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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Without Big Boy, What's Real 92.3's Next Play?


iHeart/LA apparently had a game-plan... lure a popular and very high-profile talent from a competitor, flip the format switch, dominate and win over its Emmis competitor, Power 106. What happened along the way is now front and center in a classic radio battle of music, personalities and legal entanglements in Los Angeles. With Big Boy's move to iHeartMedia's Real 92.3 in limbo due to court entanglements, what's the next management move for the on-air product at Real 92.3 in LA.

The situation in LA between Emmis Power 106 and iHeartMedia's new urban flip at Real 92.3 is a classic personality grab from a competitor. It can be assumed that iHeart not only saw a space for an urban format move, much of its plans centered around drawing a huge morning personality from the competition to build the brand around. It's also easy to speculate that the Big Boy brand at Real 92.3 would also be ripe for syndication into the national radio urban AM drive space. The question of the hour is how will Doc Wynter, without a doubt one of the keenest programming minds in the urban radio space, handle the new format without his personality anchor in AM drive. 10,000 joints in a row can't burn forever.

Solidify the Music Position First

Radio Ink talked with three top radio consultants about how they would approach the new format under similar circumstances. Jacobs Media programming consultant Fred Jacobs says he's never been in a similar situation, where a format flip was (apparently) predicated around the arrival of a particular personalty. Jacob's notes, "In most cases, you want to establish your music position first, and a big personality actually obscures that process. A number of Stern stations - one that I recall in Minneapolis- was essentially a "still birth" because Howard overshadowed everything." Jacobs goes on to say, "If you out the entire weight of a debut on your morning guy, you run the risk of becoming a one-dayparts station."

Maybe the radio media circus and rumor mill is overthinking this a bit, because Big Boy is such a huge personality in the second biggest market in the country, too much weight is being given to his addition to Real 92.3. On the other hand, the rumors and Big Boy's absence from the airwaves at Power 106 preceded the format flip. So, assumption that Big Boy being the "Anchor" for the new station is pretty well founded. Either way, Real 92.3 is on and crankin' the jams.

Use Disadvantage as an Advantage

Rock consultant Alex DeMers from DeMers Programming chimes in that while the ultimate goal is to launch your new station in a symbiotic relationship between your new format and a huge morning brand, the legal battle has indeed altered the competitive environment.  DeMers says, "First, on the downside, the TRO means that you cannot launch with the talent ... that's not ideal. However, the upside is, you can launch the new music brand in an environment where you've also taken that HUGE morning brand off the original station (at least temporarily)." Hey, when the lawyers hand you lemons, why not make lemonade! DeMers thinks that launching without the anchor talent gives the new station an, "opportunity to expose your music product, commercial free, in an environment where the battle is reduced to music vs. music while you await further decisions from the court."

Slight of Hand

Talk consultant Holland Cooke may not be an expert on urban and hip-hop, but he's consulted with a lot of big-talent and stations anchored around top talk personalities. Cooke says that while he see's the Big Boy episode from-a-distance, both geographically and formatically, there might be a plus side for iHeart/LA not landing Big Boy. Cooke says, "What's NOT unusual to observe is competitive mischief, the-offer-from-across-the-street running-up the expense budget at the incumbent station. When I was managing WTOP in the 1980s, and the beloved Redskins were on WMAL, we bid aggressively for the rights, secretly fearing we'd end-up with the games." Mischief indeed, be careful what you wish for, you might just get it. Cooke notes that that talent is becoming an even more defining element in an age of jukebox playlists everywhere. Cooke says, "As for setting-a-format-flip-date-before-having-the-pieces-in-place?  Duh.  Certainly all of music radio's new-tech competitors make what's-between-the-songs the ball game.  A playlist is no longer a format."

Radio Ink did reach out to iHeartMedia Senior Vice President of urban programming Doc Wynter for comments on Real 92.3 and the urban battle in LA, but the phones and email from Wynter remained silent. One thing is for sure, Wynter is one of the brightest programing minds in urban, and whatever his plan, he's not letting the "joints" out of the bag. After all, look at Wynter's official promotional head-shot, would you want to tangle with that guy? He's got that look in his eye that just exudes, "You have no idea how good the hand is I'm holding, and flush or bust, I'm going to win this hand."

(2/13/2015 5:49:12 PM)
This mess will be handled by one guy at Clear Channel/Iheart... that being Bob Pittman. Market managers like Greg Ashlock in LA do not have the decision-making capacity or authority to fix something like this... corporate and Pittman will drive the bus on trying to fix this problem.
(2/13/2015 3:15:16 PM)
Any chance the entire thing was a plan? I heart knew the agreement with Emmis was solid but wanted to cost them a couple million in salary and benefits? When was the last time I heart hired a talent of that level for that kind of money..really? Maybe the "music plan" was the plan the entire time.

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