Mancow is ManToast at Q101 in Chicago. Nothing personal...but his run is done. After an eight year run doing mornings, which led to Mancow building a network of syndicated stations for his show and fueled a long-running on-air fued with Howard Stern, Mancow's flagship has let him go.
Yes, his show brought Q101 a version of "success"...but it cost the station far more than it earned. What used to be THE original "new rock alternative" station in America -- spawning dozens of copycats hoping to get a taste of Q101's strong ratings pre-Mancow -- is now just another starved Alt Rock station gone stale, a victim of misdirected strategy and an exhausting, lengthy competitive attack. What used to be a 4-to-5 share radio station is now mired with a 2 share or less...even lower when you take away Mancow's morning ratings.
Back in 1991 and 1992, Q101 was one of several has-been adult contemporary radios going nowhere. They had a million dollar morning show with Robert "Murphy in the Morning". And nothing else after his show. So they hired Joint Communications to help them figure out a new format direction -- one that would be compatible with their morning show (with its lengthy contract). Doing advanced market research, we identified Q101's opportunity and helped them create the strategy: an "AC" version of Modern Rock, which later was dubbed "New Rock Alternative". In Chicago, at the time, there was a sizeable audience of both women and men who liked to Rock and who'd listen to a new station if it played WXRT's gold Modern Rock along with the current Alt Rock sound still being shaped by bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots.
What made Q101 unique at the time was that Q101 actually targeted women who loved New Rock Alternative; they knew the men would come anyway. They kept that strategy for 4 years, leading the way for breakthroughs from Smashing Pumpkins, Tori Amos, Alanis Morissette and Sheryl Crow...and anything grunge before grunge even had a name.
Then, they made the decision to go male- instead of female-targeted. Against the core essence of the station strategy. This opened the way for estrogen success from new "Pop Alternative AC" Mix WTMX as Q101 went harder and more testosterone. Ratings for Q eroded, talent left or were fired, and a new competitor The Zone came in to further worsen Q101's ratings performance. Although Q ultimately outlasted The Zone, the damage was done -- Q101 was a shell of its former self.
That's the local effect.
Nationally, Q101's move to a male-target may have been most responsible in killing the Alt Rock format on the radio. At the time, Q101 was the leader for the Alternative nation; its influence was strong. It reinvigorated KROQ in LA and inspired the launches of 99X in Atlanta, The Buzz in Houston, The Zone in Phoenix, The End in Seattle, dozens of "New Rock Alternatives" across the country, and even the format change of Howard Stern's flagship station in NYC on K-Rock from Classic Rock to Alt Rock. Q101 showed radio executives that money could be made. A lot of money.
However, what the other stations (and the record labels) didn't realize was the importance of women New Rock Alt listeners within the success equation. And that it had a specific local design. Once Q101 gave that up design strategy and went male...bringing in more "edgy" Alt and Rap/Rock and finally reshaping the station into a Mancow-friendly station, the downslide of New Rock Alternative began.
Q101's move 10 years ago rippled throughout the industry, followed like lemmings by dozens of stations. Today, when you google "Q101 sucks", you get almost 10,000 links. All from this one local Chicago station.
Q101 used to be be an innovator. A pioneer for the format. A great station. Getting rid of Mancow is a good thing. Now the question is: can they return to their innovative roots and revive the New Alt Rock format again?
posted by Chris Kennedy @ Tuesday, July 11, 2006,