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The Best Positioning of Yesterday…

World Famous 106.7 KROQ Los Angeles ROQ of the 80s 90sThere have been two very different moves on station positioning in the U.K. this month.

One was British group broadcaster Bauer going from the broad—“Your Music, Your Life”—to the more mundane with “The Biggest Hits, All Day Long.”

But a week later, the U.K.’s Heart FM dropped its “More Music Variety” slogan. While it’s still unclear the extent to which it’s being used on the air, what replaced it is “Turn Up the Feel Good.”

Judging by comments from readers and Facebook friends since last week’s question “Is Radio Famous for Boring Things?” there are a number of programmers who would be comfortable if radio moved away from station slogans altogether. Some felt that the right listener comments said more than any slug line. “Perception of the brand is the positioning statement,” writes veteran PD Buzz Brindle. “And that perception of the brand results from the content . . . I hear or expect from that station.”

Under most circumstances, I still believe in the right strapline. The need is often more external than on-air. Radio needs to ask for the order, and it can no longer assume that what it does will be automatically cumed. It was telling that the several friends I asked (and a number of commenters) couldn’t tell you a slogan for the apps on their phone—unless they had encountered them in marketing. That’s different from expecting “yesterday’s favorites, today’s hits” to do it all for you, and all on the air.

I’m not against straightforward, either. “The Number One Hit Music Station” has endured because it has both functionality and attitude. So does “[Your City’s] Greatest Hits” for Classic Hits stations. As with everything we do on air, a word or two keeps things from being pedestrian. “Today’s Best Country and the All-Time Legends” is the same in functionality as the more convoluted yesterday-and-today imaging that’s making me groan these days. It’s just better.

The two stations that influenced me the most growing up, I now realize, had essentially the same slogan. There was “The Big 8” CKLW Detroit and “The Big O-L,” R&B WOL Washington. I’m sure that for those dismayed by the rise of all things Drake format related, hearing “The Big __” spread to other formats and beyond the Drake empire was dismaying, and as played out sounding as “Hitradio” sounded in 1985. But it clearly worked for me.

As I think about all-time favorite imaging, I default to a handful of sluglines, but also (like my readers) attitude liners that were there to reinforce, not define, a brand. Interestingly, there were a few stations responsible for more than one of them.

  • “The World Famous KROQ” Los Angeles
  • KROQ’s “Roq of the ‘80s”—straightforward, but with the clear implication of irrelevance for other rock stations
  • KROQ switching to “Roq of the ‘90s” well before the ‘90s arrived
  • WBLS New York: “In a Class by Itself.” (WBLS made an appearance here last week for the ID that merely proclaimed it to be “home.”)
  • “W-B-L-Kickin’-S”—The “Kickass Rock and Roll” slogan that circulated among AOR of the time had been devastatingly effective. Only WCOZ Boston, to my knowledge, paired it with “…and no disco,” but the slogan often was part-and-parcel of the “disco sucks” crowd, so it was nice to see an Urban outlet turn the slogan sideways. Rock stations, for their part, struggled to come up with something even more provocative. I remember one liner, “While they’re talking, we’re rocking our nuts off.” And that was good?
  • WKBW Buffalo’s “A Friendly Place.” Around the time of the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and before “Show us your X,” KB asked listeners to make their own signs to show that they were friends of “KB.” That made an impression on me listening at the other end of the Northeast. And it also gave me a very different sense of Buffalo than the hardscrabble recession market I encountered for the first time in 1981.
  • “The Music FM” – For a few years in the pre-Hot-Hits era, it was the rallying cry for those stations on the (typical of the time) bubble between Top 40 and Hot AC, essentially a way of one-upping the “Musicradio” slogan that had come to be associated with AM Top 40. I’m not sure why, now, but whenever I heard it, I expected that station to be interesting in some way. Because they were all about the music, right? Even if nobody was yet articulating it that way.
  • “Hot Hits”—I feel like this one should be there, but what was most effective about it was everything else that went with Mike Joseph’s early ‘80s genre-saving Top 40 stations. And when I heard it on a non-Joseph station, it seemed wrong (although when WWWQ [Q100] Atlanta revived it 20 years later at their launch, it felt like a secret handshake).
  • “Continuous Music” – It’s background noise now, but it was effective in the ‘80s and early ‘90s particularly at a time when not every radio station was clocked for continuous music. It became a staple of Jerry Clifton’s CHR and Urban stations and part of its effectiveness was the quirky delivery associated with the line.
  • “Kix 101…and a devastating half.” WKXW (New Jersey 101.5) Trenton, N.J., is now famous for being “not New York, not Philadelphia,” but I still remember the early ‘80s period when Hy and Sam Lit made it one of the great quirky stations of all time. The daytime mix was gold-based Hot AC that went back to the ‘50s. The night format was Rock 40 with a lot of new wave. And it was all punctuated with offbeat, adamantly delivered claims like “Destined to be . . . Forever!” Kix 101-1/2 was not destined to be forever, and I cite them cautiously, knowing that somebody in the pedantic positioning camp could seize on it. But they made me look up from the radio more than anybody. And they were also heard by and an influence on Philly area production guru Bill Schultz.

It’s clear that what readers remember is often a station’s attitude liners as well, e.g., the phrase that pays that ends with “…now give me my money.” Jay Philpott remembers the Twin Cities’ Rock 100 responding to the three frequencies of its rival with a liner about “the station you don’t need a compass to find.” Anne Gress remembers WFLZ Tampa in the Power Pig era where an entire break was the word “oink.” Walt Sabo sites WTAM Cleveland’s stager on behalf of Mike Trivisonno: “He was born in Cleveland, lives in Cleveland, he’ll die in Cleveland.”

Among other positioners cited by listeners:

  • “Radio for the rest of us” (used by everybody from Alternative to the gold-based Clear Channel Hot ACs that were predecessors to Adult Hits);
  • “Party Radio B96” (remembered there for its use at WBBM-FM Chicago, but a rallying cry in some form for much of Rhythmic Top 40). You can add B96’s “Killer B” nickname to that. B96 was also one of the stations that used “all kinds of music for all kinds of people.” Interestingly, that slogan sometimes ended up on the airwaves of stations that played no such thing (such as Modern ACs);
  • “The People’s Station”;
  • KDKA’s much copied “Pittsburgh is Something Special” (along with WKBW’s “friendly place,” there was also the “I Love You Philadelphia/Atlanta/etc.” campaign of the early ‘80s, and the “I’d rather be in _____” package). With more radio being big-group owned and using syndicated work parts, it’s not surprising that there’s less local pride in positioning. And yet, many of these were syndicated campaigns.
  • “WGN is Chicago”;
  • “WHUR sounds like Washington”; (Alpha is now using “sounds like” on several of their CHRs);
  • “Nova Sounds Different,” by the groundbreaking Australian CHR that, under traditional radio law, could have just focused on its then-unusual shorter stopsets policy;
  • CFNY Toronto’s “The Spirit of Radio,” thanks to Rush, one of two Toronto positioners that became rock songs; (the other was CJEZ’s “Your Music At Work,” more ironically adapted by the Tragically Hip as “My Music At Work”)
  • “Turn your knob to Bob” – Jaye Albright remembers being there at its inception for WBOB Minneapolis. It would have a second life thanks to Howard Kroeger at CFWM Winnipeg, the original Adult Hits “Bob FM.”

Next: The “….and now” part of our look at positioning of today and yesterday.

Sean Ross is author of the Ross on Radio newsletter and VP of music and programming of Edison Research.

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