80s station The Point changed to hit radio format Hot 101.5 as Cox Radio takes on WFLZ-FM
Fans of 80s and 90s songs will have to look elsewhere for their Bon Jovi fix, as owner Cox Radio dumped the oldies format of WPOI-FM (101.5) for a hits radio-focused approach directly targeting rival WFLZ-FM (93.3).
With a website announcement featuring direct disses of WFLZ and star personality Todd "MJ" Schnitt, Cox Radio unveiled Hot 101.5, a station centered on a Contemporary Hits Radio format featuring artists such as Pitbull and Ke$ha. The station will play 10,000 songs in row without commercials or talking, offering a monthlong run of music through the month of July.
Corey Dylan (left), morning personality on The Point, will be leaving the station.
According to Cox vice president and Tampa market manager Keith Lawless, Clear Channel owned WFLZ has had this segment of Tampa Bay's radio audience to itself for too long, and his company has decided to offer a direct challenge.
"For 22 years, they've been in this format directly uncontested...our reasearch shows WFLZ has been on an island," said Lawless, who oversees all Cox stations in the area, including WWRM-FM (94.9), WXGL-FM (107.3), WSUN-FM (97.1), WHPT-FM (102.5), and WDUV-FM(105.5). With this format flip, WPOI now targets women 18 to 49 with a emphasis on the 18 to 34s -- basically, the late twentysomethings and early thirtysomethings who pack dance clubs on the weekends.
As part of their strategy, Cox is taking on WFLZ's signature personality, Schnitt. "(Schnitt) plays four songs in morning," Lawless said. "He’s a 45-year-old man trying to speak to women 20 years his junior. We’re going to play more music than them....which is what this audience wants."
Though he was out of the office on vacation, Clear Channel Tampa market manager Sam Nein responded via email: "You know when you are the number one station in the market that you have a target on your back and competitors will come after you. If another group had the number one station in the market and we had an under performing FM, we very well may have taken the same action, so it is an understandable move. This will no doubt bring out the very best in everybody involved with FLZ."
Schnitt did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Radio experts have said the industry's new ratings system, in which people wear pager-sized devices that sense every radio they encounter in a day, have shown audiences want less talk and more music. Schnitt responded to those trends by playing more songs during his show, but Cox's new effort will likely provide more pressure.
It's a good old fashioned radio war. And Cox is presenting it as a battle of the generations, between old school DJs who talk too much and their younger-skewing, music focused style.
"For 22 years, its been a ton of commercials and way too much talk on WFLZ...what happened to the music?" asks one cheeky ad, featured on the new station's website, which namechecks Clear Channels' Gandy Boulevard headquarters and jokes that all WFLZ's contest winners are from outside Florida. "For 22 years, MJ's been getting older and older....How's your new MySpace account, MJ?"
Of course, CBS Radio offered a similar strategy -- minus the trash talking -- when it converted WSJT from a smooth jazz radio station to CHR-focused Play FM in August. But Cox Radio morning jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem found success against Schnitt in his debut on WHPT by insulting Schnitt and Clear Channel (before they both sued him).
Lawless said their tactic was different. Mostly because it's bigger. "This is an entire radio station competing against another one," he said. "“It is our biggest marketing campaign ever. And we are famous for being the (radio company) in town that spends cash consistently.”