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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Stern Replacement Crew...

I just listened to the Stern replacement crew, thanks to the Internet feed by Infinity, oh sorry Joel, I mean CBS Radio. There is still a lot of new and exciting content to listen to, but I have some initial impressions to share with those that are interested. I will provide ongoing commentary on this motley crew, including some competitive analysis and even trying to identify where the Stern listeners really are migrating to – yes Joel, even Imus will be included in this analysis.

To preface this ‘review’ I will set the stage on what I am reviewing. I actively listened to about 2 hours of the Sports Junkies (from 6am – 8am EST), about 2 hours of David Lee Roth (7:30am – 9:30am EST), listened to about an hour of Rover (9am-10am EST), and am currently listening to Adam Carolla now (9am - 11:30am EST). I switched back and forth when commercial breaks came up. I plan on listening to Penn Jillette and more of the other shows later today.

I will tell you that Infinity has done a pretty good job with most of the replacements. It should be no surprise given the combined years of radio experience in all of the players. Based on a very limited time listening, they are batting 75% based on initial impressions.

The Junkies are already well established in DC and Baltimore with a good following. They should do well now that the real competition is gone, and they are going head to head with Elliot on Clear Channel’s DC101. They will also have to compete somewhat with the constantly changing Jack Diamond show and the emerging from the ashes Greaseman, but these are not real threats.

The Junkies came on this morning thanking the audience and were humble about having Howard’s time slot. It was very clear they had prepared for the show and launched a couple of new bits. The vast majority of listeners to their show this morning probably had some exposure to their show already with their past morning show on WHFS, prior to the switch to Spanish programming. They also were following the Stern show for the last year. They are very experienced broadcasters, and will be in a growth mode, with many ratings peaks and valleys over the next year. Their show is more edgy than most of the replacements, though there is a big sports spin to the show which could drive some listeners to Elliot. The Junkies demos match very well with the Stern demos, so they should do well with the retention of the past Stern audience. The Junkies are only broadcasting in Baltimore and DC given their local content, though this can only help them with ratings.

Rover was astonishingly good and has just moved his show from Cleveland to Chicago to do his show. Rover was very comfortable, well organized, and a great story teller. His crew around him also gelled very well and he was able to move the show on at a good pace. Rover also came across as humble and thanked the audience for listening and asked them to give him time as he built the show. He was less cutting edge than Howard, but did have some content that helped keep the show compelling. His footprint is the Midwest and he should be able to build on his great ratings in Ohio and expand into Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, and Memphis. His new flagship station is a very strong talk station on WCKG, with the legendary Steve Dahl in the afternoons.

Rover’s competition in Chicago and Detroit is strong (with Johnny B back on WLUP in Chicago and Drew and Mike with a strong following on WRIF in Detroit). There are also a few other Gnats in these markets, including Mancow and Bob & Tom, but Rover should not have problems going against these guys. The good news is Chicago could be a big win and a place to build the ratings out of. One way to accelerate this would be to build cross over between the shows. Getting the loyal Dahl listeners to tune into Rover will allow Rover to build a strong following in Chicago.

Adam Carolla, who is a very talented radio guy, and fits in great into the West Coast stations, including Los Angeles, San Diego, and Las Vegas. His show is very well produced and his talent as a radio personality is amazing. Adam is light years ahead of the other talent in the replacement roster, with Rover and Junkies being in the second tier. There is no question that Adam will retain the Stern audience, given the lack of real competition in these markets.

The main question here will not be his ratings, but his focus. Adam has over 7 active projects in the works, including new television gigs and writing/production jobs. It is clear that this is a lower priority for Adam, and the question is how well he can keep focus on the show versus his other gigs. That being said, Adam has a first-class brand and also is well known in the right demos. He has a great personality and also is very good ‘On Air,’ Having Carolla on a live feed to the West Coast could also really help in building on the Stern audience, as his show was delayed by three hours. The probability for success for Adam is the highest of the replacement crew, as long as he does not get drawn away by the temptations of Hollywood. It will be an interesting soap opera to watch unfold over the next year or so.

Finally… the genuine loser of the bunch. David Lee Roth’s show was a major train wreck. His show was not only boring, it was very poorly managed. The fact that this is on the CBS Radio flagship station WXRK, it is amazing on how poorly this show was run. It is also amazing on how boring the content was, given the amount of prep time that was put into this show. Roth came across as an ego maniac and it was clear he was trying to fill time. He struggled with the show and it was very clear he is not a radio talent. This should not be a surprise. Roth did well in Boston on a few shows, but he is now in the big league and needs to perform day after day.

Unfortunately, there is no possible scenario that I can consider where Roth is going to be successful. Even if he starts doing very extreme stunts on the show and brings in high class guests, he is not a radio guy. His concert stories are going to dry up in a few weeks, his excitement for this job is going to wane, and he is going to die on the vine. Mark my words, January 3, 2006, David Lee Roth will not be on WXRK by January 3, 2007. It should be obvious to every radio executive in the world; Roth should go back to doing whatever he does and get off the air. The second biggest mistake Infinity management did was to sign Roth as their flagship product. He is a big name, and makes a big splash, but radio is about long term consistency, not about quick smoke and mirrors and flash.

Overall the 75% batting average is great. Additionally, CBS Radio is doing some great things to fill the competitive gap. They are streaming their shows on the internet, blogging, online chat, testing out new formats (Jack and FreeFM) and even offering podcast subscriptions for the talk shows. This type of creativity, which has been lacking in the radio world, can only help in recovering from the seismic shock of Stern’s departure. I wish the CBS Radio division well. I wish the Junkies, Rover, Corolla and Roth well. As a listener I do hope these shows can smooth out a bit. I hope CBS radio continues to push the technology envelope, and finally they provide the best content to their audience possible.

There is a lot of radio broadcasting to come, and I look forward to watch this soap opera unfold. I also am looking forward to January 9th, 2006 when Howard enters a new world of technology.

And, by the way, the biggest mistake Infinity management ever made… was to let Howard finish his career on terrestrial radio. They should have suspended him on that cool day in October 2004; it would have put them in a much better position today, though this is a discussion for another day.

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