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Urban Assault Vehicle

Barnstable Broadcasting unveils WRBO-FM, Memphis’ newest urban radio station.

by Jim Hanas

fter more than a year of research and months of planning, Massachusetts-based Barnstable Broadcasting has unveiled Memphis’ newest radio station. WRBO-FM is scheduled to begin broadcasting this week at 103.5 on the dial. The station becomes, along with WSRR-FM “Star 98” and WGKX-FM “Kix 106,” the third 100,000-watt FM in Barnstable’s Memphis Radio Group, and only the eighth 100,000-watter in the market.

But, more importantly, WRBO brings yet another urban format to town, a market in which stations targeted at African Americans regularly grab three out of the top five slots in the ratings. The new station has a format alternately called “urban gold” or “R&B oldies,” which means a playlist drawn from the soul and R&B of the Sixties and Seventies, including music made famous by Motown and Memphis’ own Stax.

“To our knowledge, this will be the first full-coverage signal providing the urban oldies format,” says David Gingold, president and CEO of the Memphis Radio Group. He says the format has had success elsewhere but has yet to be tried with such a powerful signal on the FM band. In Memphis, for example, the stations with formats overlapped by WRBO’s are both on the AM side, WJCE-AM and WDIA-AM.

“We’ve felt for some time that the radio market targeting the African-American market was underdeveloped,” says Gingold, who says his group has been researching possible formats for the last year and a half. “This particular format opportunity was quite substantial. … There did not exist on the FM band an oldies station for the black community.”

The new station was made possible when Barnstable acquired a station license in New Albany, Mississippi, and transferred the license to Como/Memphis. Henry Nelson has been named program director at WRBO. He returns to the Memphis area from Orlando. Previously, he had been an announcer with WMC-FM 100 and WHRK-FM “K-97.”

WRBO could have a substantial impact on the local radio market, particularly the urban market, which has been dominated by San Antonio-based Clear Channel Communications since early last year. In the latest ratings, Clear Channel’s powerhouse urbans – WHRK, KJMS-FM “Smooth 101,” and WDIA – grabbed spots one through three, respectively, among audiences age 12 and up. But Clear Channel is not invulnerable, as the introduction of Flinn Broadcasting’s KXHT-FM “Hot 107” demonstrated. After “Hot 107” came on the air last year, the market share of perennial leader WHRK fell below 10 percent of the listening audience for the first time in over a decade. Expect WRBO to tighten the leader pack even further.

And Brookson Makes Three

Well, Memphis is going through television directors at the rate of one a week, or more if you count Jeff Alan twice, since he oversaw news at both WPTY-TV Channel 24 and WLMT-TV Channel 30. Then went WMC-TV Channel 5’s Ken Jobe. And last week WHBQ-TV’s Rochelle Brookson added her resignation to the pile. Quite a pace.

Back In Bounds

A little more than a week after abruptly leaving WSFZ-AM, Dennis Phillippi is back on radio. Phillippi left WSFZ SuperSport 1030 a week and a half ago after Tony Brooks – his co-host on the cultish sports-talk show Out of Bounds – was dismissed. Monday, Phillippi started as co-host of Fair Game, a sports-talk show on WMC-AM 790 daily from 4 to 6 p.m., hosted by Ron Martin and the station’s program director Bob Brame. All three will host the show until the end of the week, after which Brame plans to leave the station to become executive director of the Fire Museum of Memphis, due to open this fall (see “City Reporter” ).

“[I’m] looking forward to getting back on the radio,” Phillippi said Monday morning.

Phillippi had been offered a co-host slot on the show earlier this year, but demurred because the move did not involve Brooks.

“Obviously, I’m very disappointed not to be working with Tony,” he says of his recent decision to host a show without Brooks. “But I’ve got to work. Nobody’s offering me a job with Tony.”

Brame’s replacement as WMC-AM’s program director had not been named at press time.

Where Is The Love?

It’s vanishing, at least from the name of Flinn Broadcasting’s WOWW-AM 1430. “The Love Buzz” is gradually morphing into the plain old “Buzz” and trading in its extra-specialized “relationship talk” format for a more general “news/talk” format. The changeover is not yet complete, but talk staples Michael Medved and Larry King have already been added to the station’s daily schedule at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., respectively. Alongside WREC-AM 600 and WMC-AM 790, WOWW will become the third news/talk station in Memphis. So, what will it offer that we don’t already have?

“What ‘The Buzz’ will bring are some quality names and a more rounded station,” says general manager Lonnie Treadaway, who most recently worked for the now-defunct Mid-South Concerts. “We’re going to give Memphis a more rounded station, politically speaking.”

One programming decision that’s still up in air is what to do with morning drive-time, which Treadaway says could go to either local or syndicated programming – a thought that no doubt quickens the pulse of those of you out there who are still pining away for Don Imus.

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