If you ever get your ass handed to you, and I mean like in a brutal way, you hopefully learned from it. Because if you didn’t then it was a really wasted experience. While it was happening, yeah, it sucked. It was like being in a car crash in slow motion while having a sadistic dentist probe your cavities. And not even the ones in your teeth.
I went through this experience in the Twin Cities. We were the #1 station and had been the #1 station for several years. We were giant-like. And then KDWB brought in a new team and cleaned our clocks in less than a year.
Rotations, talent, programming philosophy…I can’t speak to that but I know that they got us to take our eyes off the ball. We had this ridiculously large station and we spent all of our waking hours obsessing about them. It was stupid. And it worked. It reminds me of the 450 pound defensive back who bounces around, hyper, right in the QB’s line of sight. If the quarterback doesn’t stay 100% focused, then there’s a good chance the play is going to unravel.
In 8th grade we had to read Eliabeth Kubler-Ross’s definitive book on death called “On Death & Dying”. There are stages and we went through every single one. Denial. “Ha, we’ve got a 10 share. Good luck.” Anger. “Those fuckers were at the Bon Jovi concert and bannered and set-up three hours before we even showed up.” Blame Placing. “DAMN. I told Mark to talk to the promoter and find out if we could get a better spot at the Met Center.”
So, I’ve applied what I’ve learned and darn it if I didn’t see it play out, in stages, over and over and over.
First, if you spend more than five minutes a week focusing on them, then you are wasting valuable time that should be spent fine-tuning your own product.
In the case of Wild 107 (now 94.9) vs. KMEL, it was daunting. I mean, KMEL was amazing. Maybe the best station I’ve ever heard.
So when we launched Wild there was Denial. Everyone we heard in the record community said that they were laughing. Pompous. “Wild? What a stupid fucking name!” So I pooled all over my bodies and resources and in our first real head-to-head, a Paula Abdul/TLC show, when they showed up at the Oakland Coliseum with the Master Cruiser at 5 pm, we’d been down there since noon:
On Monday after the show, a label guy came by and asked “What the HELL did you guys do? They’re all holding meetings and screaming at each other.”
Then, just to keep them unhinged and un-focused, about every three or four weeks I would do something like:
You know, the simple stuff. And this allowed Rick Thomas and Michael Martin to hone the programming and make Wild sound amazing.
And what you find is that eventually, you don’t even need to do anything. A very very muckety muckish label guy flew in to have breakfast with me and Bob Mitchell, the PD, to insist that we behave at that nights (his big artist) show. Because “People over at KMEL are freaking out and I don’t want my concert turned into a battlefield.” We showed up, bannered, broadcast, behaved and they looked scared out of their skin.
When we were getting our ass handed to us the new people at KDWB did resort to a couple of thuggish things. Like vandalism. Ehhh….that’s not cool. There’s a fine line between being funny and being a dick. So I waited until there was a Saturday when they had a ton of events, and it was minus 15 degrees, and with some interns poured buckets of water over the tires of their vehicles. Dynamite would not have moved them. The vandalism stopped.
To paraphrase Robert Walden as Donald Segretti in “All The Presidents Men” I’ve used a little panache. A little zing with a sense of humor.
The competitor in Sacramento ripped down all of our banners that were placed in public areas at the California State Fair? He suddenly ended up on a mailing list for porn that arrived at his station in big garish envelopes that said “This package contains explicit material.”
The competitor in Richmond yelled at us for playing our music too loud at a Chris Brown show? Tiny chunks of raw fish ended up on the roof of their van (out of eye sight), in the bushes around their booth and in the grill of their vehicle. In August. In Richmond.
The competitor in Las Vegas yelled at one of the promo team at an event? I went and bribed every business and the apartment complex across the street, literally everything within the line of sight of their offices and studios, to hang KLUC banners from the roofs or balconies. They literally had to pull their shades or stare at our logos. Ah…the power of a box of CD’s.
And then there’s the stuff that is covered by statutes and non-disclosure agreements. I’m going to guess that most people reading this would think that these were silly exercises in immaturity and that wouldn’t it be great if we could just be on friendly terms with the competition. Sure. Yes. That would be awesome.
When another competitor launched (and failed) against KLUC, Cat Thomas put out a memo to his staff that really laid out the consequences of this battle. This new station was there to take the food out of his kid’s mouths. Their job was not going to be done until the other radio station had flipped formats again. This was a battle. One station would continue to have paid staff, and the other station, not so much.
Plus, it’s just fun.