I’ve begun to realize that as I get older, I tend to start stories with “So…”. As in “So…I reckon it was aught two and Caleb and I went up to the county seat to scutch flax for Widow Holmvig…”
So…I reckon it was aught six and I was consulting Infinity-soon-to-be CBS Radio in Denver. As often happens, the cluster found itself in a position where they needed to rebrand a station. It happens. And most of these projects are done with a press release, some new imaging and a promise of no talent with lots of commercial free music. It’s very exciting stuff and no one ever notices or cares.
The cluster was fortunate to have Keith Abrams as their OM and Keith understands that you rarely see great stations that didn’t have some bang to their launch. So, we conspired and wrote and created and crafted a fake format or “fauxrmat” for the first 72 hours of the new station. Something jarring and attention-getting that would make some noise so that when he dropped the REAL station on them, there would be some ears tuned in.
We decided that an All Chinese station would accomplish that. “Kung Pao” would be the brand and together we pounded out imaging and content for a website that would accompany the temporary station.
There was a great line in “The Sting” about how the most outrageous propositions are made more believable if you feed it to them in small doses (a tease) and you support it with the right actors and scenery. A realistic site was essential.
And then…someone at corporate whose main job was to send out press releases, got wind of it. Her fiefdom was basically to send out press releases and any Infinity station that dared to reach out to a local affiliate and say “We’re doing a dog wash on Saturday at the grocery store…” was going to have her wrath come done on them like a thousand thunderbolts.
She didn’t like the idea. She didn’t get it and with no Programming experience to back up her dislike of the scheme, she went to the top and it was squashed. Their launch was weak and within a year they rebranded again with the same music but a different moniker.
So…I reckon it was aught nine and I was hunkered down at an airport on the West Coast, about to begin an arduous journey with two flight changes, to get home to Minneapolis, and John Shomby with Max Media in Norfolk called: they wanted to blow up a station and start from scratch. Did I have any suggestions? Well, we’d just done an all strip club fauxrmat at another Max station and it had been so successful that the PPM numbers they pulled in 72 hours have, I don’t think, been matched in any of the later formats they’ve put on that dial position. I suggested Music For Dogs: with Arbitron now surveying dogs, the potential to grow their numbers 400% was there.
And then I mentioned Kung Pao. Boom. That was it. It had to be Chinese.
John got to work culling together a continuous loop of about two hours of Chinese music and I grabbed an airsickness bad and sketched out the site.
Actual airsickness bag from the launch of Kung Pao 100.5
When I landed in the Twin Cities, I typed it up to send off to Bel Boschi in Vancouver to create a site. The final product had fake banner ads and a “Listen In Real Time” button for streaming. Under the On-Air section were:
The Wake-Up Gang Of Four” 4 to 7 am
“At-Worker Paradise featuring More Music! More Productivity!” 7 am to 7 pm with Elvis Truwang
“Diddy Mao keeping your nights Kung Pao hot! From 7 to 10 pm”
“The Red Menace, DJ Che’ spinning Hot Hits From Havana, nightly, 10 pm to 1 am”
“Delilah from 1am to 4am”
“The Weekend Brigade” (photo four generic political prisoners)
Khan Junior, the Cambodian Ryan Seacrest with entertainment dish from the Khmer Republic and beyond, Saturday nights from 8 to midnight
Sunday Morning Public Affairs:
4 am – 4:30 “Family Focus with Hope Daniels” May 5th’s featuring One Child, One Country author Lily Tran
4:30 am to 5 am “The State Of Your City” May 5th hosted by Karl Weimer discussing “Dividing The Wealth On Just One Paycheck”
5 am to 5:30 am “This Week Now” Our inside sources reveal what’s going to happen to whom and when.
6 am to 7 am “The Inspirational Moment Hour”
7 am to 8 am “Powerline with Brother John Rivers” (will be pre-empted if religious subject matter that violates policy, is aired.)
8 am to 12 noon Sundays, Manchurian Top 40
Also on the site:
“Take Your Bills And Divide Them Among The Community” begins with The Wake-Up Gang Of Four on Monday April 27. Send us your paycheck and listen for your name to get some of it back.
Diddy Mao has Communal Four Packs of tickets to “Elmo Grows Up” all next week. Listen for the gong to call and score your free passes.
Listen and earn points for privileges with the Kung Pao 100.5 Insurgent Club. Also receive emails with special offers from collective partners of the station. And it’s simple. Fill out the form and you’re entered.
Family Members In Strategic Positions In The U.S. Military Industrial Complex:
Kidney or Renal Disorder?:
Please detail the activities of your neighbors. Leave nothing out. We will know if you do:
(And then above the submit button, it said “You Will Submit”)
The hottest in videos and digital entertainment!
(And then, a small notice that said “This content is currently being screened by the radio stations Chief Political Officer. Please check back for updates”)
Party Leader, Vonneva Carter [email protected]
Chairman, John Shomby [email protected]
Director Of The Ministry Of Technical Development, Paul Campbell [email protected]
Propaganda Minster, Nadine Pannicia [email protected]
While Bel created a site along with scrolling testimonials: “This is GREAT. It’s all we access on the radio now. Joel on-line in Denver”, “Love my Kung Pao! Cindy in VB”, “You guys rock and roll! Kevin and Carter in Chesapeake”, “The Navy at Little Creek wants another order of Kung Pao!”, “The Foreign Studies Department at Norfolk State is tuned in and turned on”, “You’re on in the lockerroom. The Tide”, “ Love it. Mark in Newport”, “More. Must have more. Dan in Great Bridge”, “Dian in Kempsville has joined the revolution”, “Indian River runs red with 100.5” and “Finally, the hot Chinese music I could only hear on the web, in freaking Norfolk! Tracy”, I wrote imaging, John built the play list and we prepared for launch.
This was all done in complete and total secrecy. Only a few people in the building even knew what was coming. The following Wednesday the station began to run a message from Max Media President Eric Mastel outlining Radio’s ability to change with the times and the continuing shifts in music tastes, promising a significant announcement on Friday at 5 pm, when this recorded message began to run TOH for the next two days:
“My name is John Shomby and I am Operations Manager for Max Media/Virginia Beach. As we enter 2009, Radio finds itself in an interesting, yet exciting period. In its existence. Radio has been a viable medium for over 80 years because of it’s ability to change to reflect the times and the ever-changing tastes and lifestyles of it’s audience. A new era has dawned for the industry and once again we must evaluate where we are and where we are going. With iPods and other music delivery services now available, Radio must continue to change to meet the times. Earlier this year, our parent company, Max Media undertook the most ambitious project that this industry has ever seen. With the help of Harris Research, the company launched an intensive research project. Hundreds of focus groups were hosted. Ten of thousands of phone interviews were conducted. A direct mail questionnaire was sent nationally to over 1.8 million radio listeners like you. And then the arduous project of looking at the numbers and seeing what they mean and where they point us began. And today, with Norfolk/Viringia Beach as its first market, Max Media is poised to begin the next generation of terrestrial Radio formats. The research is in and the numbers are irrefutable. The large gaping formatic hole that has been all but ignored? Chinese Country Music. This is a very exciting time and we are both humbled and honored to be at the forefront of this new wave of music programming. So please welcome to Virginia, the first of what will soon be a worldwide musical revolution. The new Chinese Country sound of Kung Pao 100.5. (Gong) Let the music begin!”
As we’d expected TV and all matters of press descended on the station in droves, where they were invited in to film and dine on a catered Chinese meal. Was the company serious? Were they really going to play Chinese music? Near a huge military installation?
There’s a trick to lying to the media and the first secret is DON’T LIE TO THE MEDIA. Because some day, some time, somewhere down the line, your night guy is going to be in a chatroom…and the next morning your station parking lot will be a sea of satellite dishes. And they will get the call letter right.
John Shomby handled it deftly and hinted that there was more, allowing them in on the joke but without delivering the punchline. Now on the “inside”, the TV stations played along. Even the New York Daily News was intrigued.
While he was doing that, I was messaging, as a concerned patriot, every conservative talk radio host I could find and they bit. They bit HARD. By the next morning these outraged citizens were doing all of our work for us and telling anyone that could read or listen that the red menace had arrived on our shores. When it got a story in the UK and a TV report in Panama, I knew we’d done well.
My two favorite memories of that weekend? Scott Sands emailing me from his desk in Indianapolis, concerned about all of the down tempo instrumentals. And Eric Mastel, President of Max Media, going into a coffee shop…and it was playing.
On Sunday afternoon a vague message began to run directing people to 7 am on Monday for another cataclysmic announcement, when Eric Mastel returned to the airwaves.
“It is highly embarrassing for me to come out, just days after trumpeting the launch of what we perceived to be a strongly desired musical niche in the market, and tell you that we screwed up. First, and I can’t stress this enough, never, ever, hire a consultant who posts a flyer on the corkboard at Piggly Wiggly with those little tear-off phone number dealies at the bottom. And second, yes; we did undertake one of the largest music research projects ever. But you know, getting the data is one thing. Understanding it is another. All those numbers, well, they kind of blurred together after awhile. And I was never good in math. Plus we were looking at them upside down. And there was alcohol involved. Any way, we revisited the research data and found that, as opposed to Chinese music, there is an overwhelming need for a CHR/Top 40 station in Norfolk/Virginia Beach. A station that plays today’s hits and balances it out with fun and compelling content between the songs and on the website. Please welcome Hot 100.5 into your homes, offices and cars. And please accept my apology and promise that we will never do these big research projects again. Thank you. I’m now off for the rest of the day to have my head examined.”
And they launched into Hot 100.5, a station that a decade later is still going strong.
Strong stations usually had strong launches. Kung Pao? Strong and spicy. As with the Wilds in SFO and Tampa, DECADES later people remember how they launched. Walk around Norfolk and Virginia beach ten years later, mention “Kung Pao 100.5” to random people and you’ll get a smile and “They got me.”