More Fish

4/16/93

Under the heading, “How Bad Can It Get?”, this week’s answer is WRBQ.

Less than five short years ago, WRBQ was one of the quintessential Top 40 radio stations in the country of which few could compare. At one point, Arbitron listed the station number one in every demo in every daypart. It was a heritage radio station in every sense of the word.

Conceived by Scott Shannon in the late ‘70s, the station soon became a monster. It was a hothouse for growth and a proving ground for some of the nation’s top talent. As with most legends, it was also the product of a lot of luck. Were it not for a negotiating ploy, Shannon might not have even done an air shift. He and management were a few thousand dollars apart, so Shannon solved the difference by agreeing to do a two-hour shift from 10 am until Noon. He had a good time playing his favorite oldies and before he (or anyone else knew it), a legend was born. Shannon’s show became so successful that he segued into mornings and the rest, as they say, is history.

Shannon was helped immensely by his talented afternoon-drive redneck Mason “Leroy” Dixon and research maven Randy Kabrich. After Scott left for New York, Mason and Randy guided the station into a higher stratosphere.

There was much joy in Tampa/St. Pete-ville. Under their tutelage and a management team that promoted and positioned, WRBQ became the yardstick by which all other stations in the nation were compared. And few measured up.

Then came the frontal assault by the Power Pig. WRBQ underestimated its vulnerability, which caused an immediate audience erosion and a massive shift in direction. Blinded by the napalm carpet bombing of its competition, the once mighty “Q” began to slip. However, its failing was only in comparison to what they once were. Guided by different program directors and general managers, Q105 still managed a healthy share of the Tampa audience.

Its inevitable sale…and the more inevitable debt service…further robbed Q105 of its ability to react competitively. On even ground, its mistakes began to magnify. Some adjustment was certainly needed…but not abandonment.

Q105’s top brass struggled to find a happy medium. Attacking overhead was their first move. Cutting Kabrich loose and letting Dixon and other air personalities leave acerbated the problem. But the final blow came last week.

WRBQ changed formats: it is now “Young Country.”

Are we surprised? No.

A smarter man than I once said that you’ll never be surprised by underestimating the intelligence and long-range planning of radio station general managers. Since then, I haven’t…and I haven’t.

Our industry seems to be infested with people in management positions who blame their lack of success on everything but their own inability to succeed. How can owners across the country be confident that managers and program directors who fail in one format will succeed in another? How can they continue to fall for the “format of the month” extolled by consultants and managers? Is there a plan here…like a five-year plan for success?

Five months maybe?

Would you believe…five weeks?

How about until I get my next check.

Here’s a question: How long will “Young Country” last? When it grows up. Then what? Back to Top 40?

Picture a Vice President of Promotion telling the President of a record company that he can’t promote Top 40 records any more. He can only promote Country records because that’s what the audience seems to be buying now. That would never happen.

What is wrong with this picture?

This is not meant to pick on WRBQ’s current management. Admittedly, they weren’t in place when the erosion began. Maybe they are committed to the long-term success of the station in this new format. Maybe they will stick with building the station no matter how the market reacts or how difficult it might be to compete. Maybe they studied long and hard before they made the decision to change and their reasons are grounded in concrete.

If this is the case, then they’re one of the few.

But there are too many stations changing because those in charge aren’t competent. And they’re not capable of accepting blame and seeking the knowledge to change.

We’ll miss WRBQ…and all it stood for. But we are content in the knowledge that there are others out there striving to be the classic Q105 of the future. We’re with you. And as a magazine that seeks to provide the knowledge that you’ll need to climb the ladder to success, we accept the challenge of joining with you to change the phase of radio.

Top 40 is alive. But many who manage and program the format are brain dead.

In three weeks, we’ll adjust to the needs of those who are alive and alert.

The Network Forty…your magazine for the ‘90s and beyond.

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