WCBS to return to oldies format

July 6, 2007

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WCBS to return to oldies format

New York is getting its oldies station back.

WCBS-FM will return to the oldies format sometime next week, according to an industry insider with knowledge of the decision. A spokeswoman for the station’s operator, CBS Radio, declined to comment.

In a bid for younger listeners, WCBS abandoned oldies music two years ago, flipping to the iPod-like Jack format and firing heritage on-air staffers like Bruce Morrow, a.k.a. Cousin Brucie, and Harry Harrison. The station, 101.1, had been playing oldies for 33 years.

The Jack format uses no deejays and mixes older songs with contemporary tunes in a random seeming sequence.

The abrupt switch to Jack on June 3, 2005 caused an uproar among WCBS-FM’s loyal listeners, including Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who swore he would never listen to the station again. Most of its loyal listeners, many aged over 55, followed suit.

Jack’s ratings plummeted to a 1.5 share of listeners from the 3.9 share the oldies format had. In the most recent Arbitron survey, 101.1 had a 2.2 share.

Sirius Satellite Radio used the controversy to trumpet its own oldies programming, hiring Mr. Morrow as a host.

The move to Jack also hurt ad billings. Revenue for 101.1 plunged 31% in 2006, to $16.1 million, according to BIA Financial Network.

The revived oldies format may be modified to appeal to a slightly younger crowd says the industry insider, who expects the station to hire some veteran deejays. A rumor that WCBS would be switching back to oldies was first reported on Thursday by Radio Business Report's online newsletter.

“This is righting a big wrong,” says radio consultant Robert Unmacht. “That was a station that was making a lot of money and didn’t have to go away.”

The return of the oldies format will mark the second major reversal in the New York area by new CBS Radio Chief Executive Dan Mason. In May, rock music came back to WXRK, which is once again known as K-Rock, after a year and a half as talk station Free FM.

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