Letter: Syracuse Radio Lacking Variety

June 30, 2010 by

SYRACUSE -- We had a double-take while reading a "letter to the editor" in today's Syracuse Post-Standard ... and thought it was worth sharing with readers too.  The writer argues choices are limited -- in the same sentence after listing several different formats available on the dial.

The letter we're talking about is the very last one listed among today's letters on  The writer notes that "AM radio is full of talk radio and sports radio. FM has a lot of rock, pop. Hip-hop and some country — not much variety."

She goes on to envision a station that would carry showtunes -- from Broadway, from movies and TV, and even music from video games.  She also begs for an easy listening station.

What do you think?  Could Syracuse use more variety or is she being unrealistic?  Post your thoughts below.

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14 comments on “Letter: Syracuse Radio Lacking Variety”

  1. My opinion - there is plenty of variety on the radio. In addition to what the writer mentioned, there's also jazz and other offerings on WAER, classical on WCNY-FM, classic oldies on WSEN(AM), and several stations offering religious music.

    Anyone reading this who already works in radio understands that radio is a business. In order to make money, you need a large audience, and in order to get a large audience, you need to play what's popular. Broadway showtunes do have a following, but not enough to be a profitable radio format. It might do well as an hour-long specialty show on Sunday mornings, but not as a 24/7 station.

  2. Sorry, but I side with the letter writer on this one. I can understand her dilemma. She is right, on AM radio its filled with talk, news and sports. FM offers some choice, but the problem is not the fact that there isn't variety, its the fact that the variety being offered is not enough. Its like going to a buffet and seeing that there is beef, chicken, potatoes, pasta, peas and corn. But no shrimp, pork, rice, asparagus or carrots. She wants what used to be called a middle of the road (MOR) format which would include Broadway showtunes, TV themes, maybe even a polka sung in English. Thats the variety shes talking about. AM 740 Toronto is about the only station that is doing a similar format. She would have loved WSYR in the 70's, and, WSOQ North Syraucse in the early 70's filled with beautiful music, 101 strings, Percy Faith, stuff like that. Even WZOW Utica in the early 70's had a variety that was quite enjoyable to many. For some reason most station operators do not see that there is a void when it comes to Middle Of The Road format. I personally think it could work if given a chance. Look at the ratings that WUTQ/WADR came up last book. They beat out some FM stations that think they are so hot doing what they are doing. But look at the ratings, those stations show below WUTQ/WADR. without any announcers, I might add, except Hank Brown who leases air time. Think of what they could do with announcers & news? With a sharper format heavy on Standards, easy listening, yes, show tunes, and just a touch of some ethnic music, those two AM stations could clean up. Instead a computer playing the same mix of mostly 60's and 70's with an over abundance of those liners banging out the phrase "beautiful music" (followed by a rock and roll song). Sure radio is a business, but ask the same person who doesn't like whats being offered on AM radio, or even FM, and the name Satellite radio pops up, which they have to pay for! If local radio doesn't give a good music mix, local news, community events, local weather, why bother with it? The Satellite services offer a good music mix, announcers and clean signal.I personally wouldn't pay for Sat. Radio service. But many do, and that hurts local radio. Maybe someday things will change so a person could listen to a local station that would satisfy a variety of needs and desires. I think Syracuse and Utica could both stand some variety.

  3. I do have a different opinion from the poster above and do not feel there is any void for a middle of the road format. It was popular in the 60' 70's and early 80's, but except for a few select markets, it is not popular and not a money maker.

    And unless I am blind, I do not see where WUTQ/WADR came up anywhere in any ratings except for people 60 till ?? They are almost non-existant in every key age demo.

    Hank Brown???? Let me be nice and not even comment.

  4. I think what the reader seeks is exactly what North Country Public Radio (WSLU) offers. Unfortunately, their signal is not available in the Syracuse market. While not making any negative comments on any existing stations in the market, I have long held that the folks at NCPR have figured out the perfect way to program a public radio station, get wide financial support and fill the needs of the majority of its listeners. We used to call it "block programming" in an earlier time. It works for them, but might not work in all markets.
    Now, to rid their airwaves of generic time checks and on-air talent located in a far away city, talent that unable to relate to a local audience. We now have generations of listeners that don't know what it is to have a personality on-air actually relate to them about things and events in their own community. Hurray to local talent still on the air. Management hasn't realized it yet. But, you are the key to radio's survival.

  5. I usually agree with Adventure, but love him or hate him, Brown does have people who tune in everyday. Its his audience that still has the money to buy big ticket items with cash and not on credit, afford to eat out, play golf and spend on luxuries. He has more commercials in three hours than I hear on some FM stations all day! I don't see how you can say the format isn't a money maker today, when it hasn't been used in quite awhile. What station in the past 5 years has gone MOR and failed? I can't think of any. The Music of Your Life did very well, and the replacement format is also doing alright for stations using it. Binghamton has it, I'm pretty sure.. If WTLB did anything more than plug into the network while they were with MOYL, they too would have done well. They killed it with no news, outdated weather reports and no local announcers.
    And, Jerry Reed's comment on personality on the air is right on the money. I tip my hat to a broadcaster who knows what works and would sell. Jerry's comment on block programming relates to the MOR issue. "It might not work in all markets", true, but has it been tried in any commercial market recently? No. Seems to work for Public Radio. There used to be a format called "Town & Country" that worked well in the 1960's, and early 1970's. It was a mix of country, folk and pop. Great sound, and it sold then, but what station recently has used that format?

  6. fitnesscenter :

    Look at the ratings that WUTQ/WADR came up last book. They beat out some FM stations that think they are so hot doing what they are doing. But look at the ratings, those stations show below WUTQ/WADR.

    The latest publicly-available ratings in the Utica/Rome market was the Fall 2009 survey from Eastlan. They haven't released Spring 2010 yet, and Arbitron has been embargoed from public view since 2008. According to Eastlan, WUTQ did tie with WUMX (Mix 102.5) in the Fall 2009 survey. Below that, most other stations listed are either non-commercial or outside of the Utica-Rome market (their signals just happen to penetrate the market enough to get some mentions in the survey). One notable exception is WXUR (92.7 The Drive), but it's just as notable that WXUR moved its transmitter from Frankfort to Smith Hill during the book. Anytime a major change happens during the book, I take it with a grain of salt, and wait for the next book.

    fitnesscenter :

    There used to be a format called “Town & Country” that worked well in the 1960′s, and early 1970′s. It was a mix of country, folk and pop. Great sound, and it sold then, but what station recently has used that format?

    That's probably how I would describe the format on WMCR for years and years, until it was sold and rebranded as "Mix 106." But I can't blame the new owners: WMCR had a 0.5 rating in the latest Utica-Rome Eastlan book -- but being in Madison County, they're technically in the Syracuse market. What was WMCR's rating in Syracuse? Zero. Similar results in the latest public Arbitron numbers for both markets.

    A reminder, if anyone has more-recent or more demographically-specific Arbitron numbers, you can speak in broad generalities here, but you cannot post specifics. Those specific numbers are copyrighted by Arbitron. We haven't had a problem, but I just wanted to pre-emptively put that reminder out there.

    Good discussion!

  7. I would think the WXUR transmitter move would HELP their situation. Maybe they should polish up their air sound for better ratings. Their AM station WNRS is another bomb. They would be better off programming anything than what they have on the air now, or have had on the air for the past 5 years or so. Didn't they move the transmitter location on that station also? Didn't help. It used to be down in the Vally behind the Holt Brothers car dealer, in the swamp. Great signal when it was there as WALY. Can barely get 1420 West of Utica, we used to get WALY into Oneida no problem.
    I wouldn't say the WMCR format of the past 20-years was Town & Country. It was a MIX of music, poorly mixed with extremes on either end. They never understood the concept of music flow. Combined that with old production, a 1976 jingle package, poor announcers and the FM in monaural, not good. You can't just throw different music categories together on the fly, as they seemed to do. It has to be programmed. That is why stations like WSYR sounded so good 30-years ago. They were carefully programmed by local people at the station. MIX-106 has similar quirks, plus they need some strong production & a new Jingle image package. Unless they have improved over the past 4 months when I stopped listening to them. The AM doesn't do anything that WIBX or WSYR or WGY doesn't already provide, in my opinion. Its fun to reminisce about the old sound of radio. Lots of stations with lots of variety, local announcers with talent that ranged from outstanding to awful. You could always get the latest weather, new bulletins, local chatter and even sell a 1958 DeSoto on The Swap Shop, free of charge. Obituaries, births and
    lost pets..Hometown radio, great stuff. Today, hours and hours of sports and "blah,blah,blah" conservative talk and the same old news stories analyzed over and over by "experts" Maybe the woman who wrote into the newspaper about "variety" misses the days of Hometown Radio.

  8. Hello Fitnesscente...In all do respect I can tell you when you dig deep into the ratings WUTQ/WADR and Hank Browns show DO NOT have good ratings, nor, beat out all of the FM's you claim. I have both rating service numbers and subscribe to them and can tell you what you wrote, is not true.

    Now, if we want to dive into 10-year age brackets, a category that no radio station will ever mention or show a business, you will see that basically the station and Hank have NO audience at all, until you reach the 65+ demo. When you separate men and women in 18-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54 and 55-64, which is the way a business should base their buying decisions by, WUTQ/WADR and Hank's show do not show up, except a few people in the 55-64 category. In all of those other categories, they are almost a blank. Now, if someone wants to mislead a business person, they can show them an 18+ or a 25+ or a 35-64 and yes, it will show some things. But if I were a business person and saw a 35-64 demo that had some numbers, but really wanted 35 to 49 year olds, that demo would be misleading because they do not show up in 35 to 49, but do show up over 55. And I would really love to be educated on your statement that those stations and Hanks audience has the buying power. You have to be kidding me. If you have a gift of gab, which I will give the credit for having, I suppose you can talk anyone into buying your product. But you line up 100 masters of the kraft of buying radio and if you find one person that would buy those stations or Hanks show, you would be lucky.
    Please remember this...I am not saying that his show or those stations will not bring results, because all stations and hosts can provide results. All I am saying is that those stations should never be one of the top 5 choices a business person makes because there are many other choices providing greater results. And even if a business just wants 65 and over adults, because of the stations poor signal, I rather reach them on television.

  9. I have to clarify a couple of my things in the last post. To Fitnesscente....when I mentioned in my comments "If you have a gift of gab, which I will give the credit for having" I was referring to Hank Brown. Meaning, that I give Hank the credit for having that gift. I was not referring to you.

    Yes, this is a good discussion.

  10. Yup, Hank certainly has the gift of gab, and if it sells his radio show, you got to give him credit. Hes pushing close to 80, and I'd like to see the track record of the radio sales people out selling today when they reach 79! Some of Hank's sponsors have been with him for years, so he must be doing something right. Which leads me to the question.... if he can sell that much time on his three hour program, why can't the rest of the sales people at the station sell an equal amount of time for the rest of the day? Probably because the rest of the day is just music and liners. So maybe personality does sell, and maybe that should be taken into consideration by station owners/managers and programmers.
    Adventure has more of the figures for the ratings than I have. I just went by what I saw for the Fall of '09 Eastlan Ratings, that showed WUTQ beat WXUR, WMCR-FM for what thats worth, but tied WUMX, Previously I though UTQ actually beat out UMX, I stand corrected. My point wasn't to analyze ratings but simply to say that a MOR format might work if given a chance. It hasn't been tried in a long time, it might never be tried again in this market or in our lifetime.

  11. Let's see. FM:
    Jazz, progressive/lib talk, classical, oldies, modern pop, more general pop, modern/classic rock, classic rock, sports, classic rock, modern rock, light rock, religious, modern country, modern country, variety talk, more modern country, urban, pop. Some of those formats have a lot of crossover music. (Includes a couple Utica guys who come in well in Syracuse, too.)

    AM: conservative talk/baseball, sports, oldies, sports, sports, conservative talk, Disney. Oh, and spanish sports. Is anyone still running adult standards?

    That covers kids and most adults pretty well, and so much sports it's a wonder they aren't covering high school chess competitions live. What's missing that anyone cares about? Classic country is about the only missing format, and B104.7 dips into that now and then.

  12. I'm the CEO of Music of Your Life syndicated radio network, playing Adult Standards now for 32 years. These are great comments, but thought I'd share a bit from a content provider's perspective.

    It's not so much that there's not enough listeners to offer various types of programming, it more about advertising revenue. In fact, there are stations that play to very niche audiences such as foreign language programming that make huge profits, however, these are "paid programming". Once you get away from paid programming, you rely solely on advertising revenue to keep the lights on.

    The target audience for the Madison Avenue advertising world is 18-34, or even 25-49, but once you start targeting listeners over the age of 50, you're dead to major advertisers. It's oxymoronic, because on one hand, the over 50 crowd is considered to have the most discretionary spending dollars available, but on the other, that's considered too old to Madison Avenue to be taken seriously.

    Let's take Music of Your Life for example. We currently have more than 50 radio station affiliates around the US and listeners in more than 100 countries. Our average quarter hour listener count is up around 100k, with time spent listening of more than 2.5 hours per person. These are great numbers. However, we can no more grab an ad buy from GM, Verizon, P&G than Joe running an Internet station out of his basement. It makes no sense and in fact, the Madison Avenue, "Agency" concept is absurd, outdated and run by a bunch of punks.

    Over the past couple years, we've adjusted programming at MYL to stay current, yet true to the Great American Songbook by playing artists such as Jamie Cullum, Renee Olstead, Tony DeSare, etc. while keeping the traditional artists, Sinatra, Bennett, Fitzgerald, Armstrong and the rest. And while this has increased our listenership to include the 45+ crowd, we're still considered "too old" for mainstream media on a national level.

    So, what's happening is that the local stations, most by the way are dying a slow death, are forced to monetize their station with programming that's going to bring them some of the Agency business, or they will simply be unable to continue. We had an affiliate in Palm Beach, FL, an area perfect for MYL, that recently jumped ship because they just could not make enough money selling ads to the local businesses and weren't getting a dime from the Agencies. They're now an ESPN station, making 4 times as much money. The listeners are furious and we hear from them every day. This same example is repeated in nearly every market around the country, including yours in up-state NY.

    Believe it or not, the future of local radio is going to include an monumental shift to the Internet. As the President of NPR said at an industry conference a few weeks ago, "Terrestrial radio will be dead in five years". I think that may have been a bit aggressive, but it's already happening. For certain, AM music radio is going to be the first casualty as is happening all over the country. The Arbitron ratings for one of the last AM music formats, "Oldies" has dropped like a rock in the past year, surpassed only by Jazz. With these low Arbitron numbers, the Agencies will not even return a phone call.

    The next casualty will be any FM station that does not have a solid presence on the Internet with a website that features prime advertising. Ad rates for radio station websites is up 38% this year alone. The transmission tower business will go by the way of the paging tower business...dinosaurs lining the countryside across America with huge rents to be paid, high insurance premiums and no customers. Look at television...if you want a terrestrial signal, you must first have a new digital TV with special rabbit ears to gather that signal. Does anyone actually do that, yes, 2% of the nation.

    How can I say this? My background is in the wireless technology business and I stay abreast of the industry. What's coming next from Verizon and AT&T later, is the new 4G cellular network. Both of these companies purchased the old UHF TV (700MHz) channels for $1.5 Billion, (yes, with a "B") from the FCC. 700MHz is roughly 100 times current cellular bandwidth. The new 4G from Verizon includes live TV streaming to your handset, downloading full-length movies onto your iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, etc. in seconds. However, the first product to roll-out is Internet radio to the car. That means you will have access to every Internet radio station, whether it originates at the network level such as MYL, Clear Channel, etc., your local radio station, college campus or back at Joe's basement. I'm running as prototype in my vehicle right now and it's amazing. The technical term is "IP over cellular".

    Radio is changing forever. Those station owners who don't get this will be casualties of technology. The challenge is to know when to change, how to change and how are we going to make money. If we can figure that out, radio, even over the Internet, will be as popular as my 9V GE transistor radio I listened to as a kid playing rock-and-roll on KJR-AM in Seattle, before there was any such thing as FM. However, if we can't figure it out, your done.

    Thanks for the blog space!

    Marc Angell
    Music of Your Life

  13. I would like to thank Marc Angell for taking the time posting his comments and information on both the MOYL format and future of radio. Its nice to get a straight answer from a person in an executive position. Radio in the year 2010 is frustrating to us seasoned veterans who worked in radio from the late 60's into the 90's. What worked so well in those years doesn't seem to be working now. I personally wish things were different. I wish I could walk into a small or medium market radio station with my demo tape and experience and get a personality- announcing job , but so many stations simply don't offer that chance anymore. You can do news or sports, but not an old school personality-time-temp-chatter-humor all around Good-Guy D-J. At my age I can't simply pack up and move to a distant location for a low paying radio job. Local stations will lease air time but then you have to not only do the program, but go out and sell it as well. I put in my selling time back in the 1970's, and it was a lot easier then. Buying a small or even medium market radio station is not the answer either. Yes, they are pretty easy to buy, but keeping the books out of the red and keeping the transmitter on is another story. I have worked with the Music of Your Life format and its one of my favorites. Phone calls from listeners tell you they really enjoy the music and if you can give them the local news, weather and community events, they're with you from dawn to dusk. They always seem to be loyal to the station.
    One final comment. When I was working in the early 1970's I did my own Music of Your Life format even before I had heard of Al Hamm. It was great I was playing Pop tunes from the 40's/early 50's/50's and 60's from my record collection off of 10 1/2 inch reel to reel tapes, that would rotate on a schedule. One veteran announcer who started in radio back in the 50's said something like.."Wow you really have some format here, why don't you offer it to other radio stations?" I was 25 years old and didn't have a penny to spare on anything. I think had a good idea though.

    1. I also would like to thank Mr. Angell for his frank and informative commentary. Not sure how you found the site, but I am glad you did and I appreciate your contribution to the discussion!!


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