An Insiders Note on Fort Wayne Radio in 2014
First a bit of background. I work for a radio station in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
I’ve worked in this business since I was in high school with a couple of breaks, but this has been my chosen career field time and time again.
I work for News/Talk 1190 WOWO 92.3 FM as one of 5 radio advertising sales account managers. That’s a mouth full, but what I do is help businesses create advertising and marketing plans to invite our listeners to do business with them. It’s that simple. You can reach me at Scott@WOWO.com . I’ll tell you more later, but this isn’t about me.
This year there have been several changes occur at some of the radio stations in Fort Wayne.
The one that inspired me to write this is the change that occurred today with WXKE, more commonly known as ROCK 104. Today they debuted on a new frequency, 96.3 FM. and they are dropping the ROCK 104 name and becoming 963XKE. It rolls off the tongue pretty easily, but there are lots of outspoken people on Facebook who are upset that there will no longer be a ROCK 104.
My insider status surfaces again. In 2003, I returned to Fort Wayne radio on the advertising side. All of my previous Fort Wayne radio experience was on the air and in management. 2003 was the year I was hired by Karen Travis as one of 6 new advertising sales people who joined the 6 she already had. Travis Broadcasting was formed when Karen and her husband Bob bought out two radio groups which included WXKE, WGL, and others at 94.1 FM, 96.3 FM, 102.3 FM and 1o2.9 FM. The Travis’s came to town to shake things up and make money.
They were the ones who took ROCK 104 off the air the first time and moved the air staff to either Classic Rock Z-94.1 or a New Rock formated 96.3 which moved to X-102 and eventually went away. Travis Broadcasting became Summit City Radio when Karen and Bob left and were replaced by Kris Foate and more radio format changes. Kris was replaced with Lloyd Roach for about a year and it was during Lloyd’s tenure that ROCK 104 returned. We sold off the 102.3 FM and 94.1 FM signals and on Labor Day weekend 2005, brought ROCK 104 back to 103.9 FM as the Home of Rock and Roll.
By the way, ROCK 104 debuted in the 1970’s when we still had knobs on our radios and tuning in a station was not as precise as it became once we had digital tuners. That’s why it was called ROCK 104, not ROCK 103.9.
I spent 8 years at Travis Broadcasting/Summit City Radio from 2003 until I was lured away in the summer of 2011 and remained friends with some of my co-workers. Except for the WXKE airstaff of Doc West, JJ Fabini and Jason Lee, I was there longer than anyone during that time.
Doc, JJ and Jason understood the balance of what makes a radio station successful. First off you have to make money to pay the bills. To make money you need listeners to tune in and advertisers who pay to reach those listeners and invite them to do business with you.
Radio broadcasting has been around forever it seems and what has helped it survive and thrive, (keep an audience and local advertisers), is to be relevant for the communities they serve. You and I have so many options to find the music we want to listen to and a local radio station is just one of those options.
How does a radio station, especially a music radio station stay relevant? They need that local content and connection. Which brings me back to what I heard this morning when I tuned into 963XKE.
I heard song after song after song without the local personalities that made ROCK 104, “More than a radio station, but a way of life” as they used to say. Finally after about 45 minutes I heard a recorded announcement from JJ saying that he and Doc and Jason were taking a little break from the airwaves and would be back soon once they had learned to say 963XKE instead of ROCK 104.
Sorry my friend, but this is not the best way to debut a new chapter in radio history. By removing the one element that gave the radio station it’s personality, that being the human personalities, even for a few weeks, you are destroying what your listeners loved that they could not get anywhere else.
Now I know, I am an insider due to being in this business and having worked with these guys in the past and watching very closely the whole marketing and public relations side of all of this.
Why the change from 103.9 to 96.3? An ownership change took place again and some folks from out of town bought two radio groups, Summit and Oasis. They are now consolidated under the Adams Radio Group. And as outsiders they probably believe they know how to do it better than the locals in town have been doing it. We will see. I’ve been through that before and it didn’t work before. From what I’m seeing today, I don’t think they are handling this very well.
First off the Adams group made some wholesale changes with more to come:
- WILD 96.3 FM’s air staff was let go. Their arch-rival has been HOT 107.9 which Adams also bought. Some of the HOT 107 folks are gone and one of WILD’s personalities joins HOT 107.
- WGL-AM/FM was trashed. The FM was sold or traded and the AM is now airing Fox Sports. Again. We did that on WGL AM once about a decade ago.
- WXKE is the lone survivor, sort of. This is the ROCK 104 that is no more. Will they resurface successfully on 96.3 this summer? Only if they add the local stuff soon and get their online presence fixed. As I was writing this, it was screwed up and incomplete. They have the potential but I am surprised that with all of the build up, promoting for 11 days, “New Tower and More Power” that they are limping along right now. If they were a reality show contestant, they wouldn’t survive the first round.
- 103.9 FM. We don’t know what will end up on the old ROCK 104 frequency yet. Today they were broadcasting the 963XKE on both 103.9FM and 96.3FM.
- 1450 AM is a new frequency Adams received in a swap for one of the extra FM signals they had to get rid of. Don’t know or care what they put on this station.
- 106.3 FM was an ever changing radio format that came from the Oasis side that they also sold/traded away.
- HOT 107.9 stays on the air but with promises to make it more mainstream which will annoy their loyal listeners.
- WBTU 93.3 FM has been a country station for decades but under different owners and managers has struggled with their identity. New tweaks to their country format are in store.
- FM Translators are also included in the mix. This is a weird sort of station that has limited reach and are probably going to be used to rebroadcast some of the other stations.
That’s the current situation with the purchase and take over by the Adams Radio Group in Fort Wayne. But that’s not the only change. Another station I worked for WAJI 95.1 changed their name this spring. After 20+ years as MAJIC 95, they became 95.1 BEST FM. They lost their long time morning show host Dirk who moved to TV and are attempting to reinvent themselves, but again they are more of a jukebox, “playing 10 songs in a row”, instead of giving local listeners a local reason to listen.
That’s my insiders note on the Fort Wayne radio scene. Over the weekend I was asking “normal people” what they thought of the changes and unless they were listeners to one of the stations that was being affected, they really didn’t care. Many didn’t even know about the changes.
Which brings me to my final point. I mentioned I joined WOWO Radio last year. WOWO is part of Federated Media, an Indiana based media company that includes WMEE, K-105, The Bear and ESPN Radio in Fort Wayne plus stations in Warsaw and the South Bend area. We also have a newspaper company and web services division. I worked for Federated Media 30 year ago on the air at WMEE.
These new radio stations and changes will have zero impact on what I do with WOWO as we are a news talk radio station that has more listeners than anyone. If you like Country, Hip Hop, Classic Rock, or Oldies, you can listen to us too since we don’t play music. We are here to inform, engage, entertain and talk with you. Our purpose is not to numb your brain, but to feed it, and our listeners range from pre-teens to their 90’s.
I wish the best for my former coworkers and friends at the other stations and may your owners listen to your listeners and allow you to create a reason to tune in.