Navel Gazing At One Radio Lane

Rarely has a station’s own “navel gazing” about its immediate future garnered so much public attention.

But that’s what’s been happening the past few days at One Radio Lane in Cleveland, home of CBS Radio AC WDOK/102.1 – and sister hot AC WQAL/104.1 “Q104”.

Since Monday, the once-reliable station has kept all of its air personalities home, and sent one, 20-plus year vet Nancy Alden, home for good.

Listeners have certainly noticed the absence of Alden, and this week, of the station’s morning show with “Trapper Jack” Elliot, Terry Moir and newsman Jim McIntyre.

And places other than your Mighty Blog of Fun(tm) have noticed as well, as there have now been two Plain Dealer/Cleveland.com articles about the goings on at WDOK.

PD writer Chuck Yarborough weighs with this item posted Friday online, “WDOK to unveil some of new (and old) voices on Monday”. Huh?

Quoting Yarborough:

Listeners to Cleveland radio station WDOK FM/102.1 will tune in to voices on Monday. It’s just not clear whose.

As 2011 was fading into memory, on-air staff members at the CBS Radio-owned station were told they wouldn’t be working this past week, and that WDOK would undergo some “retrenching.”

Retrenching is another word…”tweaking” has been used in notes OMW readers have received back from WDOK after complaining about the changes.

So, what about Monday? From the PD piece again:

Program director Dave Popovich said WDOK is not changing its soft-rock format and will “start incorporating people on Monday.” Popovich would not disclose who among the staff — many of whom have been in Cleveland radio for decades — will return, if any..

“If I told you, why would anybody listen on Monday?” he said.

A publicity stunt designed to shine a new spotlight on an old warhorse? A “tweaking” of the music mix – perhaps in a younger direction to help stem aging demos? (And then, what happens across the hall at One Radio Lane, where any “younging up” of WDOK would presumably require similar adjustment at Q104?)

And what about Trapper Jack, the 20-plus year vet in morning drive?

Speculation about Trapper Jack’s status has been flying around the market like a “superball” bouncing off studio walls.

OMW hears that Elliot and newsman Jim McIntyre were called into work on Friday.

Not to do their show, which was still absent, but presumably to Talk About The Future.

And in a phone interview with the PD’s Chuck Yarborough, even Trapper Jack doesn’t seem to know when he’s coming back:

“I’ve been told I’m coming back,” Elliot said in a phone interview, “but I’m not sure it’s next week. I’ve got no news yet.”

Elliot confirmed reports that he has negotiated a two-year deal with the station but said the contract has not yet been signed.

For what it’s worth, the local Unconfirmed Rumblings about Trapper Jack’s future at WDOK have ranged from “50/50 on his return” (earlier this week) to “he’s probably coming back, but who knows what the show or station around him will be like” (later this week).

WDOK programmer Popovich tells the PD that the changes at 102.1 “are not cost-cutting moves”, though there’s evidence of cost-cutting with the departure of long-time CBS Radio personalities in other markets on the very same day Nancy Alden was not renewed.

“Love Songs” host Gene Knight at CBS Radio San Diego sister station KYXY had a similar tenure to Alden, and is just as much on the radio beach as she is (only with more actual beach in his part of the world)..right down to the scrubbing of his KYXY web page.

Popovich, and currently “not sure when I’m coming back” Elliot, elaborate to the PD:

“There’s a reason for retrenching,” (Popovich) said. “You look at the ratings performance. We’ve got to do better.”

“That’s what we’re going through right now,” Elliot said. Management is using tools like focus groups and the testing of what plays well to reinvent the station, he said.

The article goes on to talk about how poorly PPM ratings have treated softer-leaning AC stations like WDOK, in Cleveland and other markets, with even Alden mentioning that.

But whew, this is a lot to go through for some slight change in the music mix…complete with turmoil about going forward without a well-liked station vet, and questions about your veteran morning host.

Industry speculation is that WDOK will relaunch as “Fresh” (a CBS brand), with a more upbeat music mix – similar, say, to what’s been playing on the station this past week.

Our very own Secondary Editorial Voice(tm) posted this on Twitter on Friday:

@myronfalwell Nathan Obral
If WDOK DOESN’T switch to a younger-sounding ‘Fresh 102’ next week, I’ll eat my felt beret. Book it. The WDOK we knew is effectively dead…

Whoever ran the WDOK Twitter account at the time, responded:

@WDOK 102.1 WDOK
@myronfalwell we’re holding you to that!

Maybe they want Nathan to eat his hat? What does a felt beret taste like, anyway?

Again, why would a station go through all this if more changes of some sort, permanent ones, are not in the offing?

We’d be surprised, for one example, if morning co-host Terry Moir survives the changes at WDOK. At least she has a “day job” off-air at Gannett NBC affiliate WKYC/3.

And of course, the woman who’s basically been the face of WDOK, Nancy Alden, is “on the beach”, telling the Plain Dealer that she’ll do some voiceover work and concentrate on “new creative outlets”.

There are some who would personally drive Alden down I-77, and over to the Rubber City Radio Group studios on West Market Street in Akron…heading for the temporary home of new smooth AC WNWV/107.3 “The Wave” with a host of other ex-WDOKers, including founding “Soft Rock 102.1” programmer Sue Wilson – who now programs and co-hosts mornings on sister country powerhouse WQMX/94.9.

But well, timing stinks, considering the station cemented its founding airstaff just weeks BEFORE Alden was not renewed at WDOK.

It’s not that we don’t expect her to land at “The Wave” eventually…there’s just no place for her right now, and certainly not in her natural midday time slot.

WNWV middayer Mark Ribbins is just as vital to the new/returned station as a bridge to “The Wave’s” smooth jazz history.

And given Alden’s power in the midday time slot – WDOK moved her briefly to PM drive to replace Dan Deely, and moved her back almost as quickly – any other placement of Nancy Alden on WNWV wouldn’t seem right.

Deely, of course, resurfaced this week as “The Wave’s” morning driver.

There’s also the open question – does Alden have a non-compete clause in her CBS contract, and can that even be enforced if that contract expires on its own? That, we don’t know.

And then, there’s a question – will the new WDOK, whatever form it takes, become “jockless”?

Elliot denies that to the PD’s Yarborough, saying the station isn’t going to “try to out-Lake the Lake”, Clear Channel’s automated adult hits WHLK/106.5.

But we’d place a pretty good bet (hatwear or no) that any on-air personalities outside of Trapper Jack and whoever is on the morning show with him will appear via the radio magic of voicetracking. (We did cough when we typed “magic”.)

What about the “mix of old and new voices”? Quoting Yarborough again:

“There is a potentially a great body of up-and-coming talent available to help us accomplish our goal of refreshing the radio station,” Popovich said, jokingly acknowledging that he’s heard from just about every student and graduate of the Independence-based Ohio School of Broadcasting.

We didn’t know Popovich was such a comedian.

So, there will be an adult contemporary station of some sort on 102.1 next week. It may even retain the use of the WDOK call letters…in conjunction, perhaps, with new “Fresh” branding? (Just a guess on our part.)

But there will be changes, and no, Nancy Alden won’t be coming back…

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4 Responses to Navel Gazing At One Radio Lane

  1. Yekimi says:

    Per Prince, I think a felt beret taste like raspberry.

  2. Jay says:

    If that many people are upset about the absence of air personalities this week, I’d think management would be thrilled to hear it — doesn’t that translate to good ratings? Apparently people are listening to WDOK and miss the morning show people.

  3. Bruce says:

    Nice on-air discussion of Ohio Media Watch on the air this morning with Trapper and crew.

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