When Alan Michaels signed off yet again from his morning duties at oldies station KWFM AM 1450, he sounded like a man working very hard to maintain his composure while attempting to explain—to a largely older demographic—how the station they were enjoying was going to become a comedy station called Funny 1450 AM.
He then explained how they could keep listening to hits from the '50s and '60s on something called HD radio, which is now piggybacking its signal on the heels of a Spanish-music station, KTZR, Mia FM 97.1.
Michaels concluded what may be the end of his traditional terrestrial radio career with "Long and Winding Road" by The Beatles. For one of Tucson's most noteworthy radio voices, a long and winding road indeed it has been.
Michaels was a focal point of the hits-of-the-'50s-and-'60s format when it enjoyed a far greater popularity a quarter-century ago. Michaels transitioned with the format from its highwater days on AM 790, to its FM signal position on 92.9, and to the format's downturn on 1450 AM about a decade ago.
He was fired during Clear Channel's massive cutbacks two years ago, then rehired in a part-time capacity to handle the morning show on 1450. He'll stay on as the format transitions to HD.
On one hand, this makes Clear Channel the first cluster in the market to put a live voice on a high-definition radio piggyback signal. On the other hand, few people actually seem to really care about the HD piggyback signals, created a few years ago as a terrestrial-radio effort to compete with satellite radio. The HD piggyback signals have basically been utilized for small niche formats operated by little more than a computer program. If you want to listen to Michaels in the most traditional sense—by turning on the station while you're driving or at home—you'll have to own an HD radio to pick up the feed. Meanwhile, phone-app options have probably rendered the HD technology all but obsolete.
And now, in an apparent effort to reach a bizarre compromise, Clear Channel Tucson has bumped the station with the oldest demographic in its cluster to a location that requires some technological understanding.
The selling point for HD is better signal clarity. The enhanced digital signal improves FM's sound and removes the static and signal deterioration of AM. In some circles, it was considered the last hope for AM, the band most hurt by the infiltration of other entertainment options. However, at least in Tucson, the effort given to the HD piggyback signals—additional radio stations that broadcast on alternate frequencies; for example 97.1 FM broadcasts the Spanish-language music format, while 97.1.1 is the Spanish-language format in HD, and 97.1.2 broadcasts the oldies format—has amounted to little more than flipping a switch and letting music play. Interest in HD is so underwhelming that fellow radio cluster Citadel shut down its HD signals more than a year ago, and pretty much nobody noticed.
Clear Channel has been far and away the most aggressive radio company in its effort to market HD, and it's interesting that Michaels is the first live talent in Tucson to get a broadcast slot—his morning show—on the new tier. Whether the seemingly few listeners who actually have HD radio will bother to take the time to discover that remains to be seen.
Clear Channel has been tight-lipped about the move. Michaels also did not return comment requests.
The new station format, Funny 1450 AM, didn't exactly get off to a rousing start: After The Beatles had winded down their final road, the station flipped to six minutes of canned laughter. Those in radio understand that dead air, even for a few seconds, seems like an eternity. Now imagine six minutes of a torturously unfunny laugh track.
Funny 1450 is basically an automated stand-up comedy format. But Clear Channel will get the last laugh if the effort gains traction.
Clear Channel Top 40 station KRQQ FM 93.7 nabbed the No. 1 spot in the Arbitron ratings for fall 2010.
KRQQ registered a 9.7 share (percentage of the listening audience) among listeners 12 and older. By comparison, its fall 2009 share was 6.4.
Journal radio stalwart KMXZ FM 94.9 delivered a strong 9.4 number to come in second. Citadel-owned KIIM FM 99.5 was third with an 8.2 share.
Those three stations have occupied the top spots in the market for years.
At the next tier, Lotus-owned stations KCMT FM 102.1 (5.8), KLPX 96.1 FM (4.1) and KFMA 92.1 FM (4.1) occupied the next three spots among commercial stations. KCMT's "La Caliente" continues to separate itself as the Spanish-language music format of choice in the market. Classic rocker KLPX may have leveled off from its dramatic slide over the last couple of years, but whether it returns to more familiar territory in the six-share range is still uncertain.
KNST AM 790 (3.8) placed seventh and extended its lead over FM talk competitor KQTH FM 104.1 (2.7) by more than a share.
KOHT FM 98.3 (3.7) and KHYT FM 107.5 (3.5) rounded out the top 10. KOHT's numbers have slipped in four consecutive books.
Other notables: Citadel-owned KTUC AM 1400 delivered a 2.6, far and away the dominant tally among oldies stations, and possibly a reason that AM 1450 (1.1) made the format change. KCUB AM 1290 had one of the biggest positive moves in the market. The sports/talk format, which employs me for UA football and men's basketball pre and postgame shows, jumped to 1.6, its best showing in more than a year. Much, if not all, of that boost can be attributed to UA sports broadcasts, but the number was still .6 better than the same book a year ago. Journal-owned sports format KFFN AM 1490 had a .8 rating, down a third from the same time a year ago.