by Sean Ross, VP of Music and Programming
Last September, The Morey Organization’s three-station Eastern Long Island cluster announced an ambitious experiment called “channelcasting,” in which it took its three stations jockless and eliminated traditional spot clusters in favor of hourly sponsorships with four brief sponsorship billboards. The experiment, which also involved several format changes, was positioned as a response to the continuous music of radio’s new competitors, iPods and satellite radio.
Channelcasting didn’t last long. Within months, the station re-added spots (albeit only five an hour) and also undid at least one of the format changes, returning its WLIR to Modern Rock from a Triple-A/Adult Standards hybrid. But the idea of trading spots for sponsorships made too much sense, particularly in a world where a different sponsor figures into weekly challenges on “The Apprentice” and Ford features prominently within “American Idol.” Over the last six months, that sort of branding has resurfaced occasionally at radio, particularly at the CBS Radio “Jack FMs” that sold all spots for 24 hours to the TV show “24.”
WFNX launched a 40-day “Snapple Summer Free-For-All” just before Memorial Day weekend, trading traditional spots for a variety of live and produced tie-ins with the iced-tea maker.
Now, the Boston Phoenix’s WFNX Boston–like the original WLIR, a heritage Modern Rocker–has unveiled the most ambitious station sponsorship yet. WFNX launched a 40-day “Snapple Summer Free-For-All” just before Memorial Day weekend, trading traditional spots for a variety of live and produced tie-ins with the iced-tea maker. The station and Snapple are also tying in for a free Dashboard Confessional concert on City Hall Plaza and are promoting a combined ‘FNX/Snapple street team.
How does this work on the air? Typically, a jock break begins with the calls and backsell, then mentions that “thanks to Snapple, we’re commercial free for 40 days and 40 nights.” That may be followed with a brief live spot for Snapple–often on behalf of its new White Teas–or a mention of the free concert, or other ticket and prize giveaways. Listeners were also told to text Snapple’s keyword of the day, “Real,” to the station to qualify for concert tickets, baseball tickets, and other prizes.
As far as produced drop-ins, the typical “here’s what’s happening” promo that usually serves as an omnibus for value-added promotions now begins, “What are ‘FNX and Snapple doing around town?” There’s another drop using the opening from the Breeders’ “Cannonball” and the sound of a bottlecap popping that mentions the commercial-free programming and asks, “Refreshing, isn’t it?” Another mentions that, “We’re going light on the commercials and light on the teas.” And another slightly longer drop features an actuality about Snapple’s role in the community.
Snapple gets a lot of real estate on the WFNX home page: four vertical panels related to the concert, street team appearances, other prizes, and listener comments. Interestingly, there was no obvious link to the Snapple website. And if you go to http://www.snapple.com, there is no apparent mention of ‘FNX. Given that not every market has an Alternative station these days, and that ‘FNX streams, one might think that both parties would be interested in parlaying this into some national exposure for both the brand and the station.
The “Snapple Summer Free-For-All” successfully addresses some of the issues that were apparent in the WLIR/TMO experiment last fall. It’s much more elaborately produced and bigger sounding. The produced Snapple mentions are usually well-integrated to sound like station production–not the stray 10-second spots that you find at the end of a stopset or traffic report.
Does it feel commercial-free? Well, if you’re one of the listeners who reads any interruption as a commercial, then you won’t be happy. There’s also that issue of Rock radio formatics and pacing–unless you do everything over the intros, and ‘FNX doesn’t, you’ve got to stop somewhere, even if it’s not at a stopset. Overall, however, things move along nicely–this feels more effectively commercial free than last year’s version.
There’s also good use of the “bigness” of Snapple. Even if ‘FNX kicked off every previous summer with a free concert before, the impression the Dashboard Confessional concert creates is one of the station being able to do something big because of the tie-in. And the notion of a combined Snapple/’FNX street team also comes off as a lot bigger than the average station street team.
And, unlike the TMO stations, the ‘FNX airstaff is still there. Last September, I wrote that it was sad to think that the only way to make something like this work was to go jockless. With live spots again proving to be a secret weapon at many stations, Snapple certainly benefits from having the jocks talk about it–not just produced bits.
What hasn’t emerged yet in the sponsorship’s first few days is any reinforcement of what else WFNX does. The first topic on the station is all things related to the promotion itself. While I’ve heard a promo about WFNX’s improved signal (ironically, described in a banner ad on the station website as “more juice”) and a “Leftover Lunch” legal ID that sound like they were cut before the sponsorship began, I haven’t heard anything that explains the station to any possible curiosity cumers, or much that fosters excitement about ‘FNX music.
As most of the ACs that get a fall book boost from Christmas music can tell you, asking for that order going forward will be key. The president of Snapple’s ad agency cites WAPP (the Apple) New York’s highly successful commercial-free summer of ’82 as an inspiration. And as anybody who remembers WAPP’s short-lived tenure in AOR will tell you, following-up “commercial free” is a little tricky.
There’s also the question of whether a co-branded ‘FNX will rankle at least a few listeners in a way that regular spots do not. If “Hot Topic Is Not Punk Rock,” to quote the MC Lars song attacking marketing tie-ins that has surfaced at a handful of Modern Rock outlets, will anybody feel the same way about Snapple?
To some extent, the ‘FNX folks seem to have anticipated both those questions. The station homepage features two glowing listener comments thanking Snapple for making the commercial free music possible. “Thank you for your innovative approach to programming and the excellent music you play,” writes one. “How many Snapples would need to be purchased a week by ‘FNX listeners in order to have this commercial-free thing last longer than the 40 days?” asks another.