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Radio AM to FM: March 4, 2005

Future Shock

I have seen the future of radio. And it isn't pretty.

Last weekend, I went with my wife to meet up with some of her old Marymount High School friends. They tend to get together every few months, unlike my old high school friends who think we're doing great if we meet up every two years or so (everyone lives so far away from each other, like Torrance and Orange County ...)

In any event, as often happens when I am at a party, the subject of radio came up. Only this time, I was not part of the conversation, merely an observer. The teenage son of the host and hostess was about to leave the house to play Midnight Ultimate Frisbee with his friend when one of our crowd mentioned something about listening to the radio.

"Not that there's anything worth listening to," replied one of the Marymount girls. "Oh, no," agreed the young man, "there is nothing good on the radio any more."

"Try Indie 103.1," added someone else. "I've heard about it, but we can't even get it here," said the young man, admitting, "My friends all listen to CDs and MP3s."

So, in a room filled with 11 people, ranging in age from 10 to 41, the vast majority said they rarely listen to the radio, and of those two who did, the station they preferred is an alternative station with a fuzzy future (see below).

If that wasn't a wake up call for programmers, I don't know what is.

Indie 103.1

They call it Indie, but they're owned by a huge Hispanic broadcasting empire and programmed under a joint marketing agreement by the largest radio company in the world.

And still, Rolling Stone Magazine called Indie 103.1 "America's coolest commercial station," due to its wildly different alternative and indie-rock format.

That very format may be in jeopardy, as Clear Channel -- the driving force in launching and maintaining the format under the marketing agreement -- is being forced to sever its ties with station owner Entravision, due to new FCC rules.

Under old rules, Joint Marketing and similar agreements were not counted toward a company's cap of eight stations per market. New rules say they are counted, and that makes Indie 103.1 Clear Channel's ninth station in Los Angeles ... one over the cap.

So, as of April 1st, Clear Channel will have nothing to do with Indie 103.1. No longer will the phenomenally successful sales department of Clear Channel Los Angeles have the ability to sell ads for the station; Entravision will have to do that on its own.

Which leave the future of the station somewhat in limbo. Will Entravision support the format which, while not highly rated still competed well against Arrow 93and KLOSin a key ratings demo last quarter (25-34 year olds)? Perhaps. And here's why:

Indie has its format to itself. It is not a KROQ clone, even though the two stations are often compared. Indie 103.1 listeners are viscously loyal, Indie being one of the few stations that people actually admit to listening and try to get their friends to listen. That's good for advertisers, who then have loyalty, exclusivity, and in this case, generally upper-income demographics.

Is that enough? Can Indie survive independent from Clear Channel, or will Entravision bring back the KDL dance format that ran on 103.1 until 14 months ago? Its too early to tell. But honestly, I would not be surprised either way.


Copyright © 2005 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.

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