Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Clear Channel is all Bull-ish about 101.7's future

Two of Boston market’s biggest radio operators are stepping up the competitive battles between their local clusters.

Clear Channel Media and Entertainment fired a retaliatory salvo on June 13, switching formats on one of its FM signals to country music to compete more directly against Greater Media’s long-time top-rated country station Country 102.5/WKLB-FM.

The move came a year and half after Greater Media made a similar move, launching rhythmic AC Hot 96.9/WBQT(formerly FM Talker WTKK 96.9) to go head-to-head against Clear Channel’s WJMN/Jamn 94-5.

Clear Channel’s latest move happened two months ago, when it switched the 101.7 from electronica/dance format tagged as ‘Evolution 101.7’ to what it’s billing as The Bull 101.7/Boston’s New Hit Country.

Since the switch to country music, The Bull has been promoting its commercial-free playlist thru Labor Day weekend. Apparently, that entry strategy is paying some pretty impressive, early dividends as the station went from #14 to #7 among listeners age 18 to 34 in the just-released Nielsen Audio’s July(June 19-July 16) ratings survey. Among listeners 18-49, The Bull jumped from 20th to 12th place. Overall, the station went from 276,000 listeners per week to 406,000. Not too shabby for a new cowboy/cowgirl in town.

The format switch for 101.7 is emblematic of the well-established tactic in today’s radio chain competition. The goal isn't so much to beat the other guy but to grab enough listeners away from the big kahuna/top dog to lower its ratings — and in the process add a few more listeners to the challenging cluster’s overall complement of stations. The Bull’s early success took away numbers from WKLB 102.5 which fell to #4 in the all-important 25-54 demographic. In turn, that helped Bull’s corporate cousin Kiss 108/WXKS to add to its lead as #1 station in that advertiser-happy listener group.

WKLB, which has been broadcasting its country format since September 1996 has had no direct head-to-head competitor the Boston market for all this time. In the meantime, it remains to be seen whether theory will play out that Bull will take enough audience away from WKLB to knock the Greater Media station off Kiss 108’s tail.

Just to show how intense the competition between these two radio groups is getting, beyond what listeners are hearing on the air, Clear Channel’s latest move also adds a new wrinkle to the new country battle. According to trade site North East Radio Watch, Clear Channel has applied to FCC to make some major engineering changes to its two FM signals in Providence and Falmouth, Mass. This would allow The Bull/WBWL 101.7’s downtown Boston signal to change from directional to non-directional and potentially add more country music listeners on the South Shore.

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