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Dueling Tampa radio stations fight for same listeners

Last week, a lucky listener won $10,000 for catching WFLZ-FM 93.3 play a commercial during the station's two-hour music guarantee.

"I screwed up,'' screamed Katie Sommers, delighting the caller on the line. "This is coming out of my paycheck.''

Probably not, but the new promotion underscores the station's commitment to playing more music and less talk.

It has to.

On July 1, Cox Radio ditched its '80s format on WPOI-FM (the Point 101.5) for more contemporary dance clubs hits, signaling war with radio powerhouse 93.3. To drive home the switch, the station played 10,000 songs in a row without talk or commercials.

WFLZ responded by playing more songs and shortening its MJ Morning Show by an hour. It also kicked off the two-hour music guarantee at 11:30 a.m., 4:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

Clear Channel Radio has downplayed the changes at WFLZ, and Todd "MJ'' Schnitt, who was on vacation before the changes took effect, isn't talking publicly.

But program director Tommy Chuck said the station has a complete commitment to the 1 million listeners statewide who tune in every week.

"As the market leader and listener favorite, we're always focused on trying to make 93.3 WFLZ an even better experience,'' Chuck wrote in an email. "When listeners began asking to hear a little bit more music during their drive, we gave them a better balance of fun with MJ mixed with today's biggest hit songs.''

Cox shifted to Hot 101.5 because the '80s format had run its course and the opportunity arose to move into a market long dominated by one station.

"We've done a lot of research and a lot of it is common sense,'' said program director Tim Clarke. "It's not that (listeners) don't want DJs. It's that they want real content, something that adds to the music, doesn't take away from it.''

So far, the concept is working. According to August ratings from Arbitron, Clarke said WPOI ranked top among adult female listeners, the station's target audience.

"We're absolutely thrilled,'' he said. "We're seeing a lot of people who like what we're doing. Overall, it's been great feedback.''

Hot 101.5 introduced commercials last month and has been monitoring how many commercials the competition plays, said Clarke, who came to Tampa from sister station WAPE-FM 95.1 in Jacksonville after the switch. It recently launched the $500 Hot Cash Call at 7 a.m., noon, 3 and 5 p.m., and eventually plans to add personalities.

Moving to a Top 40 playlist was a business decision not an attack against WFLZ, Clarke said.

"The reason we turned on the radio station was not about taking down a radio station,'' he said. "In a way, both of these brands can exist.''

Not everyone agrees. Mike "Cowhead'' Calta, star of the afternoon drive-time show on WHPT-FM (102.5 The Bone), said the changes will split the audience and only one station will be able to survive.

His money is on Hot 101.5.

"They went in there and they rattled a beast that had gotten old and stale and came on so strong and aggressive,'' he said. "WFLZ has already reacted to the immediate loss of listeners and are in a position now where they have no idea what to do. They're wounded.''

Dueling Tampa radio stations fight for same listeners 09/29/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 29, 2011 5:14pm]

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