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Airwaves: April 10, 2009

Movin’ to Spanish

Power 106 is an accident.

That may sound strange, but it’s true, and it has been true since the station made its debut in 1986. Power 106 is indeed an accident, and you can tell by virtue of two simple rules of thumb: they are successful, and they are owned by Emmis. For whatever else you can say about Emmis, knowing how to program a station is not one of their strong points.

You saw that when they programmed Magic 106, the precursor to Power. At a time when KIIS-FM (102.7 FM) ws setting the top-40 world on fire by playing the latest hits, Emmis upper management decreed that Magic would play it safe, and often would not add a new song to the playlist until it already peaked over at KIIS. Audience testing and research ruled the day.

It was this end-run that was going to make Magic successful. Right ... they were even late on adding Randy Newman’s I Love L. A. because the song didn’t test well in Indianapolis, Emmis’ home base. So when Power made its debut, its quick rise caught everyone by surprise. Emmis? Successful? Who would have thought?

And so it goes with Movin’ 93.9 FM. After dropping country in Summer 2006 by stating that the format had flatlined, they launched a heavily-researched format designed and marketed nationwide by Alan Burns from Alan Burns and Associates. Burnt dance music from the 1980s led by former KIIS-FM superstar Rick Dees, no real promotions, commercial sets that set records and a slogan -- “the all-new Movin’ 93.9, the mix that makes you move” -- that lasted 30 months. Exactly when does new get old? Certainly before 30 months. Guy Zapoleon was even brought in to consult the station, as if more research would help.

The results were what you would expect: ratings in the toilet.

Finally a few months ago they loosened up the mix a bit, adding a better variety of songs and began to steal some thunder from Jack-FM (93.1). They were still “all new,” and perhaps with the format adjustment they were. They became a really good station, actually, and the ratings, though still low, were on the rise. But Emmis couldn’t have that. So they’re giving up.

The last day for Movin’ 93.9 is next Tuesday, April 14th. As of April 15th, the station will be leased by Emmis to Grupo Radio Centro, owner of 14 stations in Mexico, and which will program it from Mexico. Leasing allows the deal to go forward in spite of laws U. S. against foreign media ownership, though part of the agreement requires the company to purchase the station, or find another buyer, in seven years.

Emmis gets $7 million per year ($14 million, or two-years worth now) to help it survive the radio downturn, while Grupo Radio Centro gets a damn good deal on a station if they can figure out a way around the ownership laws within seven years.

And while the loss of Movin’ will not be noticed much, it is a loss of future success as well as the loss of a great adult-alternative station on Movin’s HD-2 channel ... the format that Emmis should have run on the main channel when they saw the disastrous ratings of Movin’ itself. Probably not a big loss there, as I doubt many people besides me heard it. But still ...

Interestingly, I said many of the same things today that I did when I first wrote about Movin’ in August, 2006. It did outlast my prediction of a year, two tops. But barely, and never successfully. When, oh when, will radio executives listen? If not to me, perhaps to listeners who want more?

No word on where Dees goes from here.


Copyright © 2009 Richard Wagoner and Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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