T Dog Media Think Tank: Nine-FM’s not an alternative

Yours truly remembers two years ago when Nine-FM – the triplecast of WDEK, WKIE, and WRZA – ran promos that stated “Give corporate radio the finger.”

But today, it seems that a corporate radio-like atmosphere has taken over Nine-FM – and it’s not owned by one of the big radio chains.

It’s a issue that’s being debated hotly on Chicago radio message boards (don’t be surprised – stations that get no ratings often are talked about the most on these boards) on what direction Nine-FM seems to be going.

At first, the station was a breath of fresh air. All right, somewhat of a breath of fresh air. You can go from The Goo Goo Dolls into Kanye West or Stevie Wonder into Nickelback with ease. The station went by its slogan: “We Play Anything.”

Now, that’s not the case. The station musically is a mess. The station sounds like a poor man’s Jack-FM as a clone of WTMX with a weak signal. And the playlists suck. Like, how many times you can hear “The Great Escape” and any Kelly Clarkson song in a given day?

They recently introduced another slogan – “It’s mostly upbeat music”. Uh, excuse me geniuses, but doesn’t that defeat the purpose of “We Play Anything”? Why are they using a slogan similar to those of WLIT and Love FM?

Now the station is airing a brokered show called “Dance Factory”- which once aired weekly on Saturday Nights – is now airing seven nights a week – potentially alienating the older 25-54 audience that listens to the station earlier the day (I love dance music, but not this show, and especially not seven nights a week.)

And here comes the latest genius idea. Nine is airing high-school football games on Friday nights.

High school football? What state are we living in, Texas?

Nothing wrong with airing such fare, but its best left to a low-power AM or community station, not on one with broad area coverage on three signal-strained stations that plays music. (there are pro teams that air games on FM music stations in other cities, but that’s different.) Will anyone in Crete or Morton Grove care about two Naperville high schools playing one another? If you are going to stop music to air some HS football game, or some other distraction, it’s basically an open invitation to turn the dial, or better yet, fire up the iPod or Internet radio. You risk losing your audience. (You’re probably saying about Nine – what audience?)

When Sky Daniels was in charge, the station played more variety, breaking music before the major stations, playing deep cuts, obscure songs, and more. But the problems began after Daniels left for personal reasons. The station later saw an exodus of talent, including morning personality Joey Fortman and Chicago radio veteran Johnny Mars. And just yesterday, PD and afternoon personality Matt DuBiel left the station for a better position (and better pay) at classic rocker WERV-FM (The River) in Aurora.

The situation is dire. Nine now has no viable morning show, no national advertising, a crappy Internet stream, a bland website, and it seems to have no purpose or direction whatsoever. There are only two discjockeys on the entire payroll, with the rest of the station either voicetracked or automated.

If the small guys in this market want to get noticed, they have to be different from them, not walk like, talk alike. Do something that will have people talking about them on message boards in a positive manner, to get the audience to tune in. This is not what Nine is doing right now. Judging by their execution, Nine is not that different from the corporate radio stations out there in Chicago.

Big radio chains aren’t the only ones immune to bad decisions made by management who thinks they know how to serve the public interest. That’s the problem with radio right there. They don’t know – or care – how to serve an audience (Like the big guys.) Nine’s GM used to work at a CBS-owned radio station here in Chicago. Enough said. Around here, the small frys have the same mindset as the big guys.

Let’s face it. The “We Play Anything” mantra is so 2005, like the Chicago White Sox. Both have stumbled and fallen on their faces since, although the White Sox arguably has had more success that year than Nine had. It’s the same old same old – safe playlists, voicetracking, brokered programming – why am I listening to this when I can listen to the big, corporate-owned sticks to hear the same thing?

If you think the listeners are not impressed, the advertisers are less so. Many national and local advertisers stay away because the audience is too small and the signals are crap. The sales team should do a better job of selling the station, despite the problems. There’s no excuse. In the position they are in, the sales team should be hungrier and more aggressive.

And of course, the job is made even harder by how the breaks are split up. The ad breaks are only a minute. That’s nice, but there are five or six an hour. So much for ten in a row. Or even five in a row. All it does is create more clutter, which advertisers hate.

Nine told its listeners to give corporate radio the finger. Well, to the sixteen listeners they have left, it may be time for them to give Nine the finger, since they basically went from fresh alternative to the same old everyday stuff. Just like the corporate-owned big radio chains.