Monday, August 24, 2009

WBCN call letters find a new home

It's been nearly two weeks since the legendary WBCN name and format disappeared from the Boston radio dial, but that the call letters which were synonymous with the Boston rock station for over 40 years are still very much in existence. Some 900 miles south of Boston, WBCN call letters are now in use by a Charlotte AM station owned by corporate parent CBS Radio.

From Charlotte Observer, Sat. August 22nd :

CBS Radio's WFNA-AM (1660) is now WBCN-AM.

Other than that, the sports station, which carries much of the programming of sister station WFNZ-AM (610), is the same. Swapping the call letters was a defensive strategy by CBS Radio, which recently changed the format and name of its long-time Boston classic rock station, WBCN-FM. CBS didn't want some other station in Boston to take the call letters and pick up WBCN's valuable identity. So it parked the name in Charlotte.

“It's very common in the business,” says Bill Schoening, market manager for CBS's Charlotte stations. “It was a major signal with call letters that still have value and

For much of their existence radio stations' call letters seem to live simple lives. Station owners obtain a set, and occasionally exchange it for another when the station changes direction or format. Then the old calls head back to the FCC database. But the process could be far more complicated than that. And occasionally, when marketplace competition warrants it, some call letters need to be warehoused, or more commonly referred to in the industry - "parked". Parking call letters is one of those quirky radio rituals that surround format changes every now and then.

An objective for CBS Radio in parking WBCN calls in Charlotte was clearly to prevent another local or regional broadcaster from grabbing one of the best known names in the business. Using the old, familiar call letters to help with a launch of a new station/format is one of radio marketing's tricks . Back in the early 1991, American Radio Systems replaced the historic WROR call letters and dusty AC oldies format with WBMX(and its Mix moniker) and the emerging Hot AC sound. A little more than five years later, WROR call letters returned to the market on 105.7FM frequency as Greater Media launched its new classic hits station which is now one of the most popular FM stations in the market. Of course, not every time someone brought back an old familiar set of call letters to the market, it ensured the success of the new format/station. The legendary WMEX name came back to Boston dial twice in recent memory - first, as an all-business format on AM 1150 in 1994 and later as a talk station on AM 1060 in 2000. In both instances the end result was a quick flop, but the marketing element of using station's call letters to attract attention from a potential audience has been part of the radio's playbook for years.

Just in case CBS Radui ever decides to bring WBCN calls back to Boston dial, it always has an option to do so. Parking call letters to try to keep them out of the hands of marketplace competitors such as Entercom, Greater Media, Clear Channel, Nassau or Phoenix Media Group is the reason behind WBCN moving down South.

BRW Notebook :

Early reviews : So far, the new Sports Hub 98.5 is without a doubt a work in progress. The early positive signs include, as Boston Globe's sports media columnist Chad Finn agrees, the addition of the new voice to Boston radio - station's night guy Damon Amendolara. Good pickup. The weekend duo of former WBCN afternooner Rob "Hardy" Poole and former Red Sox announcer Jerry Trupiano has been pretty entertaining. Also, SportsHub's FM signal is crisp and clear - hard to go back to the drowsy AM sound of WEEI. The true sports nuts are not likely to switch away from WEEI in the morning drive, but the lack of all-sports talk in the AM drive has logic behind it. CBS is using the well-established "Toucher and Rich" brand to maintain its high ranking among the younger 18-34 male listener demo. In middays, "Tanguay and Zolak" is a perfect example as to why ex-jocks don't often translate into entertaining full time co-hosts. There is some potential energy for the sparks to fly during the afternoon "Felger and Massarotti" show, but when one of the co-hosts is sitting some 17 miles away in a Burlington office/studio, it definitely takes a lot away from the timing and the chemistry between the co-hosts.

Building Sand castles in Lynn : The morning drive show "The Sandbox" on WFNX 101.7FM recently celebrated its 2nd anniversary. Speaking of WFNX, the station has been running on-air promo wooing former WBCN listeners. Needless to say, every remaining Boston rock station is eagerly awaiting August ratings.


raccoonradio said...

WMEX also popped up for a time at 106.5 in Farmington/Rochester NH at an oldies station and I believe at 102.3 FM in the Burlington VT market

Anonymous said...

Zolak can hold his own. He was very popular in providence until Citadel changed the format of the station. Funny, Citadel got rid of it's FM sports talker station in Providence, while CBS launched one in Boston.

Anonymous said...

It's going to be interesting to see how WFNX does since basically (with the excetion of that Worcester station), they are the only rock in town now. Though I don't think that they will blow anyone out of the water with The Shins and whatever new wave crap they have going.