A Plan To Fix Cumulus Part 1
As Mary Berner gets settled into her office at Penn Plaza, I thought I’d give her a hand with some suggestions to help get her started on where to place her focus as Cumulus is rebuilt without the influence of the Dickey Brothers.
As the 2016 Presidential Election season kicks into high gear, the former core ABC owned stations will be looked upon to increase revenue. In the October PPM ratings released this week the big Cumulus stations pulled the following shares: 770 WABC New York 1.6, 790 KABC Los Angeles 0.5, 890 WLS Chicago 1.9, 560 KSFO and 810 KGO San Francisco 1.9 each, 820 WBAP Dallas 2.8, 570 KLIF Dallas 0.3, 630 WMAL/105.9 WMAL-FM Washington 4.5, 106.7 WYAY Atlanta 1.4, and 760 WJR Detroit 5.0. The Dickeys spent lots of time tinkering with their Talkers over the past few years just to see them plummet in the ratings.
From a revenue standpoint fixing WABC will take precedence due to the importance of New York on a local and national scale. If WABC gets turned around it may help Wall Street begin to look at what Berner is doing and help Cumulus’ stock. Where to start? Right now the station has nothing that sticks out as compelling programming to people under the age of 60. With over 16% of New York’s radio listening still coming from the AM band there are still listeners out there (unlike many other markets). The station needs voices that will generate buzz in both the market and social media as well as expand the potential audience away from older conservatives.
So who to get? There just happens to be two unemployed voices in New York that fit the bill: Keith Olbermann and Anthony Cumia. Would either of them want to return to radio? Money talks. Cumia took a hard turn towards being an Ultra-Conservative voice in the latter days of the Opie & Anthony Show and always had a great relationship with Imus. Would he consider joining Imus’ show as a co-host through the 2016 election and then take over the show afterwards to allow a seamless transition. Cumulus could take over ad sales of Cumia’s podcast network and perhaps use those voices for weekend shows.
Back up the truck to bring in Olbermann for afternoons. Like Rush Limbaugh in his peak in the 1990’s, listeners that disagree with him (coming from the Liberal side) may tune in just to argue with him. With the freedom to mix politics and sports, he could also help WABC take listeners away from WFAN’s Mike Francesa. Once the drive-times are stabilized, find local hosts for middays and nights that fit the new aggressive, buzz-filled lineup. Phase out infomercials on the weekends to create a consistent Talk sound focusing on Men 35-54 with a political lean that can also stretch into other topics.
KABC and WLS have begun to move in that direction, but KGO San Francisco and WBAP Dallas also have to worry about not hurting their successful sister Sports and syndicated Conservative Talk stations. In those markets find voices that can focus on local issues with a broader demographic base. Create the types of programming that only radio can do on a local level to reach broader audiences.
What is Nash? Is it a national radio network? Group of local radio stations all sharing common branding? Record label? Magazine? Television production?
With Cumulus intending to return some control of local programming to the programmers the company needs to figure out what exactly they expect out of Nash and Nash Icon. If the stations are forced to carry America’s Morning Show, Nash Nights Live, and Kix Brooks that leaves only nine hours of weekday programming coming from the local markets. The Nash Icon programming features 24 hours of content originating out of Nashville. Meanwhile if some stations like WKHX Atlanta, WCTO Allentown, and WIVK Knoxville were too important to rebrand as “Nash” then how did you expect management at stations forced to take the Nash branding and programming to care about promoting and selling these initiatives to the staff? It needs to be all or nothing, not the half-assed approach that the company has taken.
Again let’s start the focus in New York. 94.7 WNSH was the first station to launch with the “Nash” identity and as it comes upon its third birthday in January it has yet to settle above a two share nor get its CUME above a million people. Again if local markets are being given control of programming and the company is truly behind the Nash brand perhaps it is time to see if a local morning show would help turn the tide. How about pairing WNSH midday host Kelly Ford with sister WPLJ midday host Race Taylor? Giving Country artists a platform to perform and appear talking to just New Yorkers could help more than the national platform that America’s Morning Show could give.
If the company is not fully behind Country anymore, then go fill the gaping Alternative hole in the market. New York has no music stations targeting Men 18-44. The last time the format appeared in the market as a placeholder between the demise of “FM News 101.9” and the Merlin Media sale of that station to CBS, “New Rock 101.9” surged to a 3.2 share 6+ only with word of mouth promotion. Duplicate the success the company has had with 101.1 WKQX Chicago and run with it.
It’s a fad. Radio-One quickly realized the format had no lasting power. After 93.9 WRWM Indianapolis surged to the top of the market soon after its launch, Cumulus began flipping stations across the country to Classic Hip-Hop. Just a few months later WRWM has lost over half of the audience it had at its peak. What will be Cumulus’ end-game? Can they evolve all the new Vibes, Beats and OGs to something longer lasting? Minneapolis is a market currently with two Classic Hip-Hop stations but no current Rhythmic station. Greater Media’s WBQT Boston and Entercom’s KRBQ San Francisco/KHTP Seattle have shown consistency without focusing completely on Classic Hip-Hop.
In Part 2 we’ll look at things that can be done with Westwood One, CBS Sports Radio, Rdio, and national integrations.