Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Radio Stories: 20 Years Ago in Tampa

63° - hazy at 10:28am

Consultant Tim Moore of Grand Rapids (and Naples, Florida) based Audience Development Group writes and distributes a weekly email titled "The Midweek Motivator", which is available free via subscription on the ADG website.

This morning Tim wrote about a legendary radio battle that took place in Tampa 20 years ago and what can still be learned from it. With his permission, I've republished his piece below:

Not since Pearl Harbor had the world witnessed a classic attack like the one that sank Edens Broadcasting's battleship Q-105 twenty years ago. Though no lives were lost, a legendary CHR was torpedoed, rolled over, and sank. It was a story of hubris, élan, overconfidence, and unbridled aggression. In 74 days, one group's largest cash cow was trumped by a pig, and the Tampa Bay market was never to be the same.

Beyond the fact that it's a 20 year anniversary, why showcase the story now? Perhaps because there exist multiple learnings from this epic showdown which should be revisited by any serious student of how battles are won and lost; leaders playing defense, attackers using guerrilla tactics, and the history that lingers (since history is always written by the winning side).

In 1989, Edens Broadcasting was nationally developing with Q-105 its flagship for ratings, revenue and cash flow. WRBQ was recognized as one of the elite large market CHR's regularly scoring in the mid teens 12-plus. The rules of marketing warfare proffered stations of iconic proportion like Q-105 if not unassailable, were certainly unbeatable and not worth the pain for a would-be attacker. Gabe Hobbs and Marc Chase were alpha-thinking in the Jacor situation room across town. Somehow the concept of a Pig as the personification of a CHR surfaced. Hobbs and Chase had always wanted to do a CHR in Tampa, but Jacor owned the Eastman Radio rep firm, and thus had assured Q-105 that Jacor would stay out of the CHR brand. Inconceivably, Edens and Q-105 dropped Eastman's representation, and a large farm animal was born.

Believing Q-105 was "Fortress Singapore" immune to attack-and-conquer strategy, Michael Osterhout (Edens COO) upon hearing of Jacor's guerrilla assault quipped, "I sure hope you're renting and not buying." Game on. Hobbs and Chase knew Q-105 would throw large sums into the battle, so thus started their campaign with brilliant and unconventional tactics: they made a demand for money. They went on their News-Talk giant WFLA and reported they were "holding Q-105 up for a million dollars in ransom or they'd switch formats." A week later the sum bumped to five million. At five PM that same Friday, WFLZ became "Jamz 93" for an hour, then, abruptly switched back to Gold without further comment. The following Monday morning, Gary Edens was ensconced at the St. Francis Hotel, San Francisco. WFLZ's morning team woke Edens up at 4 AM Pacific Time and offered Edens one more chance to "pay-up" or be attacked. His response was something to the effect of, "Bring it on, boys." With that, Power Pig threw the switch, and Paula Abdul's Cold Hearted Snake fired the first torpedo.

Surprisingly says Hobbs, "We kept waiting for them to react, and they did nothing." It took Q-105 sixty days to trim spot loads, calibrate music, and re-image against the Pig. It was too late. In 74 days, Q-105 decompressed from a 14.4 to an 8.6 and Bay Area economics were forever changed.

Midst the trail of flotsam, Q-105's thousand-dollar-a-spot morning rate slipped to $250.00. Cash flow plummeted, and WRBQ's parent company would never recover. What started out as a game, became arguably radio's most vitriolic war.

Lessons carried forward remind us no format is unassailable, yet too few companies have the ingenuity and commitment to carry out a Power Pig assault. The right people with a big idea and a lot of passion can remake an entire market (in 74 days). We asked Gabe, "If Edens had paid the million, would you have gone away?" He grinned, and replied "absolutely." War is hell.

Tim Moore can be reached at

1 comment:

Greg "Mr Goodhelp" said...

I'm just itching to hear how some classic rock market mainstay has just been attacked and destroyed by a new station that "didn't know better!"

Aren't there stations around anymore with jocks on the air?

"The Music Must Change" --The Who