Goooood morning, Washington! It's a few minutes after the hour on a bright, sunny day, traffic is light on the Beltway and we're playing all the hits you want to hear.
Here's a golden oldie that just fell off the local radio charts. Remember Q-107? WRQX-FM (107.3)? Fast-talking, hard-rocking Top-40 at its best. Lots of contests. Music by Poison. M.C. Hammer. Motley Crue. Guns 'N Roses. All the hits, all the time, for 12 years.
You probably listened to Q-107 in high school. That's exactly why it stopped being a hit: All you teenage guys and gals out there may be good for advertisers like Clearasil and Nintendo, but you don't draw the big ad bucks that a radio station needs to be successful in a competitive radio town like D.C.
But here's a new ditty, ready to crack the local ratings charts: Mix 107.3. It's at the same spot on the dial as Q-107, and it sounds a little bit the same. But there's no hard rock. No rap. No wild and crazy DJs.
What there is is plenty of Phil Collins, Wilson Phillips and Don Henley, with a little Mariah Carey and Billy Idol thrown in to keep things moving.
In the radio biz, this new sound is called "Hot Adult Contemporary" -- Hot AC for short -- and some people believe it's headed straight for the top. Forget teenagers. This is radio for grown-ups, specifically women between 25 and 34. A solid-gold audience. Gold cards, that is.
"We had to completely change the image and perception of the radio station," said Lorrin Palagi, WRQX's program director, who oversaw the shift in formats from Q-107 to Mix 107.3. "We developed some problems in that the radio station was such a teen-dominated station. ... We realized we needed some more adult listeners, because that was where the greatest segment of the audience was and where the buying power was."
Sounds like a good time to take a break for some business news. For Capital Cities/ABC Inc., the New York-based media conglomerate that owns WRQX, along with Washington's WMAL-AM (630), 19 other radio stations around the nation and the ABC television and radio networks, the switch to Mix 107.3 is an expensive bet.
General Manager Maureen LeSourd said the changeover is costing just under $1 million. That's big money for a station whose annual revenue is about $6.5 million. But there are other numbers that seem to justify the make-over.
Not long ago, Q-107 was a big hit in the Washington market, consistently among the most popular stations in town. But a few years ago, it began sliding down the charts. The station wound up in the middle of the ratings pack this past summer with 3.3 percent of the local radio audience, about two-thirds the total of a year earlier and well below its previous highs.
"With our audience erosion, we couldn't sit back and do nothing," said Palagi, who along with LeSourd joined WRQX a couple of years ago and began thinking about a new sound almost from the start. Mix 107.3 is the result of some extensive surveying of the Washington market, including two sessions with theaters full of potential listeners who were asked their opinions on what they wanted to hear, right down to specific songs.
"The women that we tested seemed to say that they liked music that wasn't too light ... and they liked music that wasn't hard," LeSourd said.
"We saw a large segment of listeners in this audience that weren't being served ... by the adult contemporary stations in this market or by the Top-40 stations," Palagi said. "They wanted a combination of both." A Mix. Get it?
"What we don't do is probably as important as what we do," Palagi said. "We no longer play hard-edged rock records. We no longer play rap records. We essentially smooth off the edges of a good adult contemporary Top-40 station."
Here's some traffic news: "We got the radio station on the air in a very short period of time," Palagi said. Concerned about rumors that another station in town was contemplating its own Hot AC format, WRQX was on the air with its new format on Aug. 31, just three weeks after Palagi and LeSourd decided to make the switch.
Wait -- this just in: Mix-107 may be getting ready to climb up the charts, but not everybody is wild about it. "There are several stations in the market that are doing what Q-107 is doing, or parts of what Q-107 is doing," said Alan Goodman, general manager of WAVA-FM (105.1), which is sticking with its Top-40 sound.
Another competitor, Ben Hill, general manager of WPGC-FM (95.5), which plays more black-oriented hits, said, "It's a subtle change. ... I'm not sure that listeners are going to notice enough impact to make a difference."
A radio industry consultant agrees. "It's not a major format change, it's kind of a realignment," said James Duncan Jr., editor and publisher of American Radio, an Indianapolis-based quarterly radio industry directory.
Still, Duncan noted, the move away from Top-40 into a sound that will attract older listeners goes beyond WRQX. The number of Top-40 stations in the United States has been declining for years, and adult contemporary, in all its variations, has become the most popular sound.
And now a word from the sponsors: Although WRQX has lost some teen-oriented advertisers, station officials say they've also picked up some more adult-directed sponsors, including banks, jewelry stores, hospitals and all three local lotteries. But LeSourd concedes that many potential advertisers are waiting. "Many buyers still feel that it is unproven," she said.
The first quarterly ratings on the new sound are due in January, but Palagi said it may take a couple of ratings periods before the station can figure out if it's a hit.
He said, "You're changing out one audience and replacing them with another."
Don't touch that dial. We'll be back with a long-distance dedication right after this. ...