Original image by: Nasa’s Marshall Space Flight Center
If I had a credo, or even a mantra, it might be “Two-for-one well drinks and all ladies drink free until midnight”. Or maybe, “Don’t go chasing waterfalls.” Or really any body of water because if you catch it, you’ll drown. But most definitely “The first five hours of a station’s existence are its most important five hours.”
It sets the tone. It’s like fumbling the first kickoff of the game and the other team recovers and runs it for a touchdown. It’s just become harder to establish your game.
Launching stations has been a huge part of my job, even before starting this gig. Wild 107.7 in San Francisco was debuted on six days notice, in total secrecy and three of those days I was in a hospital, but still working. The first Wild logo was designed in Orlando (secrecy again) Fed Ex’d to me and focus grouped on the nursing staff at Daniel Freeman Medical Center in Marina del Rey.
I was at Amaturo Broadcasting in Santa Rosa this past year and Joss from the Froggy morning show was telling me about how she’d been in high school, listening at her home in Fremont and recalled the first hour, the music, what was happening in the studio, verbatim. 24 years after the event. Since most people can’t tell you what you did for the 4th of July, that’s pretty large. And also explained why, two weeks later I was at a thing in San Diego, wearing a Wild shirt and these two young women came up. They said they LOVED the station, already knew Mancow and his features and proclaimed that all of their friends and switched from KMEL to us.
And then…in 2000 I was hired by Citadel to launch a Rhythm station in Memphis. Cool. I worked out a game plan of slowly evolving “stuff” that would unfold over four days so that, when we pulled the trigger, there would be a huge audience waiting for the pay off.
Judy Ellis declared “this is a joke that will play to three people” and they went into spots playing Toby Keith and came out playing Ludacris.
Two days later I flew in, went down to the key zips and spoke with about 400 people. No one had heard of the station. I emailed that to Judy and she went insane: it was the imaging. The imaging was off and she and her guy in NYC crawled up the poor PD’s butt for a week . They were out of the format within a year.
I took the battleplan, reworked it with a different character, used it to launch a Country station in Canada and we debuted at #2.
Same thing happened a few years ago when a major market CHR was launched with a press release and no talent. They wanted to establish their music position. The PD arrived 90 days into it, said it was as exciting as listening to paint dry and added “Paige, literally no one knows we exist.” All I could say is “Yah think?” Three years later and they’re still not competitive, and honestly, they could have and should have blown the heritage CHR out in about a month.
1. Secrecy. Three people should know what you’re about to do and you tell Sales ONLY when the stunt has launched.
2. A build-up. A few days of subtle hints amongst the music that “something is up.” If the airstaff isn’t going to be a part of the new station, then you want something pre-recorded that runs for only a day, directing people to a 5 pm Friday announcement.
3. A premise. The station has undertaken the BIGGEST music test and audience research project in state history. 1.4 million phone surveys. 800 auditorium tests. Three million direct mails with links to audio samples. The overwhelming demand, the glaring hole in the landscape…is
4. A Fauxrmat. A fake format that will run until Monday morning. In the case of Hot in Norfolk? All Chinese music. The greatest Chinese hits of the 70’s, 80’s 90’s and today, without the rap. All on Kung Pau 100.5.
5. A website. With the strip club format in Denver, it was a legit-ish site with jock bios for all the strippers featuring women from stations I consulted. Kevin Carter said it was like “The Simpsons”. He’d visited it a dozen times and was still spotting hidden little jokes.
6. A visual. In the case of a CHR that we launched with an all Christmas format, in August, it was Santa’s on street corners all over town.
7. The pay off. An apologetic announcement from the GM on Monday declaring that they’d screwed up. “We’ve never done a huge research project before and there are tons of numbers. It’s kind of confusing and to be honest, we were drinking. Sorry. We’ve gone back and looked at the numbers and the overwhelming need in our music is (whatever) so welcome to (station) and we promise to never do a music test again. Sorry. My bad.”
Next? Perhaps the greatest launch of them all. WiLD in Tampa.