WNKU [link] made industry news recently when it decided to drop almost all national shows and replace them with live and local hosts. Now WNKU manager Sean O’Mealy is taking the changes to the next level by adopting the “Music Discovery” format.
In September, WKNU began playing more new music, focusing more on local music and increasing its ties to Cincinnati’s music scene.
“Music Discovery” is a format and strategy that is being promoted by Mike Henry of Paragon Media Strategies [link]. WNKU joins a growing roster of stations adopting the approach including WFUV, New York; KXT, Dallas; KUTX, Austin and The Bridge, Kansas City.
“It’s a curated playlist for the musically curious along with carefully selected content that engages our listeners with us and the community, on-air and on-line,” said O’Mealy.
It’s like hanging out with that cool friend you have who makes the best mixtapes. If you were to look at this list you might raise an eyebrow – but when you hear it, every song makes sense. One song flows right into the next. And every song is handpicked.
WNKU, like other “Music Discovery” stations, is designed to be competitive with online and mobile systems like Pandora, Spotify and Beats 1 Radio. WNKU’s advantages over those devices is hands-on curation (as opposed to algorithms), hyper local focus and involvement with live music events and venues. So far, listeners seem to like the changes. The fall WNKU had its biggest fund drive ever raising over $110,000. There were a record number of new members.
WNKU EVOLVED FROM DUAL-FORMAT IRRELEVANCE TO BECOME A MAJOR CULTURAL TASTEMAKER
For most of its early life WNKU split its schedule between NPR Newsmagazines and various types of music. Twenty years ago Cincinnati had two other stations that took the same dual-format approach. WGCU was part-time NPR and part-time classical. WVXU was also part-time NPR combined with old-time radio broadcasts and jazz. Nobody was being served very well.
By 2000 or so, WNKU’s then-PD Grady Kirkpatrick focused the music on Triple A but could never convince the licensee to drop news in favor of music 24/7. Around the same time WGUC and WVXU merged. WGUC became full-time classical and WVXU programmed NPR News around the clock. WVXU hired news director and reporter Maryanne Zelesnik – a terrific journalist – away from WNKU. Kirkpatrick left WNKU for a gig in the Rocky Mountains but his advice stuck. WNKU then became a full-time Triple A with mixed results.
Subsequent management solved signal problems in the Cincinnati metro and added a high-powered repeater station, WNKE, reaching the entire Cincinnati trade area:
WNKU was third in the Cincinnati noncom October Nielsen Audio PPM ratings, behind WVXU and WGUC: