Lite FM pushed from its perch by CBS FM

October 15, 2007

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Lite FM pushed from its perch by CBS FM

Matthew Flamm

The long reigning champion of New York radio, Clear Channel Radio’s WLTW, has been pushed off its pedestal by two resurgent CBS Radio stations, WCBS-FM and WWFS-FM.

WLTW, Lite FM, dropped to third-place among listeners 12 years and older, according to Arbitron’s summer 2007 report. The easy listening station had a 4.3% share of the market, down 20% from the spring ratings period, and down 28% from summer 2006.

Aside from two reporting periods in 2001, when it placed second among total listeners, WLTW had been the No.1 rated station since at least 1999.

“LTW has ridden a wave that was bound to crash at some point,” says Peter Gusmano, U.S. director of client services at media buying agency Mindshare. “The market became saturated with the lite format.”

Radio observers also point out that WLTW has been hit with stronger competition than it’s been used to. Its biggest challenge comes from WCBS-FM, which switched back to its oldies format from Jack FM in July. The revitalized station has been grabbing some of Lite FM’s older listeners as it zoomed up the charts to sixth place among overall listeners, with a 3.7 share, from 20th place last summer.

A portion of WLTW’s younger listeners have migrated to CBS Radio’s WWFS, Fresh FM. A 2.5 share put that station in 17th place, up from 20th last summer when it was WNEW. However, the 10 month-old soft rock station was in 11th place in the spring.

Clear Channel predicts WLTW will soon be back on top.

“WLTW was hit with a two-pronged attack,” says Tom Poleman, senior vice president of programming for Clear Channel’s New York cluster. “When there’s something new, people want to check it out.”

He adds that in the final month of the summer’s three-month ratings survey, WLTW’s numbers had improved, and he expects that trend to continue.

Not all the news was bad for Clear Channel. Top 40 station WHTZ, Z-100, came in first with a 5.1 share—the first time the station had placed first since at least the 1980s, according to Mr. Poleman.

Some observers blamed changes in marketing and format for the declining numbers at WLTW. For a while, the station had stopped marketing itself as Lite FM, though it has since gone back to the logo. Last fall, facing cost cutting pressures as Clear Channel neared a sale to private equity investors, the station added syndicated show Delilah to what had been an all-local lineup, and changed its morning show.

“If you make changes, even if they’re not devastating changes, it gives people the chance to go out and sample other stations—and at just the wrong time,” says radio consultant Robert Unmacht.

The summer survey marked the last time paper diaries will be used to determine ratings for the New York market. The system has been replaced by Portable People Meters, devices that measure radio listening electronically.

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