Fresh Listen: oWOW Radio
For almost a half-hour, it looked like John Gorman might not sell me a record.
For nearly thirty years, the veteran programmer’s stations had, whenever I encountered them, been responsible for my purchasing a song or two whenever I tuned in.
It wasn’t just the current-based stations. When Gorman launched Classic Hits WMJI (Majic 105.7) Cleveland as a (then-) Oldies station, it was where I learned “Justine” by the Righteous Brothers.
When Gorman took over WNWV Cleveland in late 2009 and flipped it to Triple-A “V107.3“, I could routinely count on hearing something I wanted to own within a few minutes. The Wave played currents that existed nowhere else in major-market radio, and it dug into the songs that had been signature tracks for Gorman’s WMMS Cleveland in its ‘70s progressive AOR heyday.
Gorman’s tenure at WNWV was relatively brief, and new owners eventually returned the station to Smooth Jazz, remarkable in itself. Around the time Gorman left, though, I remember sitting in the parking lot before going into the supermarket to hear one more new song. Saying that anyone fostered “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele might seem unlikely now, but I can definitely remember a two-month period when not every programmer yet acknowledged it as an unstoppable force, especially in the U.S.
In 2015, Gorman launched an online Triple-A station, oWOW Radio. It was the most and least logical of moves. A station built by a curator with a proven track record in music discovery should be a natural for the infinite dial. A station with Cleveland’s rock and roll imprimatur could cultivate music-heads worldwide, rather than have to play to the PPM landscape that was rewarding multiple stations in every market for closing ranks around a shrinking universe of hits. Even the safest Triple-A station wasn’t safe, and WNWV was not the safest Triple-A station. On satellite radio or online, needs were different,
But entrepreneur online radio stations, especially those that try to be hosted, full-service radio stations are those most at risk. Howard Hoffman’s Great Big Radio’s oldies format finally fell silent this year. Lots of veteran broadcasters have the skillset and the motivation. Few have the infrastructure. Without hosting, you have a playlist, perhaps with sweepers. Some broadcast stations are that, too, but they have a stick.
That’s why it makes me happy for Gorman, and for the business, to be able to take a Fresh Listen to oWow in its fourth year. The station is still hosted between 9 a.m. and Midnight. There are still local spots on the air (but only six units an hour). In June, Gorman wrote me that the station had already exceeded its 2017 billings this year. Not being broadcast radio, he says, has become an advantage in an era when Bluetooth speakers are easier to buy than receivers. Even the rise of Netflix has become a usable talking point for the sales staff.
Musically, oWow is explained on the air as “the sweet spot between Classic Rock and indie rock.” The last time we discussed it, Gorman called it the station that really does give listener “a little of everything,” rather than having to piece it together from four or five Sirius XM stations “and even more on terrestrial radio.”
I listened to oWow this morning and found myself thinking that this stretch sounded more mainstream, before asking what counts as “mainstream” in Triple-A anyway. More blues and guitar rock? More alternative? KGSR Austin’s new version that plays Hip-Hop and EDM? And about twenty-five minutes in, oWow played a song that I still care about paying to own on iTunes. About 20 minutes later, it played another. Here’s the station just before 8:30 a.m. today:
- Elle King, “Shame”
- Sting, “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You”
- Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, “You Worry Me”
- John Mellencamp, “Small Town”
- KT Tunstall, “The River”
- Spoon, “The Underdog”
- Black Keys, “Tighten Up”
- Duran Duran, “Hungry Like the Wolf”
- Kate Earl, “One Woman Army” (the first song oWow sold me)
- Beck, “Up All Night”
- Genesis, “Abacab”
- Coldplay, “Adventure of a Lifetime”
- Dana Fuchs, “Same Sun”
- Sugar Ray, “Someday”
- Righteous Hillbillies, “Desolation Row” (not the Bob Dylan song, but my second purchase)
- Eric Clapton, “I Shot the Sheriff”
- Lake Street Dive, “Shame Shame Shame”
The right mix for oWow, of course, is the one that allows it to keep doing what it’s doing. The combination of good taste in music and good judgment in programming is key, of course. But the determination to have oWow received as a viable entity has been a big part of it. And this morning, there were promos for the station’s live blues series at the Flats. Then market veteran Ravenna Miceli set up the Lake Street Dive song by talking about the band, and how they finally had their breakthrough song. “I love the way it starts,” she said. And I felt like I’d had the radio experience I came for.