Tuesday, November 18, 2014

11.18.14 Bee-otch of the Day: Northern Broadcast

Bee-otch of the Day honors are awarded Monday through Thursday, Bee-otch of the Week is awarded Friday on Chuck69.com.



Name: Northern Broadcast
Age: 34
Occupation: broadcast giant
Last Seen: Minot, ND
Bee-otched For: *supposedly* selling

Say it ain't so... One of the worst broadcast companies in Michigan history could be soon out of business.

Last week, a rumor was created on the Michigan Radio and TV Buzzboard that Minot, ND-based Northern Broadcast might soon be sold to another broadcaster and that one of the names being thrown into the hat was Townsquare Media.

Here in Grand Rapids, T2 owns several successful stations, including WGRD 97.9, WFGR 98.7, Channel 95-7 and 100.5 The River. Here in Michigan, they also own stations in Flint, Lansing and Kalamazoo.

Northern Broadcast has been in the northern Michigan market since 1984 when they purchased WKLT 97.5/98.9 (then at 97.7) for $250,000. Since then, they've added on what is now 92.5/94.3 The Fox and ESPN 106.7/105.5. They've long been criticized for programming mostly to older people and rednecks, mainly due to the fact that the company was one of the only non-local companies owning a radio station in the Traverse City/Petoskey radio market.

KLT is the only station of NBI's whose format hasn't been touched, even though in the last ten years, the station has drastically cut back on its 1990 and newer songs and focusing more on being a classic rocker. 92.5 and 94.3 was previously oldies WAIR but flipped to country "The Bee" in the late 90s only to gradually flip back to classic hits as "The Fox" around five years later. 106.7/105.5 has had a more-troubled history due to NBI's mismanagement. When they purchased 106.7 in 1996, it was CHR WKPK "106.7 The Peak". But in 2000, they started transforming the once-successful station to AC as WSRT, which bombed in the ratings and led to its PD, Todd Martin to get canned when it was discovered that he was sending fake Arbitron diaries to the ratings service. It then flipped to female-oriented talk as "You FM" and then to sports as ESPN, which is reportedly doing much better in the ratings.

Alongside format flips, NBI was notorious for firing experienced jocks over cost-cutting such as Craig Russell, Jim Ellis (twice), Pete Misiak (the last two being since deceased)and Finster, who successfully ended up on 104.5 Bob FM.

But, that's the reality of NBI, a company who only owned stations for their money with no regard to listeners or audience. Bear in mind that their owners, the Gokey family, own a Pepsi bottler in Minot, which probably makes more money than the stations.

It's also worth mentioning that longtime NBI GM Charlie Ferguson is leaving the company at the end of 2014 and will run a cluster of stations in Illinois. Under Ferguson, WKLT is still the top rock station up north, but it's mostly due to the only rock station with a full-coverage signal and their Stern clone morning show Omellette and Friends. Also, The Fox has turned into a bland classic hits station and the aforementioned problems with 106.7/105.5.

True, T2 has been well-criticized too for firing experienced jocks, especially in Grand Rapids where many from 98.7 WFGR have seen pink slips. But the Traverse City/Petoskey market's problem is simple: despite the fact that most of the radio stations are locally owned, they suffer from the fact that most of them are programmed for the baby boomers and older and many of them - such as The Bear and EZ 95-5 are ratings abortions. Trish MacDonald-Garber (106 KHQ, Lite 96 et. al) is 61, Del Reynolds (The Bear, Rock 105, EZ 95-5 and Big Country 102.9) is 57 and Roy Henderson (WLDR) is in his 60's, so all of them want to attract an older crowd to their stations since northern Michigan is practically Florida north. (For the record: Ross Biederman, owner of WTCM, WCCW and Z93 is 74.)

Some think the biggest problem up north is a lack of another country outlet to combat WTCM, which has been #1 forever. The Bee failed and so did Sunny Country 101.9. My biggest issue is indeed the lack of a good new rock outlet, especially in the Grand Traverse area. A poster on the Buzzboard had a good point: flip 94.3/92.5 to a new rock format. Since T2 owns the Loudwire format, plus the fact that they beam Free Beer and Hot Wings to a lot of their stations, I think it's a go. FB&HW is well-missed up north ever since the old Real Rock 105/95-5 canned the show claiming low ratings (which I think is a lie since their sister station, The Bear also has the bland Bob and Tom show). Plus, I think it will benefit T2 since it would create a "wall of men" with KLT and ESPN in the same group.

All I can say is that 2015 might be an exciting year for northern Michigan radio. In a few weeks, I will go my yearly Facebook ratings to reveal which stations up north are doing well and which should die like the plague. But if it's true that NBI is going out of business, I say good riddance. They pretend that nobody under the age of 40 exists up north and they cater to them. When I was young, NOBODY wanted to do a cutting edge, kick-ass rock format. That was why when the internet came out in the 1990's, many stations up north saw their ratings drop like a rock. It wasn't until 2000 when The Zone finally realized that there was an audience that was being ignored and almost immediately, ratings exploded. It was poor management that killed the station, IMHO.

Time will only tell what will happen to KLT, The Fox and ESPN. In the meantime, if I was up north, I would be very thankful that 4G speeds are dramatically improving. 


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