Media Watch


There's nothing wrong with hoping that the company that cuts you a paycheck does well. It would be nice to see radio-conglomerate Cumulus come into the market and show signs of success, but I admit being a bit baffled by its first major Tucson move since taking the reins from failed Citadel Broadcasting last year.

Late last week, a Cumulus representative made his first appearance in Tucson since the changeover, using a format switch as an opportunity to meet with members of the staff. That format flip occurred at underperforming KSZR 97.5 FM, so-called BOB FM. But instead of shaking up the market or taking a stab at something unconventional, Cumulus made the curious decision to bounce BOB in favor of a Top 40 format. (Cumulus employs me on UA Wildcats pregame and postgame shows on KCUB AM 1290.)

First off, the BOB format—a milquetoast collection of hits of the '80s, '90s and today sort of thing—floundered. It was also undermaintained. I'm not sure anyone actually stepped foot into the BOB studio within the last year. That's a shame, because it's a really nice studio, with upgraded tile and everything.

The station, operated by computer, has changed its moniker to i97-5 FM. There's no indication at this stage that i97-5 plans to add actual humanity to the proceedings, but the computer might have some free space, because a typical Top 40 playlist checks in at around 14 songs in the rotation. This is a somewhat entertaining irony, because i97-5 is in the midst of a 10,000-songs-in-a-row station launch. By my math, LMFAO might get about 800 plays before the first commercial break.

Beyond following Cumulus' one-size-fits-all radio-cluster approach (Cumulus seems to have a Top 40 station in every city where it has a presence), the move appears to make very little sense for Tucson. For starters, there's another Top 40 station in the market, and Clear Channel-owned KRQQ FM 93.7 has been one of the three top FMs in Tucson for decades.

Furthermore, 97.5 tried this once before. Remember Star 97.5? Yeah, not many do. Star 97.5 at least hired staff and made a run at the genre, but never came close to gaining traction, and was replaced by BOB within two years. Part of the logic behind Star's Top 40 effort was an attempt to supplant KRQ's overall place in the market: Basically, a cluster sacrifices a lower-watt signal in the hopes that it can cut a slight piece of the pie from another cluster's linchpin station, thus benefiting the first cluster's real moneymaker. Under this model, 97.5 goes Top 40 to try to take some ratings away from KRQ, allowing Cumulus country station KIIM FM 99.5 a clearer path to the top spot in the market.

Clear Channel is not immune from this thinking. A decade ago, that ownership group took a 100,000-watt signal, 92.9 FM, and jettisoned its oldies format for Coyote Country, hoping it would cut into KIIM's market dominance and ultimately benefit KRQ. The results were disastrous: KIIM slaughtered the format, which lasted less than two years before Clear Channel tried The Mountain experiment. The Mountain never got the ratings Clear Channel wanted, but at least it cultivated a loyal listener base prior to a number of tweaks and eventually a format flip late last year.

Curiously, that format flip might have quickened BOB's inevitable demise. When Clear Channel changed The Mountain to My 92.9 FM, the music selection on the station sounded quite a bit like that at BOB. So, basically, Cumulus—perhaps concerned about BOB's already poor position, and also concerned that BOB could take a hit from a station with a stronger signal—decided to change formats and compete against a station with a stronger signal that's had a top-three market share since the last century.

The clusters like to market stations with something like Clear Channel's "My" moniker, or, in this case, Cumulus' "i" moniker, and somehow hope that you, the listener, will feel more connected to the product.

Instead, how about this: Why not be bold? Be aggressive? Come up with something under-represented in the market and see if it sticks?

Two clusters have adopted this approach in the last 15 years or so—and registered success. The first was Lotus-owned KFMA, which took a weak signal at 92.1 FM and turned it into a viable listening option by virtue of its alternative format. More recently, Journal Broadcast Group took 104.1 FM—mired well below mediocrity when it was The Point, among other things—and committed to conservative political talk on FM. KQTH enjoys three times the listenership it had in its Point days, gives legacy news/talker KNST a run for its money in some key demographics, and has even forced KNST to pick up an FM frequency itself.

When Journal had another opportunity to strike gold by showing some innovative thinking, it instead rebranded Mega to The Groove at 106.3 FM, and cut staff in the process, basically guaranteeing continued uninspiring results at that frequency.

Could an aggressive attempt fail? Sure, but it's not like there's a lot to lose. BOB was among the most-underperforming FMs in the market. How much lower could it really go? And to say i97-5 is a Top 40 underdog against the KRQ juggernaut would be an understatement.

In an industry that continues to struggle under the technological weight of other listening options, repeating a move that didn't work the first time seems, at best, a curious approach.


Morning Ritual host Garret Lewis added to his résumé with his promotion to program director of KNST AM 790/FM 97.1.

Lewis was named host of the station's morning show two years ago. In addition to assuming PD duties, Lewis has inked a two-year contract extension.

KNST is the market's top news/talk station, with a syndicated lineup highlighted by Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. It moved to the FM frequency a couple of months ago as a counterprogramming strategy against KQTH 104.1 FM, which has utilized its place on the more-listener-accessible FM band to cut into KNST's market share.

About The Author

Comments (1)

Add a comment

Add a Comment