Tom Joyner Back on Chicago Radio

Under new deal, powerhouse will sell advertising inventory

“Radio is taking it on the chin in the economic downturn,” says Mark R. Fratzik, Ph.D., senior vice president at BIA. “With Steve Harvey’s show being syndicated by Clear Channel-owned Premiere Radio, there’s always that incentive to air your own programming versus licensing other programming.

Even though Mr. Joyner is popular, Clear Channel probably had a reasonable alternative to his show that costs less.” In fact, upon sending Mr. Harvey to V103, WGCI’s new morning show is a locally-focused program hosted by Chicago radio veteran Tony Sculfield. “Tom is one of the classiest guys in the business,” says Earl Jones, president and market manager for Clear Channel Radio-Chicago. “Business drove our decision,” he adds.  To Jones’s point, Clear Channel clearly has not been exempt from the industry’s woes. Its radio revenues fell 7% in 2008 to $3.3 billion and declined 13% for the fourth quarter of 2008.  Jones would not disclose any estimated cost savings attributable to replacing Joyner.

Risky Proposition

By charting his own course back to Chi-Town, Joyner assumes the risk that would otherwise be absorbed by the station owner; he therefore is charged with not only creating a good show but also selling the advertising inventory, a daunting task given the economic climate Joyner likens his new Chicago business model to television deals in which a company buys time on an independent station to carry a show, which an affiliate station will not carry. While such a strategy is not unheard of in radio, according to BIA’s Fratzik, the scale and size of the Chicago market makes Joyner’s situation unique.

Speaking on the merits of Joyner’s move and acknowledging the station’s weak signal, Fratzik says, “I think he’s putting his money where his mouth is and it’s admirable that he’s willing to take the risk. It says that he’s confident that he can attract enough listeners.”

Joyner is banking that the popularity of his show—which based on Arbitron’s most recent PPM (portable people meter) ratings ranked as the #4 morning show (before the WVAZ cancellation) in the city in the 25-54 demographic group to Harvey’s No. 14—will garner him favorability with listeners and thereby win over coveted advertisers; Joyner had 292,200 listeners to Harvey’s 268,100 for listeners six and over.

“We stepped out on faith,” says Joyner, who found out he was being pushed off the air after returning from vacation.
“I’ve been fired a lot of different ways, but this ranks as one of the coldest,” he said recently. “I had to find some way to get back into the Chicago market. The station doesn’t have the greatest signal, but it’s on the South Side. And it gives us an opportunity to super-serve the community.”

As a part of Joyner’s strategy and commitment to the city, he will establish an internship program for media communications students at Chicago’s Kennedy-King College and when in the city will air from the campus.

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