Forget MJ and Bubba the Love Sponge: Thanks to recent changes in the Tampa Bay area radio scene, the next local DJ war may pit Ryan Seacrest against John Tesh or Dave Koz.
That's because more local stations are using nationally syndicated radio programs in the middle of their broadcast day, pushing aside local talent for celebrities such as American Idol host Seacrest, ex-Entertainment Tonight host Tesh and smooth jazz saxophonist Koz.
The trend emerged in sharp relief last month, when CBS Radio laid off almost all the programming and on-air staff at smooth jazz station WSJT-FM 94.1, bringing in a slate of shows offered by California-based syndicators Broadcast Architecture.
Gone were local jocks Alicia Kaye, George Nix and Al Santana, replaced by Koz, California-based Miranda Wilson and, on weekends, shows by saxophonist Kenny G and guitarist Norman Brown. Mornings, pianist Ramsey Lewis is expected to fill the slot after he recovers from illness.
At the same time, CBS Radio let go longtime radio personality "Marvelous Marvin" Boone, who was also working middays at corporate sibling WRBQ-FM 105.
Critics say these moves are short-term solutions: quick savings as tough economic times make it difficult to find new advertisers. In the meantime, Tampa Bay area radio finds less room for local voices.
At WSJT, for example, Broadcast Architecture is given commercial space inside each show to sell on its own. To explain the numbers, radio consultant Dan Spice referenced Delilah Luke, host of a nighttime music and advice show syndicated on hundreds of stations nationwide.
"It looks good on the budget, because there's 200 nighttime jocks around the country who don't have to be paid," said Spice, vice president of California-based Lund Consultants. "But you lose the medium's strongest selling point, which is localism."
Still, Ed Krampf, who took over as Tampa market manager for CBS Radio in early October, said he's more focused on raising ratings than shaving costs.
"You cannot save your way to success," he said, noting that the ad space given up at WSJT is still considered money spent by CBS. "At the end of the day, people have to listen and they have to listen longer, or it doesn't matter if we save money."
Radio's covert way to achieve such savings was through "voice tracking," where a single personality might record on-air patter for a number of stations owned by the same company in different markets. DJs might even note local landmarks or talk about recent community events to build the illusion.
But such audio sleight of hand generally involved personalities who were not well known. And mistakes with some prerecorded shows — including incidents where weather emergencies weren't acknowledged on-air — have added to the controversy.
At Clear Channel Radio, Tampa market manager Dan DiLoreto scoffed at the idea that airing syndicated talent such as Seacrest on WFLZ-FM 93.3 from 1 to 4 p.m. or Tesh on WMTX-FM 100.7 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. would save money the same way voice tracking does.
"When you bring in someone who has a national, marquee name . . . you're paying for that," said DiLoreto, who noted that increases in out-of-home listening at work have made midday shifts more attractive to stations.
He also said Clear Channel didn't cut on-air staff to make room for Seacrest, instead shifting time slots around to make room for the show.
"We believe John Tesh does a better job entertaining audiences," DiLoreto said. "I couldn't possibly reproduce that show locally."
But longtime area personality Tedd Webb worried such trends will close off the shifts and smaller stations where up-and-coming talent once learned how to entertain audiences.
"We don't have a minor league anymore," said Webb, who co-hosts the morning show on WFLA-AM 970. "It's cost prohibitive today . . . There's no place for people to go and hone their skills."
Eric Deggans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8521. See his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/media.