WLUP Changes Format To Attack WDRV

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Posted by The Noise Is Gone on January 24, 2011 at 00:48:10:

The Loop firing blanks in battle with the Drive over classic rock
Posted on January 24th, 2011 @ 12:00 am

Imagine starting a war when you have no ammunition.

That’s what Emmis Communications did in Chicago over the weekend when it abruptly switched the format of WLUP-FM (97.9) from hard rock to classic rock. Loop listeners woke up Saturday morning to hear Doobie Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, Foreigner and Journey in place of AC/DC, Metallica, Rush and Ozzy Osbourne. Overnight “Chicago’s Rock Station” had rechristened itself “Chicago’s Classic Rock.”

It’s no coincidence that the move came just three days after Bonneville International announced the sale of Chicago’s leading classic rocker, WDRV-FM (97.1), in a package deal with hot adult-contemporary WTMX-FM (101.9), adult contemporary WILV-FM (100.3) and 14 other stations to Hubbard Broadcasting for $505 million. The blockbuster transaction only served to underscore how much less the Loop and Emmis’ other distressed properties are worth these days.

I hate to break the news to them, but if the folks at Emmis think they have a prayer of mounting any real challenge to the Drive, they’re delusional.

After 10 years of refining and perfecting its format, the Drive is so well-programmed, so well-promoted and so well-managed that it’s folly to think it could be vulnerable to a pale imitator. In terms of air talent alone, it’s not even fair to compare the Drive’s lineup of Steve Downes, Bob Stroud, Bobby Skafish and Phil Manicki with the Loop’s Pete McMurray, Pat Capone, John “Byrd” Kempf and Walter Flakus.

Even if Emmis were serious about competing — which I truly doubt — the company has no money to back it up. In the wake of its disastrous attempt to go private last year, Emmis is in such dire straits that if it doesn’t unload the Loop and alternative rock sister station WKQX-FM (101.1) in the next seven months, it is unlikely to avoid a default. Although both stations have been on the market for more than a year, no one has come forward with an offer. Now analysts believe the favorable deal Hubbard made with Bonneville last week will drive the value of Emmis’ stations even lower.

Under current management, the Loop and Q101 have become mere echoes of their past glory. Throughout all of the 1980s and much of the ’90s, they were two of Chicago’s hottest and most influential radio brands. Today, they’re a couple of also-rans — ranked 17th and 18th, respectively, in the December Arbitron survey among listeners in the 25-to-54 age demo that defines success in the industry.

The best thing Emmis can do is to cut its losses and unload the Loop and Q101 already. Veteran programmer Mike Stern, who was vice president of programming at the two stations before he became an editor at the former Radio & Records and, more recently, a radio talent consultant, declared the war with Bonneville over before it even started. Said Stern:

“Hopefully any buyer will be in a healthier financial state and be able to invest more in the two properties. Emmis’ ongoing financial struggle has resulted in marketing budgets being cut completely. That’s not uncommon in radio today, but Bonneville’s strong commitment to marketing WDRV and WTMX has left the playing field anything but level. I think it would be great for the listeners if a new owner meant Q101 and the Loop were in a position to really compete.”

As long as Emmis continues to substitute smoke and mirrors for competent management, creative programming and tangible marketing, the Drive and the rest of its competitors have nothing to worry about.

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