Since its launch 16 months ago, Free FM has spent more time in the repair shop than out on the open road.
Firings, content train wrecks, show suspensions, schedule changes, weak ratings, weak revenues...
Is Free FM running out of gas?
In branding, words often contain more than one meaning. Take the word "Nova". Chevy thought it sounded good for a line of small-muscle sport cars back in the 70s. Of course, as the well-worn urban legend goes, the "Nova" became "No Va"...a "Doesn't Go" joke. Soon after, sales dropped and Chevy stopped producing the car.
CBS Radio is facing their own "Nova" problem trying to find life after Howard Stern.
Or, at least they're getting very familiar with the phrase "Don't Go There".
When Stern left in late-December 2005, CBS (then known as Infinity Broadcasting) installed a new "Hot Talk on FM" format in its major markets across the nation that formerly broadcast Stern's morning show.
In a not-so-subtle move countering satellite radio (Stern's orbital home for the past 16 months), CBS decided to name the new format "Free FM".
Hot talk on satellite radio = you pay.
Hot talk on traditional radio = it's free radio. Or, Free FM.
Get the difference? The advantage? The Free-dom?
Nope, me neither. Nor have millions of radio listeners in NYC, Los Angeles, Chicago and other markets.
The problem with naming the new national format "Free FM" in this post-9/11 traumatized society is that America is not feeling quite so free. Rather, among the Homeland Security warning lights, anthrax dustings, relentless White House manipulation scandals, a no-end-in-sight War on Terror, wardrobe malfunctions, celebrity meltdowns (physical, verbal and mental), global warming doom-gloom, likely $4-a-gallon gasoline...all the way to Imus ho's, Virginia Tech slayings and Karl Rove's screams at Sheryl Crow, America's mood feels less than free lately.
America seems more obsessed with Fear (on Fox) than with Free (on FM or elsewhere) right now.
Formerly known as WXRK K-Rock for 30 years, WFNY in New York City became the flagship for Free FM post-Stern.
The ratings? (mired at a 1.2 Arbitron rating 12+ all persons).
The revenue? (from $50.8 million in revenue 2005 down to $18.7 million in 2006).
Imagine the costs to operate, advertise and manage...
One thing Free FM was supposed to represent was "free speech", "free attitude", "free humor". Not just "free" from subscription fees; free for wild, open, surprising, unexpected content. Something capitalizing on the "extreme" culture and attitude trend. And that is how it has been promoted. How Free FM has tried to position itself.
Yes, Free FM has its funny moments of comedy, Idol Watching and train wreck radio as well as serious topics, too. And it does have its fans as Free FM pokes fun at popular culture. I usually listen everyday during the week and I'd call myself a fan, not that Arbitron counts me in the ratings.
What Free FM often seems to be, though, is a "No Go". No Va. Post-Imus, it's an easy target for uncontrollable controversy. Just today, more jock suspensions were handed out for midday show "The Doghouse with JV & Elvis", with the show apparently crossing a racial line over some Asian jokes.
Now, how is that line defined again...?
Although JV apologized for the incident and said at the conclusion of today's show that "if this is my last show, at least I got to say what needed to be said"...their real feelings were posted on their blog, with this "censorship" jpeg:
How do their fans feel about this? Read their comments here and here...or watch this clip of Hannity & Colmes as they discuss the subject.
What exactly does Free Radio mean anyway? Is it Free when the audience knows there are FCC regulations, corporate restrictions and advertiser considerations?
Isn't this why Stern left for Sirius?
As a brand, what does Free FM really mean? Especially when the audience knows there are "costs"?
Will new CBS Radio President Dan Mason keep the Free FM experiment going...or will he simply say, "No va"? Can Free FM get repaired? Can he get it up and running?
posted by Chris Kennedy @ Monday, April 23, 2007,
- At 6:25 PM, USpace said...
Great piece, hopefully JV & Elvis will prevail...
absurd thought -
God of the Universe likes
exploit race relations
feed problems make a living
- At 11:39 AM, Peter Cavanaugh said...
Post-Howard, CBS Programmers have chronically displayed the collective vision of naked mole rats.