Bill Sherard is the former General Manager of WCXR/Washington, D.C.
If you’ve played any role in signing on a new radio format, you’re lucky. It’s a time of anxiety, high energy and creativity. The creativity, of course, comes from necessity. And necessity in broadcasting historically comes from poor ratings. And so it was in 1985 in Washington DC. Faced with the all-time lowest shares of our country format, we abandoned the “last 12 rounds” boxing philosophy, and sought a new format to compete in the Washington DC market.
Years ago, children, the radio world was simpler. Sure, fragmentation had begun but was still just a buzzword. The oldies format was established and doing well. Even AC, now long-in-the-tooth, had split into Soft/Light Rock. But album cuts of the 60’s and 70’s were still relegated to tiny feature programs, such as “Psychedelic Café.” Decades of platinum albums and sold out concert tours had somehow been tossed into the dustbin alongside hippies and anti-war marches. Everyone failed to realize that this huge library of archived music met all the criteria for building a new strong listener base.
Everyone but Fred Jacobs.
Based on focus group feedback in Kansas City, home of perhaps the first FM Classic Rock station, we decided to switch. Our undercover Program Director Don Hagen secretly built our library, purchasing LP’s at Tower Records, Peaches and other stores. Imagine the look on store employees seeing shopping carts of albums roll out of the store!
At 1pm, Monday January 26th, 1986, 105.9 KIX Country said farewell to Washington with Marty Robbins’ “Adios Amigos”… Ten seconds of dead air… Then cold into The Doors’ “Light My Fire” at the all new 105.9 Washington’s Classic Rock. The phones never stopped ringing. The next morning the president of a major ad agency called to tell me that he was thrilled with our format. Driving to work at 8am, he had just heard The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s “Fire”- a programmer’s day part disaster for sure. But in that first week, the uniqueness of the classic rock format filled such a void that we could do no wrong. Washington DC had a long history of album rock radio, and it was reborn overnight at WCXR.
Our first book shot from a 1.9 to a 5.1 share overall! It started a sleigh ride I’ll never forget.
Fred Jacobs was. as typical, cautiously thrilled, but immediately pointed out that the freshness of the music would soon fade and a real radio station must quickly arise – a station with depth, creativity and emotion, a morning show with appeal to our audience, announcers who knew and loved the music, contests, audience and community involvement. He was right, of course; these elements remain universal.
Although we had aired a large format introduction TV campaign the second month of the new classic rock format, Arbitron monthly ratings later showed the station peaking after 4 weeks and slowly declining – all in one book. Our 5.1 share was only an average of a huge high jump introduction, followed by a gentle downward slide and a steady plateau of adult listeners. In the years that followed, we developed a rare radio station with a staff of talented, motivated people, a clear market position and our unfair share of the revenues.
Thanks Fred. And thanks to everyone who helped and shared those special times.