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Is KOOL 105's loss Cruisin' Oldies' gain?

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Arbitron has released the final numbers for the fall radio-ratings book in Denver -- the first for KRWZ/950 AM since switching to the Cruisin' Oldies format described in the September 2 blog "Oldies Radio Set to Make Comeback on KRWZ" and the September 24 followup "Cruisin' Oldies 950 Brings Back Randy Jay, Hal Moore." And the little station that could made an impressive bow, scoring a 1.0 rating among listeners who are twelve years old and above -- a demographic informally known as 12-plus. That's less than a third of the 3.4 rating collected in the same category by KXKL/105.1 FM, aka KOOL 105, the longtime oldies champ, which was recently sold by CBS to Wilks Broadcasting. (Learn more about that in the January 16 blog "Meet Jeff Wilks, New Owner of The Mix, The Wolf and KOOL 105.") However, KOOL scored a 4.6 rating during the previous quarter. As such, its listenership decline was roughly equivalent to Cruisin' Oldies' total.

Has almost a quarter of KOOL's audience deserted the station in the past few months in favor of an AM signal whose only publicity has come via word of mouth? Joel Burke, who's in charge of programming Cruisin' Oldies (as well as country purveyor KYGO/98.5 FM, a perennial ratings heavyweight), resists the urge to make this claim. But he's clearly happy about how things have gone thus far. "It's incredible," he says. "I've been involved in a lot of station launches in various cities and various formats. But the reaction to this is like nothing I've ever seen."

One secret to Cruisin' Oldies' success, Burke believes, is its dial position. During the '60s and '70s, when KIMN was Denver's most popular station, it could be heard at 950 AM. "A lot of the people who are listening to Cruisin' Oldies are natives of Colorado who grew up listening to Top 40 radio on the old KIMN," Burke points out. "And to be able to hear that music all over again on the same frequency helped turn the flame up even higher."

Just as important was KOOL's decision to shift its music mix toward the sounds of the '70s and '80s in an attempt to woo the sort of younger listeners beloved by advertisers -- a subject explored in the March 2008 Message column "Shakeup in Denver Radio." As Burke points out, KOOL is hardly alone in taking this approach: "Stations are going through that struggle all over the country. They're trying to evolve into being very competitive in the 25-54 demographic, which means that they've got to be enormously successful in the 35-to-64 demo."

Unfortunately, dialing the music forward a decade or two has alienated many of those who were once regular oldies-radio consumers, for obvious reasons: "By concentrating on the '70s and '80s, they've all but forgotten the music of the '50s and '60s," Burke says. And while folks in their sixties and above don't thrill some advertisers, they tend to be more loyal to old-fashioned terrestrial radio than their younger peers.

Which isn't to say they won't switch signals if something more to their liking comes along. Indeed, Burke reveals that in the 35-to-64 demo, Cruisin' Oldies beat KEZW/1430 AM, a longtime favorite of older Denverites, right out of the box.

In the meantime, the station recently ramped up another promotional tool: the Cruisin' Cats. The group used to be known as the KOOL Cats and served as the de facto house band for that outlet. But its members' friendship with Randy Jay, a former KOOL jock who's now heard on Cruisin' Oldies, convinced them to jump ship and change their name. Burke says they've already appeared at some events on behalf of Cruisin' Oldies, with more to come.

And where the Cats go, even more oldies fans may follow.

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