Media Watch

Thanks for stopping by, Chase. We hardly knew ye

Chase Rankin, who spent a whopping 14 months as the president and publisher of the Arizona Daily Star, is off to the Valley, where he will act as Vice-President of Advertising for the Gannett-owned Arizona Republic and Republic Media.

Rankin spent the last decade at numerous publications within the Lee Enterprises chain. He joined the Star in a sales capacity in 2011 and replaced John M. Humenik as president and publisher in March 2014.

Rankin will split time between the two publications as the Star searches for his replacement.

97.5 FM might have finally gotten it right

Taking jabs at corporate run radio clusters almost seems unfair, because more often than not they make it too easy. Yet even within the auspices of a structure where the actual programming decisions are made time zones away, perhaps through pure dumb luck even the bigwigs who know zilch about Tucson can make a beneficial decision.

KSZR 97.5 FM changed formats last week, from its moronically idiotic i97.5 top-40 format experiment to classic hip-hop. The signal now IDs itself as Vibe 97.5. As a result, for the first time since the station's inception, it's actually serving an underrepresented audience as opposed to catering to the misguided whims of archaic radio philosophy.

Since its music launch, 97.5 has functioned as a pawn for one of two general radio approaches. Which one doesn't necessarily matter because they're both stupid, outdated and ultimately doomed the station before it had a chance.

The first version is this. Among cluster-owned stations, the real battle is for the top spot in the market. So competing clusters will take one of their signals and attempt to broadcast the same format as the other cluster's lynchpin station in hopes the new station will take away enough listeners to make their lynchpin station No. 1 in the market.

For example, Cumulus Broadcasting, which owns the 97.5 FM signal, also owns country format KIIM 99.5 FM. KIIM is often the top-rated station in the market. But Cumulus knows iheartmedia has a big-time lynchpin station too: top-40 station KRQQ 93.7 FM. So Cumulus figures maybe it can take 97.5, make it top-40 and cut into enough of KRQ's ratings to ensure a top spot for KIIM.

Iheartmedia is doing the exact same thing with its Wild Country format on 97.1 FM.

The competing clusters ultimately hope they can go to advertising agencies and brag about the success of their top-rated radio station, and hope that acts as something of a trickle-down model to benefit the other signals in the cluster.

Problem is, eventually they realize it doesn't work. Never has, at least in Tucson. Even with i97.5 on the dial, people are getting their top-40 on KRQ. Golly, who would have guessed that? Wild Country barely registers, and even though KIIM had a horrific ratings book recently, it has been the top-rated station in the market on numerous occasions.

The second possibility is just as ridiculous. In this scenario, Cumulus and iheartmedia, the two chief offenders of this approach, want to create a shell- game mentality among its clientele and employee base that the two competing entities are bitter enemies, doing everything possible to crush the very life out of the other. Then in reality, they program the exact same formats in every city in which they're represented. In this version, the actual listener tendencies of the market are meaningless.

Unfortunately, both philosophies limit the potential for these smaller stations to flourish on their own merits, something that would actually be more beneficial to the clusters. If you already own a lynchpin station, why not try to cultivate good numbers for your other signals as well?

In the case of 97.5, that has never been the case.

The signal has been a top-40 format twice. Remember Star 97.5? Yeah, not many others do either. Because even though this was tried under the eventually bankrupt Citadel Broadcasting banner, Cumulus was for some reason convinced its first footprint in this market was to do the same thing again.

When Star 97.5 disappeared into the black hole of radio obscurity, the format flipped to something called Bob, which had some fan attraction, but was ultimately a pretty milquetoast classic hits format.

Generally speaking, music-based terrestrial radio is made up of one of two versions of listening comfort food. The first is what amounts to being a modern hits format. KRQ does this, as does KIIM, which plays modern country hits. The second is a classic hits format. Most of the rest of the stations in Tucson borrow from this model. Some might mix the two.

But in the case of classic hits, not all formats are equally represented. Classic hip-hop is an example. While the music on the so-called Vibe 97.5 really isn't all that different conceptually from classic rock or grunge or the sappy foof they play on 94.9 MixFm, it's a format with a music library that's been dramatically underrepresented in Tucson for well over a decade.

Nobody else is doing it. As such, even though it doesn't have an iota of local input, and is likely played in dozens of Cumulus markets nationally, it has something that has eluded 97.5 pretty much since its inception.

A unique identity in this city.

One wonders how long it will take for 97.1 to figure out a classic country format might be lacking in Tucson as well.

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