Media Watch

News Radio

WMC-AM abandoned its morning news show. Now, rival WREC-AM gives it a shot.

by Jim Hanas

As it true that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, as the old cliché goes? Well, WREC-AM 600 is about to find out.
Last September, its rival talk-station WMC-AM (News/Talk 79) decided to junk its morning news show, along with seven staffers, and move right-wing ranter Mike Fleming into its 6 to 9 a.m. weekday time slot.
“We found that we could not attract a sufficient audience to have such a huge operation in the morning,” says Don Meyers, general manager of WMC’s AM and FM stations. “No matter how good you are, if the interest isn’t there, you aren’t going to satisfy yourself.”
But as WMC stepped away from morning news, WREC began to move into the void. Leading the way has been program director Paul Davis, who resigned as WMC’s news director several months before the morning news purge. Prior to Davis’ arrival, WREC’s news operation consisted primarily of reporter Bill Dries, who left the station to go to The Commercial Appeal before Davis was hired. In fact, before Davis, the station didn’t even have its own program director, relying instead on the services of Drake Hall, who was also charged with programming sister station WEGR-FM (Rock 103).

Paul Davis

Under Davis’ tenure, a radio studio has been added at WPTY-TV (Channel 24) – which, like WREC, is owned by Clear Channel – to provide news to the station. In other words, WREC is taking advantage of its so-called “synergy” with Clear Channel’s television properties to get serious about radio news. Previously – before Clear Channel acquired WREC over a year ago – WMC was the only station in the market to enjoy that luxury through its sister station WMC-TV (Channel 5). WMC-AM still simulcasts Channel 5 news broadcasts throughout the day.
But WREC looks to be vigorously pursuing its ties to Channel 24. At the beginning of the year, the station replaced Don Imus’ syndicated show with WREC in the Morning, a local news and interview show very much like the one WMC discontinued. Hosted by Davis and Sharon Hunter, who did a brief news stint with WGKX-FM (KIX 106) last year, it has more similarities with WMC’s erstwhile program than just Davis’ guidance and its time slot. Craig Robbins, who hosted the WMC show, serves as the on-air link to Channel 24’s news operation, for example, and Flyer senior editor Jackson Baker provides occasional commentary as he did at WMC.
Whether WREC can make the format work remains to be seen. In the latest ratings – when Imus and WMC’s old morning show were going head to head – the stations ran a virtual dead-heat in morning drive-time among listeners 35 to 64, the primary audience for news/talk, as they did overall. And Davis says producing the local show is more expensive than Imus, which means WREC is counting on finding the somehow untapped potential of morning news.
“I think it’s very viable, and there’s a void,” says Davis. “In one respect it was sort of a no-brainer to jump into it.”
To recall, this is the second time in less than a year that WREC has picked up discarded WMC programming. Last spring, Rush Limbaugh likewise made the move down the dial to WREC. But what about the reverse trip? Might an abandoned WREC show make its way to WMC?
Imus, we understand, is available.

FRM meets the FCC
Last Thursday, members of the Constructive Interference Collective – the group behind Free Radio Memphis, an unlicensed University of Memphis-area radio station operating at 94.7 FM – met with a representative from the Federal Communications Commission. Douglas G. Miller, an electronics engineer with the agency’s Atlanta field office, came by the station’s home-studio Tuesday afternoon requesting a meeting with the group.
During the course of a two-hour meeting Thursday night, Miller outlined legal alternatives to the station’s unlicensed operation – such as obtaining a license or petitioning the FCC for a change in its rules – and listened to the collective members’ concerns about the agency’s current policies. Miller, furthermore, outlined the legal consequences of continued unlicensed operation, which include administrative fines of up to $11,000 per day or action by the U.S. Attorney. The U.S. Attorney could pursue the case either in a civil action or criminally. Civil actions in such cases generally result in seizure of equipment, while criminal convictions carry fines of up to $100,000 and/or prison terms of up to a year.
As of Monday, the CIC had decided to stay on the air while the group seeks legal counsel – a decision that will be reevaluated on a weekly basis.
“We really don’t want to shut down,” says a CIC spokesperson, “but we don’t want to go to court without legal representation.”

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