lee has owned 101.1 (many with his late partner David Kurtz), it has played instrumental beautiful music, soft AC, soft rock. It has been called WDVR (Delaware Valley Radio), Easy 101 and B-101. Lee succeeds because while his competitors change formats as often as they change their underwear, he never changes his target demo. The format, therefore, evolves.

5. Lee researches advertisers' commercials -- tests them on the Internet. I know of no one in radio who fosters close relationships with advertisers that actually help them succeed more than Lee. Not just spiffs. Or discounts. Not a promotion or campaign. Results. So when B-101 gets a 29 share for Christmas, I'd love to be a fly on the wall to see what Lee is talking about charging advertisers on his next rate card. Santa comes calling in January because he knows how to deliver Christmas all year. (I, along with Lee, Taylor, Stout and others wrapped champagne bottles for delivery to ad agencies and advertisers when we had something to celebrate -- the advertiser is always close by in Lee's mind).

6. B-101's philosophy is to fight hard to maintain its ratings, and yet Lee believes in building up and not tearing down competition. He often gives away strategies that help build a strong interest in radio (i.e., testing spots online for his terrestrial radio advertisers). Unlike Randy Michaels at Jacor or The Mays boys at Clear Channel who seemingly wanted to annihilate all competition and everyone else in sight, Lee understands that the stronger the radio industry is, the more money he can make by delivering results.

7. You don't get a 29 share for even one minute without being the station most people listen to at work. I remember years ago Lee actually got away with giving away radios that could only receive his station. He doesn't have to do that anymore -- not that it is legal -- but he owns the workplace. Years and years of building B-101 as the at-work station has worked. He understands the use of the Internet which in B-101's case is not to develop a new format, but to deliver his terrestrial programming where radios may not receive it or be welcome.

Look at me. It sounds like an appreciation of a radio station. Well, it is. Just like Dan Mason knows how to do radio right, Lee knows as well.

The problem is the radio industry needs more people who will focus on the goal and then be committed for the long term to achieving that goal and sustaining the subsequent success.

Oh, one more thing.

Jerry Lee owns only one station.

It's worth hundreds of millions of dollars and many consolidators have tried to get him to sell it. Lee was not always rich. He was a salesman. A GM. An owner and eventually a very rich man without selling his station -- without going public -- without building a radio group (although he once bought Famous 56 WFIL after its hey day and later sold it realizing that the purchase as a mistake).

And even Lee could do better. What am I saying? The man gets a 29 share and I say you can do better?


In my opinion the morning show has always been a weakness. I know it's not easy being an adult music station and creating a huge morning show. I'd get a task force together and do it. A bigger than life morning show that didn't detract from the music demands of the target demo could mean bigger than life ad rates.

You don't see Lee fighting the people meter (duh!).

He's not assassinating his competitors.

Spends on TV advertising campaigns several times a year and knows how to buy them.

Maybe the biggest difference -- and perhaps the greatest lesson -- comes from this story.

Just before I moved from Cherry Hill, NJ to Scottsdale five years ago, I had dinner with Jerry Lee at the Four Seasons by the art museum in Philadelphia. The conversation was fascinating as always. Every once in a while when in mid-conversation he thought of something he wanted to take note of, Lee pulled a slim Sony recorder from his pocket and dictated on it. He passed the device to his secretary and she helped him get things done and write notes. Then, he slipped it in his pocket again -- ready to record.

I immediately bought one.

But more significant was a comment I will never forget and one that the radio industry needs to hear. It runs contrary to what consolidators want to do or even can do with beady-eyed oversight from their investment banker buddies.

Lee said, "I'm always looking for ways to spend more money on my station".

Over the years he has earned credibility for that statement which is a painful lesson for the sorry radio industry today.

Google spends to make.

Apple spends to make.

Radio cuts, slices and dices and is a mere shadow of its former self.

A 29 Christmas share?

Don't believe it.

It is a Christmas present to the owner for doing the right things the rest of the year.

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