The management of Lotus-owned KLPX FM 96.1 is hoping the guy who had a popular morning show on its sister alternative station with a weaker signal can pull the cluster's flagship out of a slump that probably ranks as the worst since the station went to its rock format in 1979.
KLPX has been one of the market's most consistent players, regularly landing in or near the Top 5 in the ratings. During that time, it's staved off a number of challengers to its classic-rock throne, earning it the coveted recognition of "legacy format." In other words, when people in Tucson think of classic rock on the radio, they tend to think of KLPX.
But after the station slotted Scott Barnett, and later co-host Adrienne Mackey, into its Wake-Up Call show during the morning drive, the ratings tanked faster than Van Halen when the band opted for that dude from Extreme to handle lead-singer duties.
Just last summer, KLPX had an Arbitron rating of 5.2 among listeners 12 and older. Inside a year, that number tumbled to 2.9, placing KLPX as the No. 10 in the market. That's even behind its most recent rock-format competitor, Citadel-owned KHYT FM 107.5, which switched to a classic-hits format a couple of years ago. In the last book, KLPX had the market's lowest ratings among stations with 100,000-watt FM signals.
For a station that has thrived on format stability, and much of the same playlist, for more than 30 years, the plummeting ratings had to be rather disconcerting.
So, big changes were made.
Lotus moved its popular Frank Show, hosted by Frank Brinsley, from alternative format KFMA FM 92.1/101.3 to the bigger signal, hoping the show's established fan base and the rock listeners already in tow will get KLPX back in the ratings game.
"It's an opportunity to grow the Frank Show, expose him to a new audience and put him on our strongest signal," said Lotus Tucson general manager Steve Groesbeck. "If you look at the numbers, Frank has a 7 share (among ages) 25-to-54. He ranks fourth in the marketplace. The former show (on KLPX) was seventh. He has almost double the audience 25-to-54 already."
KLPX listeners will notice minor tweaks in the station's music selection, Groesbeck said.
"It's a slight adjustment, probably a 15-to-20 song difference—a little less Eagles, a little more Ozzy," Groesbeck said.
Another way to put it: The music is still seasoned, but with a harder rock component.
"My thought all along is that the playlist at KLPX was oldies more than classic rock," said Brinsley via e-mail. "The Frank Show being on mornings is going to force music changes. My audience isn't going to stand for the same old dull routine, so we're working on making those changes. I explained on the air the other day that the station starts to take on the personality of the morning show that's driving the ratings. The 'stationality' will evolve, and I think everyone will enjoy a more palatable playlist, and I'm excited about the changes."
Change is not a new thing for Brinsley. He has participated in his share of morning-show reconstructions during his decade in the market. He replaced Jon Justice, who was part of the original John (Michael) and Jon morning tandem. It became the John and Frank Show, and when Michael left in 2002, it became the Frank Show, which now features a slew of sidekicks.
KFMA's raunchier morning-show approach garnered strong ratings on a station with a respected alternative format, but a weak FM signal. Conventional radio wisdom might suggest that KFMA move in one of a couple possible directions to maintain some sense of morning-show continuity: syndicate the Frank Show on both signals—"that was a fleeting thought," said Groesbeck—or find a morning show that could present a similar feel to what the Frank Show provided, since that approach has clearly been beneficial to the alternative station for the last 10 years.
But neither of those directions are in Lotus' plans.
"On KFMA, we're going back to a music-based show. The 18-to-34 target (market), music is an important part of their lives," Groesbeck said. "To go focus on the music, research tells us, is the smart thing to do. I'll have a person for a morning show, but it will be less personality-driven, and more musically driven. ... You look at the cumes (the number of people listening to a station at any given time), and in the primary cells, the midday and p.m. cume is stronger than (that of the) Frank Show, so it's really a function of getting those people who are more about the music ... more opportunity to listen. It's not that the morning show ... won't have any personality; it's just not (going to be) a personality-driven talk show. Instead of two songs an hour, they'll play eight."
Here's the Media Watch theory: KFMA is currently the No. 5 station in the market, and Lotus hopes the music audience will keep it afloat, because Lotus doesn't want to spend the money on a second morning show within the same cluster. DJs are cheaper, and the company is willing to sacrifice the growth of the smaller-signal station in order to return better ratings to the stronger station. It's all part of a budget balancing act, and a further example of terrestrial radio's continuing separation from the traditional morning show and its exorbitant salary requirements.
Morning drive is not the money-making home run it used to be. In the '90s, Tucson probably had in the neighborhood of 20 morning-show personalities who made good livings. Today, there might be a half-dozen.
Groesbeck promises a national morning-show search, but says the process hasn't yet gotten underway. In the meantime, Mackey is "board-opping KFMA in the mornings until we fill the position, and Scott Barnett is working PM drive on KLPX."
Larry Mac has been named to KLPX's program director following Chita's departure last month.