Production 212: The Transporter (Rated R)

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

Every month or so, I get 15 or more inquiries via email or Facebook about my opinion on this subject or that. Most often it’s about imaging, which is right in my comfort zone. As I’m writing this, I’m at 36-thousand feet in a United 747 over the Pacific headed for Sydney where this Saturday, I’ll be speaking to programmers and producers of Austereo Southern Cross, one of the largest radio groups in Australia about imaging… again, right in my comfort zone. Some would call me an expert in imaging, and while I would always caution people on the use of the word expert in anything as subjective as imaging, I do feel somewhat qualified to share an opinion or two on the subject.

So, when I get an email from someone asking a much bigger question about the business, I always take a few steps back. I can’t help but think there are people far more qualified to answer. But, if it’s my opinion asked for, I’ll give it, as I did when Tony Kingston sent me an email from Calgary, Alberta Canada about taking a successful radio station and cloning it to another market.

I remember you writing a bit on transplanting stations from one city to another a while back (duplicating a station that is doing well in one city and trying to do the same thing in another city). Does that ring any bells? Do you have a copy of that article by any chance? I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

To a certain extent, it can be done, depending on the target market. Any radio station in any market has to do one thing to win: give the listener a compelling reason to choose your signal over another. If there is already a similar station in the target market, it will be a tough thing to pull off… virtually impossible. Al Reis and Jack Trout (The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them At Your Own Risk!) say, “First in wins.” In this instance, even a mildly inferior station has the advantage. They’re already on that ladder, and the only way you can surpass them is if they stand aside and let you do it. Small market or not, I sincerely doubt many heritage programmers would make that mistake.

If however, if the target market has no station like the one you’re transporting, it’s a slam dunk. However, when that’s not the case, the degree of similarity between the heritage station and the transported station will definitely predict the success or lack thereof for the new enterprise.

A couple of great recent examples are Houston, Los Angeles and New York. 

In Houston, CBS decided to take Hot 95.5 head to head with long-time CHR powerhouse KRBE with the Hot Hits format (very short playlist with zero gold). They were an instant smash. In the previous couple of years, KRBE had devolved a bit into a sales driven station, constantly pushing the upper end of their demo to get bigger dollar advertisers and were, in fact, already leaning into an AC style format. KRBE was happy to abandon their long held CHR status, so Hot 95.5 became an overnight sensation. 

I certainly cannot speak to their exact thinking, but it appeared the CBS honchos assumed they were onto a winning formula and decided to expand their success by trying the same thing in Los Angeles (AMP vs. KIIS-FM) and New York (NOW vs. Z100.) 

They saw some initial success in LA, and were able to establish a pretty stable position in the City of Angels, but have never really come close to beating KIIS-FM. In fact, KIIS-FM just had a stellar summer ratings-wise, while AMP lagged behind first place KIIS-FM by nearly 2 whole points 12+ in fifth place overall. That’s not a bad showing, so I have to count AMP as at least a partial success, even though the results were nothing like Houston.

New York… not so much. Ever since Tom Poleman, who interestingly was the man who made KRBE such a CHR powerhouse in Houston, came to Z100 in the early ‘90s, we’ve been laser focused on our demo. The on-air staff has been absolutely brilliant and the music impeccable. When Sharon Dastur took over a few years ago, things stayed perfectly on track. Not a big surprise since she had been Tom’s assistant both in Houston and New York. As a result, NOW has never really penetrated the New York psyche and remains OUT of the top 10 in every important demo. Z100’s ratings are in fact stronger than ever, in spite of every stunt, trick and gimmick NOW has pulled.

I know that there is nothing so constant as change, and I’m just grateful NOW didn’t launch back in the early ‘90s, when we had a really convoluted playlist. (Mariah Carey into Pearl Jam? Really?)

I hope all that makes sense. It’s a tricky proposition, one that requires cooperation from the competition. Can it be done? Absolutely, but with what kind of success?

At the top, I mentioned I was winging to Oz for a conference. As I finish writing this, the conference is actually tomorrow. As you might guess, I’ve been a little busy for the last several weeks getting ready, so it was delightful when George Taylor at Production Vault decided to do up a Lady Gaga promo for his service. When he sent the copy, I asked if I could make a few tweaks to make it fit Z100’s needs a little more closely. He rushed the turnaround and I was able to use it the next day for the weekend promotion, saving me a load of time. For my sound this month, I give you the finished version of PV’s and my efforts. We like collaboration.

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