When Clear Channel’s Classic Rock KZPS Dallas became Lone Star 92.5 on April 23, it became the latest station in the industry’s longtime quest to try and:
A) Finally make a Classic Rock/Country hybrid work;
B) Switch from a spot-driven model to a marketing driven model, in this case selling hour-long sponsorships to national advertisers who will get embedded content in lieu of traditional spots–think Coca-Cola on the judges’ desks on “American Idol” or Burger King and Crest woven into the weekly tasks on “The Apprentice.”
There wasn’t much that would make the station unpalatable for its previous Classic Rock cume.
The Classic Rock/Country hybrid has been a pet project for a lot of broadcasters since the late ’80s. Stations that tried it usually ended up forced to choose between one genre and the other. Recently, however, it’s gotten a little more traction. The Classic Rock/Country format has also become a favorite for Satellite Radio and HD-2 multicast channels–KZPS’ new format sprung from its former HD-2 channel and Clear Channel has done at least one other version of the format through its Format Lab called “Mother Trucker.”
The notion of marketing in place of spots also goes back to the late ’80s with veteran programmer Jack McCoy as one of its earlier pioneers. It got some well-publicized tryouts in Long Island in 2005 and again last year as part of the WFNX Boston Snapple experiment. And now it is also in keeping with the heavily publicized de-cluttering taking place at Clear Channel’s stations in recent years.
PRESENTATION: FREE TO MOVE AROUND THE COUNTRY …
Heard on its first day, when the station was rolling jockless at the tail end of morning drive, one only got a taste of how Lone Star 92.5 was hoping to integrate its sponsors into live mentions, although the New York Times reports that a demo aircheck of the station had a jock talking about the South By Southwest festival and how the best way to travel there was on Southwest Airlines.
In the absence of live jocks, other elements of the marketing plugs were already in place, such as top of the hour sponsorship billboards and 10-15 second announcements that sounded a lot like the “Blinks” being sold elsewhere by Clear Channel. In one for Southwest, the copy reads, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain. You’re now free to enjoy non-stop Lone Star music, thanks to Southwest Airlines and Lone Star 92.5,” a play on the “You’re free to move around the country” tagline from Southwest’s spots.
Among other mini-ads: one for hourly sponsor AT&T, but another YMCA day camp. The AT&T announcement was followed by, “Now, back to more great Lone Star music, courtesy of AT&T.” The top of the hour announcement, which actually played at :55 and again a few minutes later at :00 when we monitored the station was, “The next hour of music is brought to you by The New AT&T: your world, your Lone Star music, delivered.”
The other element heard on the first day was station spokesman Willie Nelson, deployed in both shorter liners (“It ain’t about the address, it’s about the attitude”) and some longer form image promos on more general topics–e.g., meeting fans on the road. Nelson’s longer drops were reminiscent of the “Code Of The Wolf” promos, voiced by actor Barry Corbin, that were an early, and very effective part of rival KPLX when it was relaunched as “99.5 the Wolf.”
MUSIC:… BUT MOSTLY GROUNDED IN CLASSIC ROCK
Indeed, one of the interesting aspects of KZPS walking away from its longtime Classic Rock franchise is that even though Classic Rock had become essentially a three-way race in Dallas, Country/Rock isn’t exactly a wide-open space either. The rock-flavored “Texas Country” of artists like Jack Ingram and Pat Green was the early calling card for The Wolf and spread through the market’s Country stations, even before it spread nationally. And under new PD John Sebastian, KPLX has added some of the Classic Hits titles that became a signature for him at WSM-FM Nashville and in other markets.
In addition, the market already has an Alternative Country station in KFWR (the Ranch) and one of the youngest-leaning Hot Country formats, KTYS (the Twister), although that station doesn’t have a Classic Rock component.
Perhaps for that reason, in its first few days, Lone Star 92.5 was more of a Classic Rock station with the greatest hits of Americana and Texas Country than a true hybrid–which is to say that it sounded like a lot like the HD-2 extension of a Classic Rock station that it had been a week ago. (What’s on the HD-2 channel for now is the old Classic Rock format.) There wasn’t much that would make the station unpalatable for its previous Classic Rock cume. In the hour heard here, it would be hard to imagine even an edgier mainstream Country current like Brad Paisley’s “Ticks” fitting in. So far, it’s Country mostly in the way that Americana standard-bearer KPIG Monterey, Calif., is Country.
In that regard, Lone Star is unlike most of the previous Country/Classic Rock hybrids, which have approached the format from the Country angle and were then subject to the availability of compatible current Country product. Ultimately, those stations always hit a patch where Country music ran out of tempo, forcing them to choose between maintaining their energy level and playing the hits. Relying more on that extra Allman Brothers cut usually means digging beyond the songs that can be counted on to research well, but at least, in the spirit of the Bob- and Jack-FMs, you’re doing so with library material.
Sebastian’s stations, by contrast, have always been Country stations that just happened to play the Eagles and Charlie Daniels Band cuts that much of the format once played (and maybe an occasional “Sister Golden Hair” that most did not play, even in 1987). After listening to Lone Star, we punched over to KPLX and heard only two Classic Rock songs in 75 minutes: Don Henley’s “The Heart of the Matter” and the Eagles’ “Take It Easy” (and the latter is certainly an honorary Country title by any measurement).
Here’s an hour of Lone Star 92.5 at 8:15 a.m. on April 23, 2007:
ZZ Top, “La Grange”
Allman Brothers, “Melissa”
Whiskeytown, “Bar Lights”
George Thorogood, “If You Don’t Start Drinking (I’m Gonna Leave)”
Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Bad Moon Rising”
Pat Green, “Dixie Lullaby”
Black Crowes, “Remedy”
Blackfoot, “Highway Song”
David Allan Coe, “You Never Even Called Me By My Name”
Outlaws, “There Goes Another Love Song”
Bruce Springsteen, “Badlands”
Drive By Truckers, “Let There Be Rock”
TWO CHANGES AT THE SAME TIME
One of the ironies about the various attempts to change the spot-sales paradigm is that they often involve a format change. When Top 40 WWZZ (Z104) Washington, D.C., cut its spotload and added the “McDonalds’ Morning Show,” it also changed to Hot AC. The Morey Organization experiment in Eastern Long Island also involved short-lived format changes on two of its three stations in the region. It often feels as if station owners don’t think they can alter the paradigm without smashing it completely.
Which is too bad, because it would have been nice to know if Z104′s lower spotload could have helped it win its format battle with WIHT (Hot 99.5). Likewise, it would have been interesting to see if the sponsorship approach could have made KZPS–which had divvied up the Classic Rock pie with the harder KDBN (the Bone) and poppier KJKK (Jack-FM)–viable again. Sponsorship plugs doubtless exist on cable TV’s reality shows as well, but it’s “The Apprentice” and “American Idol” that has given them their best showcase. And however well Lone Star works, it will likely be the combination of a cume-driven format and the TSL enhancement of no traditional spots that helps the sponsorship concept kick in once and for all.
Meanwhile, it’s still encouraging to see brand name practitioners for both the Country/Classic Rock format and the sponsorship model. For many people, each makes too much sense not to ultimately get traction somewhere, and unlike Eastern Long Island, the Clear Channel/Dallas cluster will have the advantage of not having to live off sponsorships alone until the concept takes root with advertisers.