Is “Chick News” Radio Coming to Philly?
After decades of dominating radio news in Philadelphia, KYW may have some competition soon. A new radio format that had been called “Chick News” is on the air in Chicago and New York, and there are indications that Philadelphia may be next.
The new news format is the brainchild of a couple of men considered radio geniuses, Randy Michaels and Walter Sabo. The idea is to widen the appeal of news talk radio by taking out most crime, fire and other “page two” news stories and adding more career, entertainment, medical and family stories. The stories are delivered with a calmer, more conversational delivery, with anchors and reporters encouraged to react and interact; it’s more Today Show than CBS Evening News.
The format’s arrival in Philadelphia anytime soon will be determined by a tug-of-war between CBS Radio and Randy Michaels’ Merlin Media. Both companies are reportedly bidding on WKDN, an FM station (106.9) in Camden that has a strong signal. The station currently features Christian talk and music. It is owned by Family Radio, a San Francisco-based company. Harold Camping, the president of the company, is famous for predicting that the world would end on
March 11thMay 21st. When that didn’t happen, Camping was forced to put a couple of his radio stations up for sale to keep Family Radio afloat.
The CBS interest in little-known WKDN seems to be a preemptive strike, a clear attempt to keep Randy Michaels out of Philadelphia. Michaels is a rarity as a broadcasting CEO in that he is actually a broadcaster. (I met him in passing when he headed up Tribune Broadcasting, for whom I work.) He worked his way up to the top; he wasn’t transferred from accounting after a corporate takeover. Michaels is both loved and hated in the business—loved by those who have worked for him and learned from him, hated by those he has fired and those who had the misfortune of competing against him. And, believe me, he is feared by CBS radio executives in Philadelphia who have watched Michaels work his magic on lesser stations than WKDN when he was CEO of Jacor and then Clear Channel.
Michael’s new “Chick News” format (Merlin COO Walter Sabo prefers “Working Family News”), would be direct competition to CBS all-news station KYW and talk station WPHT. With its attempt to block the sale to Merlin, it is clear CBS has learned a lesson after taking a beating when Greater Media simulcast sports talk on WPEN-AM and 97.5 FM. The combined ratings of the two stations knocked WIP to second place and thankfully knocked acidic talk show host Howard Eskin off the air. (Thank you Mike Missanelli.)
The new Chick News is live on the air in New York at 101.9-FM. You can pick it up in the Philadelphia area if you want to give a listen. My wife Dawn and I were traveling to New York recently and listened for about an hour on our car radio. After about 10 minutes, Dawn said “I love this station. It’s like it was programmed for me.” It was.
Women ages 25 to 54 are the prime targets for radio advertisers, and they are traditionally not talk radio or all-news listeners. Randy Michaels and Walter Sabo are trying to change that. Sabo is responsible for New Jersey 101.5, a highly successful FM talk station based in Trenton. Today in the New York Daily News, he defended his new format, which is getting lukewarm reviews. Sabo says that is to be expected with anything new: “I was called ‘insane’ when we launched New Jersey 101.5.” As for Chick News, er, Working Family News, “ … we are redefining both the definition of news and the presentation. To our listeners, a story on the economy is not about a trillion-dollar deficit. It’s ‘Will I get fired?’ or ‘If my car breaks down, can I afford the repair?’ We want to move every story immediately to what it means for the listener,” he says. “We’re sharing, not preaching.”
The sale of WKDN-FM is moving quickly. A second round of bids was recently submitted by two radio companies believed to be CBS and Merlin. If CBS wins, we get the same old radio. If Merlin wins, we get something new. I’m hoping for the latter. We could use someone like Randy Michaels to shake things up and make Philadelphia radio interesting again.