Are “Stealth” Format Changes A Thing Of The Past?


(By Gary Berkowitz) Format changes are nothing new to radio. But when three stations all change format in one market, on one day, now that’s news!

That is what happened last week in Detroit. But that’s not the real story. The real story is how it was done. Typically, format changes are done stealth. Nobody knows. They just happen. One day you are hearing Celine Dion, the next, Nirvana. But not this time.

Detroit sits just south of the Canadian border. Windsor, Ontario is just across the river. That’s where Bell Media operates CIMX and CIDR. For years, 89X (CIMX) was the hot alternative station in Detroit. Led by Dave & Chuck the Freak in the morning, they had strong numbers in the Motor City. But when the morning show left to go across the street to Rock WRIF, so did most of their ratings dominance. CIDR (The River) has had many formats over the years including an attempt to resurrect the old CKLW at one point. Their 93.9 signal is fair in Detroit and they have been doing a Triple-A format for the past few years, not scoring well in ratings.

When the time came for a format change on both stations, they did something unique. Instead of hiding it, they announced that they were changing format on both stations as well as the actual day and time it would take place. They went as far to says that “If you like the music we play now, you probably won’t like our new format.” Unheard of. Very 2020 authentic. The result was a tremendous amount of TV coverage. Every Detroit TV station carried the story that the flip was going to happen. Then once it happened, they ran the story about the new formats. The morning after the flips, there was a prominent story on the front cover of the Detroit Free Press as well as follow up TV. Coverage that money could not buy. The kind of coverage radio used to get, but, for the most part, no longer does. Pretty impressive.

So what happened? CIMX (89X) went from Alt to country and The River went from Triple-A to CHR. But then the best part happened. Stealth Format Changes On the same day that both Bell stations changed, Entercom flipped soft AC, The Breeze (big signal) to Alt 98.7, picking up the abandoned Alternative format that was on 89X. It all happened so fast that it makes you wonder. Did Bell and Entercom maybe discuss first?

So now Detroit has 3 country stations, 2 CHR’s and once again, 1 Alt rock station. So what’s the take-away? Maybe the idea of “stealth” format changes needs to be looked at versus letting people know. Building real intrigue and getting a lot of free press at the same time.

Format changes, not a big deal. But three in one day, all in one market, now that’s news. And making it public up front, now that’s a headline. Something to think about when a format change is in your future.

Gary Berkowitz specializes in ratings improvement for AC and Classic Hits radio stations: Gary can be reached at (248) 737-3727 or [email protected] 


  1. The problem with pre-announcing a format change, is that your competitor might beat you too it with the same format.

    • The way that Entercom has chosen to ‘nationalize’ the alt rock (and country) format will end up being a failure, I predict. Here in the DFW market, I was very happy to see the return of alt rock by Entercom, about a year after iHeart killed the format. Then, Entercom ruined ‘Alt 103.7’ in Dallas with its nationally-programmed strategy. The local jocks were fired.

      And, the new ‘2-minute’ commercial stop-set policy is a fraud, since the station only gets in two or three songs, and then listeners get hit with another stop set. A couple of songs, and then another stop set. And on and on. I finally stopped listening to ‘Alt 103.7’ and now go to other stations, out of market, or to other streaming options for my alt rock fix.

      Way to go, Entercom. You’re blowing it!


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