We recently told you about the sudden flip of The Truth, at 101.5, to Jammin' Oldies only moments before talk-show host Mike Zinna's program last Friday.
Jeff Norman, president and general manager of the outlet, says he was almost as blindsided. He knew something would likely happen soon, but not exactly when or how.
How is that possible? According to Norman, the decision about pulling the plug on The Truth, was made at the Virginia headquarters of Max Media, which owns 101.5 FM and its sister station, Hot 107.1 FM.
"I knew contracts were up for renewal with the Weather Channel and ABC News," which provided news and weather updates on The Truth, "and I knew we weren't in the position to sign them, because we didn't know the future of the station," he notes. "So I knew something was coming, but I didn't know when. I found out on the Friday before Labor Day, just like those other guys."
These folks included Zinna, who "was pretty upset, and I don't blame him," Norman says. "But that's radio."
Besides, Norman points out, Zinna wasn't a Max Media employee. Instead, "he came in and brokered time with us. We gave Mike inventory for his services, and he could go out and resell his inventory."
At first, Zinna pitched weekend shows to 101.5, Norman continues -- but after becoming friendly with Truth program director Brian Wilson, his efforts evolved into a Zinna-hosted weeknight-program, followed by a move into the 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. drive-time slot a few weeks ago -- far too recently to judge whether he would have been able to build an audience over the long haul.
In a sense, Zinna was a victim of bad timing, as well as The Truth's failure to catch on during its year or so of life. "Trust me, if the station would have taken off and generated revenue, we wouldn't be having this conversation," Norman concedes. "I don't have anything negative to say about Mike. I wish him the best, and I'll give him recommendations about where he's heading next. It's a sad situation. But we couldn't keep doing what we were doing and expect a different result."
And that despite The Truth's attention-getting launch...
When Max Media bought 101.5, the outlet was programming an independent-rock sound dubbed Indie 101.5. However, ratings never matched the acclaim it received, despite a campaign mounted by program director John Wilbur, aka Whip, to save the concept.
In late July 2009, Indie 101.5 moved online, initially replaced by The Pole, which featured music for strippers and a website boasting shots from a faux bathroom cam. The Pole results were surprisingly enjoyable -- but the flip turned out to be a stunt. The real format was The Truth, which GM Norman touted in an August 2009 interview as the new home for syndicated conservative yakkers such as Michael Savage and Mancow, as well as Jerry Doyle.
What went wrong? For one thing, the most popular conservative radio personalities, such as Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly, weren't part of The Truth's package.
"It was like going to see the Broncos in preseason and watching the fourth stringers play," Norman says. "It's fun to see the first stringers in the first quarter, but it's not as much fun in the second half when you're watching no-name guys.
"Jerry Doyle is an up-and-coming guy, and out of all the talkers we had, he had the best ratings. Michael Savage was by far the best-known name, but he was so far to the right that he didn't translate to the Denver market. And then we had other guys who do better in other regions than they did here. Neal Boortz is well known in the south, and Mancow is an East Coast guy."
The slotting of Mancow in the morning was "supposed to be a temporary fix" until the station could bring in local talent -- a key to radio success, in Norman's estimation. But, he says, "it was a chicken-and-the-egg kind of thing. We needed to add local people to get to a certain revenue level, but we needed to get to a certain revenue level before we could afford adding them -- and we never did."
Indeed, the main money The Truth was collecting toward the end of its run came almost entirely from peddling airtime on the weekends. "We were running cooking shows, automotive shows, shows for roofers and plumbers," he says. "And although we appreciate those clients, you really need to make your money Monday through Friday in prime time. That's important for any station, but especially for a talk station."
So what led to the decision to embrace the Jammin' format?
The concept had been tried before in Denver, at 92.5 FM (now the home of country-music purveyor The Wolf), and while the ratings it garnered weren't crummy, neither were they impressive enough to guarantee its long-term survival.
When the format went off the air in 2005, fans began a petition drive, gathering over 3,600 cyber-signatures calling for the return of Jammin' -- a far cry from their stated goal of 100,000 signatures, but a decent-enough achievement to capture Max Media's attention.
When Jammin' 2.0 launched last Friday with a pledge to play 5,000 consecutive songs, a slew of sophisticated bumpers, links and other radio-imaging items were ready to go, leading to speculation that the switch had been in the works for quite some time. But Norman emphasizes that these elements can be pulled together quickly.
"My thought is, they worked on this in Virginia for three or four weeks," he says. "They have access to our system, and they loaded the music library with 150 songs. That's what we launched with -- and you can go to iTunes and download 150 songs in only a few minutes. It's not like they've been planning this for months and built out an elaborate website. Right now, the site is pretty much a home page with a request-a-song button."
It won't stay that way. Norman promises that the permanent site will have many more features and options -- all the better to show off the air talent he's planning to hire.
A banner from the temporary Jammin' site.
"We have people in from corporate this week, and I've been screaming that if we're going to run this thing profitably, we have to make sure we're putting out the best product -- and the best product is live and local," he maintains. "We're live and local around the clock on Hot. We even have a live overnight show. And we want to duplicate the success we've been having with Hot on Jammin'."
That's not to say Jammin' will have four jocks on the air tomorrow, Norman says. But, to put it mildly, there's plenty of talent available out there, thanks to layoffs by big corporate broadcasters like Clear Channel. Since last Friday, he's received dozens of applications "from all over the country: Memphis, New Orleans -- Denver, too. A lot of good people are unemployed."
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He's also been thrilled by the early listener reaction to Jammin'. Right now, for instance, the new station's Facebook page has almost 1,300 friends. "We only got to 400 friends on The Truth's Facebook page in a year," he reveals.
As for complaints from fans of The Truth, well, Norman hasn't exactly been deluged. By the middle of this week, he says, "we received one complaint online about The Truth going away."
Not counting the one from Mike Zinna.