The Tampa Bay area just got a new radio war as owner Cox Radio dumped the '80s format of WPOI-FM (the Point 101.5) for a hits-focused approach directly targeting rival WFLZ-FM (93.3).
With a website announcement featuring snarky disses of WFLZ and star personality Todd "M.J." Schnitt, Cox Radio unveiled Hot 101.5, a station centered on a Contemporary Hits Radio playlist 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 July.
The change left former morning personality Corey Dylan without a job. And when voices return to WPOI, said an executive, they won't be signature personalities distracting from the music.
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 research 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).
Though he was out of the office on vacation, Clear Channel Tampa market manager Sam Nein responded via e-mail: "You know when you are the number one station in the market that you have a target on your back. … If another group had the number one station in the market and we had an underperforming FM, we very well may have taken the same action, so it is an understandable move."
Schnitt and other officials at WFLZ did not return phone calls seeking comment.
With this format flip, WPOI now targets women 18-49 with an emphasis on those 18-34 — basically, the late twentysomethings and early thirtysomethings who pack dance clubs on the weekends.
As part of its strategy, Cox is taking on WFLZ's signature personality, Schnitt. "(Schnitt) plays four songs in the 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."
Radio experts have said the industry's new ratings system, in which people wear pager-sized devices that sense every radio they encounter, have shown audiences want less talk and more music. Schnitt responded to those trends by playing more songs, but Cox's new effort will likely provide more pressure.
It's an old-fashioned radio war Cox is presenting as a battle of the generations, between old-school DJs who talk too much and those younger-skewing with a 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 on the new station's website.
"For 22 years, M.J.'s been getting older and older," the ad continues. "How's your new MySpace account, M.J.?"
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.