Oldies returning to WCBS-FM?

July 6, 2007

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Oldies returning to WCBS-FM?

by Claudia Perry
Friday July 06, 2007, 6:33 PM

Rumors that WCBS-FM (101.1) is about to switch back to an oldies format are swirling on Internet message boards that track the radio industry.

The station played old hits for 33 years, but in June 2005 it ditched its staff of veteran disc jockeys and switched to a format called "Jack-FM" -- an eclectic mix of recent hits from various pop music genres. The oldies music, without DJs, was shifted to a Web site and an HD-FM channel.

CBS Radio, which owns the station, had rolled out the "Jack" format in several markets before unveiling it in New York. But the switch set off a firestorm of protests from fans of the older music and air personalities such as "Cousin Brucie" Morrow and Bob Shannon.

Although CBS Radio has been touting Jack's slow climb in the ratings - its most recent number was a 2.5 share among listeners 12 and older in Arbitron's three-month rolling averages - several factors indicate a return to the oldies format is likely.

First, CBS Radio's new head honcho, Dan Mason, has been quick to evaluate and revamp under-performing stations in the company. The return of WXRK "K-Rock" (92.3 FM) in May after the less-than-stellar performance of hot talk "Free FM" is one prominent example of the new chief executive officer's changes.

"Dan's going around fixing things that were broken," says radio consultant Robert Unmacht, founding partner of Nashville-based iN-3 Partners. "He's righting a great wrong."

Just as important, however, is the October arrival of the Portable People Meter ratings-measurement system to the New York market. In the Philadelphia market, where the new, digital system has been in place since April, the CBS-owned oldies station WOGL (98.1 FM) jumped from a 4.5 share to 7.5 with listeners 12 and older in the first metered ratings period using the new technology. It has settled in with a 6 share in subsequent reports. (A share point represents a percentage of radios in use in a particular market.)

Unmacht says the People Meter, which records all exposure to broadcast media through a digital device attached to the listener (replacing the unreliable, listener-kept paper diaries previously used to track listenership of each station) may be a factor in the decision.

"The audience for oldies leans a little male, and a little older. I don't think they're inclined to write things down in diaries. They don't listen to the radio the way teenage kids used to, hanging on every word. (But) Radio is a part of their life and they do notice news, traffic and weather and the companionship of the personalities."

The rumor of change at WCBS-FM popped up on the New York Radio Message Board, frequented by industry insiders and amateur critics, and was reported today by Media Daily News and by

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