The 87.7 Bombshell

So, we were right to be skeptical of talk (and even some rumors, not connected to us) that Venture Technologies could LMA WLFM-LP/87.7 to local sports radio operator Good Karma Broadcasting (WKNR/850-WWGK/1540) to simulcast their operation on the FM band.

No, as it turns out, we should have paid attention to these curious, anonymous comments on our own item about the so-called “Franken FM” radio station, posted the night of June 14th by an OMW reader named “Kate”:

Interesting new FM Cleveland. Tom Wilson of Cleveland talking to radio people about format.

We approved these comments without even realizing what was being posted…the name of former Cleveland radio executive/owner Tom Wilson (WDOK/102.1, WRMR/850, etc.) wasn’t ringing any bells with us.

Then, Crain’s Cleveland Business got those bells ringing early Monday morning with an article by Michelle Park, titled “Longtime radio exec plans launch of new Cleveland rock station”.

Park’s article says Wilson will indeed launch a local radio station on the 87.7 audio carrier of low-power TV station WLFM-LP/6, which as we extensively reported, has been testing on and off recently:

(Wilson) has planned a rock and entertainment talk format driven by a team of about a dozen people who will take to the streets of Cleveland and put Clevelanders on the air. (What kind of rock is still up in the air, and yes, he’s open to involving local artists.)

Indeed, Park’s article invokes your Mighty Blog of Fun(tm), where we suggested that the sports “fight songs” some thought were pointing to sports radio on 87.7 could mean something else.

Quoting, well, our own blog, first, in the item where we offered up audio from the WLFM-LP test:

For all we know, the sports-themed songs are an attempt to “sound Cleveland” – as few songs exist that mention the city by Lake Erie.

Crain’s quotes this passage of ours in the Monday article, which says our musings appear to have been on target:

That’s exactly it: Mr. Wilson says the station will work to sound Cleveland. He has planned a rock and entertainment talk format driven by a team of about a dozen people who will take to the streets of Cleveland and put Clevelanders on the air. (What kind of rock is still up in the air, and yes, he’s open to involving local artists.)

(Yes, it feels a bit surreal to us, and we’ve never had any contact with Tom Wilson.)

Wilson preaches the Radio Gospel of Localism, and aims directly at the “corporate radio sucks” crowd (presumably a receptive audience of rock radio fans) with quotes like this:

“We just see a need in the market,” Mr. Wilson said. “Radio has become so homogenized and corporate throughout the country that the localism has vanished. What we’re doing is bringing that back.”

The goal is to hire local personalities and immerse them at rib cook-offs, county fairs and the like, Mr. Wilson said. He’s in talks with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame about promotions, too.

The connection with the current WLFM-LP ownership, Los Angeles-based TV company Venture Technologies Group LLC, is apparently this: We didn’t know that Wilson is apparently a principal in Venture. The article links him to Venture’s TV operations in markets like Las Vegas, and the recent LMA of the original WLFM-LP in Chicago (now WKQX-LP) to Merlin Media as the reinvented alt-rocker “Q87.7”.

He tells Crain’s that he’s holding ownership of WLFM-LP under his Murray Hill Broadcasting, though FCC records only mention Venture at this time. (Assuming he is indeed involved with Venture, that’s just a filing formality.)

The Crain’s article quotes, of all people, Good Karma Broadcasting’s Craig Karmazin…Ms. Park presumably approached him in the first place due to the aforementioned LMA rumors that never panned out.

The “ESPN Cleveland” owner calls the prospect of the upcoming WLFM-LP “intense” competition, but is happy to see expansion of the radio pie by an experienced Cleveland operator with a record of success

Tom Wilson certainly knows how to create successful radio stations, in his ownership partnership with Tom Embrescia and Larry Pollock back in the 1980s.

He does have some obstacles now, that he didn’t have with WDOK.

For one, 87.7 FM is not a “full” radio station.

As noted here numerous times, it exists because the analog audio carrier of television’s Channel 6 lands at 87.75 mHz. It’s the same phenomenon that allowed numerous TV channel 6 operations in the analog days to offer the audio of their newscasts to commuters in cars.

Second, at least some radios can’t tune down to 87.7 FM…though in our personal experience, those radios are older or cheaper. Here at the OMW World Headquarters, we can tune into 87.7 on every radio inside, plus in the OMW Mobile.

Third, WLFM-LP will, barring changes at the FCC, have a defined radio shelf-life. The station is licensed as an analog LPTV station, which are all required to convert to digital by September 1, 2015. The audio carrier of digital TV channel 6 does not show up on the FM radio band.

(That same commercial LPTV license, of course, allows WLFM to operate as a “commercial radio station” right next to the non-comm band.)

But though we’re rooting for Tom Wilson, very much so…(it’s a great story!)…there’s another obstacle.

No one knows 87.7 FM exists, or is a radio station. Well, aside from OMW and radio message board readers, Crain’s Cleveland Business readers, and those who stumble upon the station scanning up on their FM radio from “Z107.9”, or down from the non-comm band.

With 3,000 watts in its license, WLFM-LP will be the relative equivalent of a class A FM station. That’s not a full-market class B (like WDOK, etc.), but more power than 250 watt translator W256BT/99.1, the analog on-air home of Clear Channel alt-rocker “99X”.

Wilson is clearly ready for battle…investing money and people into the station which he tells Crain’s should launch by late July.

But no one had to remind people that 102.1 was a radio station back when WDOK “came out of the elevator” into its successful AC format as “Soft Rock 102.1”. Wilson will have to have money for promotion, more so than most existing stations.

How Tom Wilson manages to stake out literally new space on the FM dial, just north of the University of Akron’s WZIP/88.1, will be fascinating to watch.

As happened in our coverage of the launch of CBS Radio sports WKRK/92.3 “The Fan”, we’re getting questions…like “how do I get ahold of Tom Wilson?”

We assume contacting Venture Technologies Group directly would probably get you in touch with Mr. Wilson.

(The company actually operates many full-fledged TV stations, including MyNetwork TV and Me-TV affiliates. The so-called “Franken FMs” are just part of the Venture portfolio, though they are certainly the most known company in that field.)

One other question: how similar will WLFM’s “rock and entertainment talk” format be to Clear Channel rock/talk WMMS/100.7’s successful “man cave” format?

Does Wilson plan to mix the music and talk elements more than WMMS does now, with that station’s drive times almost exclusively talk? And for that matter, what kind of rock music will 87.7 feature?

(Those suggesting AAA would be wise to revisit the history of short-lived AAA outlet “V107.3”.)

Check back in a month or so, when Wilson’s Murray Hill Broadcasting plans to launch Cleveland’s newest radio station, in quotes or not…

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6 Responses to The 87.7 Bombshell

  1. Yekimi says:

    Second, at least some radios can’t tune down to 87.7 FM…though in our personal experience, those radios are older or cheaper.

    Harumppph! My car radio doesn’t tune down to 87.7 and it definitely isn’t old and it sure as heck wasn’t cheap! However my ancient home stereo [one of the first with a digital display/tuner] does go down to 87.7 so I’ll have to wait and see if I can pick it up at home.

    • As we said, “our personal experience”…as the saying goes, YMMV.

      It’ll still be a hurdle for Mr. Wilson, knowing that even a small percentage of radios can’t even tune into his station…

  2. Hooray for LOCAL radio! Something not owned by a monster corporation that sounds like every other station in the market! Here is hoping this is just the start of a return to radio by and for the people!

  3. Mike says:

    Does this mean the return of Inner Sanctum??

  4. Elvis says:

    Well when they switch to digital they could carry it as a subchannel, like CSCN on 25.9.

    • The problem isn’t on the TV side, the problem is that LPTV 6 going to digital takes WLFM-LP’s audio off of the FM band.

      Even if they could do something like move another translator into Cleveland (ala “99X”‘s W256BT), they could not feed it from the WLFM-LP audio…analog or digital. They’d have to home it at least on the HD2 sidechannel of a RADIO station. (There’s absolutely no connection between digital “HDTV” and radio’s “HD Radio”, despite the name similarity.)

      That’s a 2015 problem, at this point, and assumes WLFM-LP’s “radio format” is still a viable concern by tnen.

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