T Dog’s Think Tank: How NOT to promote your new host

Dr. Jeremy Levitt, we hardly knew ye.

WVON-AM’s choice to replace Roland Martin as morning drive-time host was mysteriously replaced last week by fill-in hosts Matt McGill and Perri Small, at least temporarily.

According to Chicagoland Radio and Media’s website, the person they hired to replace Martin turned out to be owner Melody Spann-Cooper’s brother-in-law and Pervis Spann’s (Melody’s father) son-in-law.

When Leavitt left to go on vacation two weeks ago, McGill & Small filled in for him, until December 12. Last week, the vacation became permanent and the duo were still “filling in” for him, though Dr. Leavitt was not mentioned on-air anymore and his profile was removed from the station’s website.

Usually when a new on-air personality debuts on a station, the show is promoted intensely. But in a rather odd departure, WVON decided to keep the new name of the host a secret – even up to the very day the individual debuted (October 20) and hoped the suspense would build.

But the gamble didn’t payoff. When listeners found out it was someone they never heard of before, they were proabably turned off – especially if the person was replacing someone with the name recognition of Roland Martin, who left to join the syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show. And the person already had to fill those shoes Martin left behind.

Even worse, Martin’s successor may have been a result of nepotism – after all, how else can you explain the Leavitt was related to the Spanns? It may work in Chicago politics (believe me, it does), but not in radio, which has its own image problems.

WVON officials flunked Marketing 101 in radio and television programming by forgetting a simple rule: don’t keep your listeners and/or viewers in the dark about anything, especially when it comes to new talent. It’s like a major network announcing they have a new show featuring a “mystery A-list star”. When the audience tunes in for the first episode and the finds the “A-star” is not Brad Pitt or George Clooney but Tom Arnold, they’ll flee for the exits faster than you can say canceled, and they’ll feel alienated and disappointed. It’s just bad marketing, and if you plan to do something like this, you can also plan to send your resume out.

When WVON looked at those November PPM numbers – they knew it was over for Leavitt as quickly as it began. You can’t fool the audience. And despite his crednitals, they don’t apply in broadcasting. The audience just doesn’t care. What matters is being engaging enough to bring in an audience and keeping them. Sure, Geena Davis is a Mensa member, but her status didn’t bring viewers to her Geena Davis Show, whose brand of comedy was about as dumb as Caroline in the City.

But the good news is, Matt McGill and Perry Small are a promising duo and have a fresh perspective on the news every morning and what the African-American community is talking about (and believe me, there is a lot to talk about.) Though the numbers are likely to remain low, they’ll likely bring in more listeners than Dr. Leavitt brought in. And that may be enough to keep them in the morning slot permanmently.

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