Radio One Detroit's year of change
When Radio One yanked Detroit's longtime queen of political radio, Mildred Gaddis, out of her WCHB-AM 1200 morning slot into the afternoon shift in February, it seemed counter-intuitive, almost a demotion.
Surely the governors, county executives and assorted politicos who appeared on Gaddis' show, and the feisty locals who called in to argue were more on their game in the morning? Morning is when news breaks.
"It didn't make sense to me at the time; I was of the opinion that during afternoon drive, people would be burnt out and want to be sillier, but that's not necessarily so," Gaddis said. She has found that the afternoon audience is more awake, and energetic.
Gaddis' afternoon show includes more lifestyle, "magazine"-style elements, but she could never ditch the politics. "My listeners have come to accept a certain level of intense politics, and I couldn't get away from that if I tried," Gaddis said. As for her access to the bigs: "It has never been an issue for me."
It's been a year of change, both welcome and unwelcome, for Radio One programmers. Another big move was putting local favorite John Mason on its 6-10 a.m. shift on 105.9 KISS-FM (WDMK-FM), bumping the struggling, syndicated Tom Joyner show to Gaddis' old time slot, 6-10 a.m. on WCHB. Radio One Detroit, part of the national urban media company, operates four radio stations in the city.
With all the changes, and the death of popular WCHB midday host Angelo Henderson in February, it's been a tumultuous year for the radio company, a 12-month period that Radio One Detroit vice president and general manager Kathy Stinehour will be happy to put behind her.
But it's clear the Gaddis and Mason moves were winners. Last winter, Gaddis' morning Arbitron rating on WCHB was typically a 1.0 share; but after her shift to afternoons, she is doing as well or better, earning a 1.4 share in August for listeners ages 25-54.
"Mildred is a star, no matter where you put her; her listeners follow," said Don Tanner, a partner in Tanner Friedman Strategic Communications.
In January, the Joyner morning show on 105.9 KISS FM was ranked No. 19 in the Detroit market, with a 1.9 share among people ages 25-54. By August, with Mason and Coco in that time slot, the ranking had improved to No. 8, with a 5.2 share, among the same age group.
"We're extremely pleased with the growth of Mason and Coco in the morning on WDMK, the audience is three times larger than it was with the Tom Joyner show," Stinehour said. "It's a big, big upgrade and it better serves the community. Our listeners want to see real people and they want to interact. Mason and Coco have a great chemistry and a great history in Detroit."
Tanner sees it as a win for local personality radio over syndicated content. "Live, local — talk that engages and informs. It's the only thing that can try to compete with satellite and iPods," said Tanner, "The numbers indicate that Mason has nearly doubled KISS-FM's morning ratings — no doubt cutting into rival Steve Harvey's audience."
Mason, who was joined by Coco in July and Foolish and Tune-Up later in the summer, has indeed cut into Harvey's big numbers. The syndicated Harvey show airs locally on Mix 92.3 (WMXD-FM, 92.3 FM).
Harvey's average share in the first three months of 2014 was a 9.3 share, swamping KISS-FM's morning show (the syndicated Joyner) which was pulling an average of 2.2 share. By August-September, Harvey's show on The Mix had a 5.8 share compared while KISS-FM, with Mason & Coco, had a 4.8 share, a big improvement over its Joyner show numbers.
Part of the reason the Steve Harvey does so well is his uber-presence, on TV, radio, writing books and making appearances everywhere, according to Sam Weaver, urban editor at the radio trade All Access. The Joyner show does well nationally, but not so much in Detroit.
"It has always been mind boggling to me, as a former radio personality, that syndicated programming is used at all in morning drive, in a major market such as Detroit," Tanner added. "There is no substitute for live and local — especially over the past year in Detroit where so much, good and bad, has been taking place."
John Mason is the classic Detroit favorite; an air personality with deep roots in both the music community and in the world of sports (he moonlights as the Detroit Pistons' announcer). The longtime Detroiter is an interesting mix of laid-back and intense, and that applies to to his attitude about taking on the syndicated giants.
"I enjoy the challenge. I always look at it this way," he said, laughing, "I don't have to go to school and I don't have to work."
The Joyner show's numbers have been a continuing disappointment, dwindling further during the morning hours on WCHB. But nationally, the Joyner show does well, Radio One has a majority ownership in Reach Media and they won't give up on it in an important market like Detroit. "We think it's still a very high quality show that we will continue," Stinehour said.
The unexpected death of former Detroit News reporter Henderson in mid-February complicated Radio One's plans. Henderson was as well known locally for his community outreach as his Pulitzer prize (earned at the Wall Street Journal), and his popular 10 a.m.-2 p.m. show, "Your Voice with Angelo Henderson," was a clearinghouse for Detroit issues of all kinds.
"Angelo was irreplaceable, the energy level, everything about the man was special, and his audience adored him," said Stinehour. "It was a terrible blow for us."
Henderson's show was replaced in May by "Detroit Speaks with Cliff Russell," hosted by the former press spokesman for Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer. From a 0.9 and 1.0 high in January-February, the time slot is down to 0.5 in August. "I would be a fool to try to fill Angelo's shoes," Russell said. "But I try to take the strong foundation he built, build on it, inform, entertain and engage our listeners as least as much as he did."
As for her reputation with newsmakers such as L. Brooks Patterson for being the radio voice of Detroiters, Gaddis bristles. "My listeners are not necessarily Detroiters," said Gaddis, a suburbanite herself. "These are also people from West Bloomfield, Chesterfield, Farmington."
And they are as feisty on her afternoon airwaves as ever, whether discussing Cass Tech quarterback Jayru Campbell's troubles, or Detroit's bankruptcy.
"My listeners are concerned that their democracy has been hijacked — in the city and the state," Gaddis said."They are concerned that when the new Detroit emerges, many Detroiters will have been left out of the game."
Her colleague Mason is equally fiery when he discusses his David vs. Goliath battle against the syndicators.
"All eyes are on Detroit," Mason said. "It's the power of syndication versus having power personalities in the marketplace. They are watching to see if we can make a move on the syndicated giants."