Radio Waves: 8/23/19

John Sebastian says “Wow!”

A couple weeks ago I mentioned a new local format that launched on KDRI AM-FM in Tucson, Arizona. Programmed by Bobby Rich, “The Drive,” as it is called on the air, is designed to attract listeners aged 45-54, a demographic often ignored by corporate radio.

John Sebastian thinks he can go one better. By super-serving the baby boomer age group of 55-72, he thinks he can not only dominate in the ratings, but in ad revenue as well in part by bringing advertisers back to radio that long ago left for television.

If his name rings a bell, you’re right. Sebastian has been in radio 51 years, and has worked at or programmed numerous stations over the course of his career, including KDWB/Minneapolis,  WCOZ/Boston, KSLX/Phoenix, KUPD/Phoenix, KISW/Seattle, WSM-FM/Nashville, KPLX/Dallas, and here in Los Angeles, KHJ (930 AM), KTWV (94.7 FM), KZLA (now KLLI, 93.9 FM), and KLAC (570 AM).

He believes that Boomers not only are being the short end of the stick when it comes to programming, but that stations owners are missing out on a lot of Boomer income. “Sure there are stations that Boomers listen to,” he explained, “but that’s more of an accident. Most stations try to attract a younger audience, some go for an older audience, and Boomers will tend to listen to those stations because they like radio and it’s the best they have.

“But no one programs directly to them. And yet they are the group most loyal to radio

At the same time, Sebastian says that radio has ceded to television most of the advertising directed toward Boomers … to their own detriment. The 75 million Boomers, he says, hold 70% of the wealth in the United States and account for 42% of consumer spending. Sebastian claims that radio stopped trying to directly attract them long ago.

Sebastian’s solution? The Wow Factor.

Designed to dominate the 55-72 year old age group — of which Sebastian is a member — The Wow Factor will attract multi-generational (family) listening, meaning that listeners both younger and older will find it appealing. Special features of The Wow Factor include:

• A wide variety of music Boomers literally grew up with. Top-40, AOR, classic rock, smooth jazz and country are all part of the mix. “We are testing the entire wide-ranging library right now,” Sebastian says, calling the mix “eclectic … never before heard on radio.”

• Few traditional elements of music radio’s past. “The days of constantly giving traffic and weather are gone,” Sebastian explains. “Smart phones give us all that and more, making much of what we’ve always broadcast superfluous. With The Wow Factor I am going against my own philosophies I’ve held in the past. I want to reinvent radio … everything is being thrown out.”

• The morning show will be unique and feature a “storyteller.” Think fascinating histories behind the music, songs and artists … with brevity.

• Surprises, as in “Wow, I can’t believe they’re playing that song,” I.e. The Wow Factor.

To back up the format, Sebastian says the sales effort will be as unique as the programming, and help bring both local and national advertisers back to radio. “Upscale auto dealers, banks, investment companies, insurance companies, upscale restaurants, vacation clients, retirement homes and communities, senior care, specialty physicians, plumbers, handymen … “in general what you see on television right now and not heard much on the radio.”

He’s holding out for a full-power FM station as his first client (as opposed to my idea of taking an AM station and proving AM music radio is still viable), and says he has some good stations interested. He wants it to become a nationwide phenomenon, so make sure its done right, he will move to the first Wow station’s city and program it personally “to ensure it’s done to perfection.” Sound familiar? Much of that was done by Bill Drake and Gene Chenault when they set the world on fire with Boss Radio as heard locally on KHJ starting in 1965. And it worked well.

The format idea has been spinning in Sebastian’s head for a long time and has been perfected and marketed over the past year. It will be interesting to watch this develop once he lands a client.

Next week: I have a new favorite afternoon show, and I bet it’s not what you think. You tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine.