Our story about former New York City powerhouse WPLJ struck a nerve with readers Tuesday. Many of you took time to comment on the story here and send notes to the experts we quoted. We’re sharing the story again because we thought you’d be interested in reading the comments from your colleagues. And, thanks to BIA, we’ve added WPLJ’s estimated revenue from 2010 to 2017.
2015: $ 8,975,000
And here’s our story from yesterday. Take a look at the comments that follow the story.
When Educational Media Foundation takes over WPLJ-FM in New York, once the deal to purchase the station from Cumulus closes around May or June, the new format will be EMF’s K-LOVE brand. There are no plans for an LMA before that and Cumulus is planning a special tribute as the station approaches its final days on-air. That will bring to an end a long and, at one time, very successful New York City radio brands. WPLJ launched back in 1971 and enjoyed decades of success. What went wrong?
To answer that question, we turned to three smart programming minds: AC Radio Programming Consultant Gary Berkowitz, former WABC Program Director and current Salem Media Spoken Word VP Phil Boyce, and www.wowfactorradio.com CEO, John Sebastian, who spent a portion of his long career at WPLJ. We asked all three how a station so successful can fall so hard?
Berkowitz says it was a slow and steady decline for the station. “Slow (but steady) slippage is what worries me most with radio stations. The PLJ fall happened over a long period of time. It really took a turn for the worse when they lost Scott Shannon (to CBS-FM). Losing him both on and off the air affected them negatively. Their morning numbers did not hold up nor did they rebound. I used to frequently hear (about PLJ) that despite the ratings, they had great billing. Well, that can only last just so long and its usually never a good sign for the longevity of the station, its brand or its ratings.”
Boyce agrees with Berkowitz that the nail WPLJ’s coffin was the departure with Scott Shannon who retired from WPLJ in 2014 after a 23-year run at the station. “Did they really think WPLJ could withstand the loss of Scott Shannon and survive, or WABC withstand the lost of both Rush and Sean and survive? I didn’t. It took a few years but look what happened. Listeners have a vote in these things. They voted, and the stations lost because at the end of the day, the personalities are bigger than the station, not the other way around.” Shannon was working across the street at WCBS-FM, hosting mornings, one month later.
Sebastian consulted the station in the 80’s. “The sale of WPLJ and imminent change of format is a microcosm of what’s so very wrong with the radio biz. Through various format changes over the years and neglect of basic station needs for success, this heritage radio station with legendary call letters will be no more. It’s a shame, on so many levels. WPLJ has meant so much to many New Yorkers for decades. PLJ has a full competitive signal covering the market, yet, in recent times it’s been one of the worst performing FM stations in the NY radio market. In many ways, WPLJ’s demise is a tragedy to me personally not to mention to hundreds of thousands of listeners, for many, during their entire lifespan.”
Boyce tells Radio Ink this is what happens when you don’t really understand what makes a station tick. “What has happened to both WPLJ and WABC is sad and was quite avoidable. But it’s not just these two stations. Lot’s of formerly great stations have lost their way, and the stations are not willing or able to make the moves that would fix it. In most of these cases they started to tinker with success, and accidentally pulled the legs out from under the station.”
According to Berkowitz, when Capital Cities/ABC owned PLJ, they took a decided turn to go full speed ahead CHR, against Z100. “At that time, not only were the ratings good, but they had a solid position in NY. As time went on and they decided to “go more adult” that’s where, in my opinion, the trouble started. Z100 was the CHR leader and WLTW was the AC leader. PLJ got stuck in between those two, not to mention what happened when we put Fresh 102.7 on. There’s an expression. “When you don’t stand for something, you stand for nothing” and that is what caused the PLJ downturn.”
So how do you prevent this from happening at your station? Berkowitz says by insisting your station have a strong and definitive position. “Hybrid formats are always a problem, especially when you’re in a market like NY where you have many, clearly defined radio stations. Again, the problems really get exaggerated when the ratings are slipping but the billing is good and upper management is ok with that. It puts programmers in “safe mode” where there is a whole different kind of pressure on them.”