Thursday, July 28, 2016


If you haven’t read it already, I recommend the article Chicago’s Vocalo reins in eclectic approach but keeps focus on younger audience in the July 21st issue of Current by Tyler Faulk [link].  Faulk is one of my favorite reporters at Current and this story is one of his best.  

Vocalo is an experimental multi-platform programming source originating from WBEZ, Chicago. The main platform for Vocalo is its 91.1 FM signal but this where it has had the least success.  As Faulk reports, WBEZ is in the process of redefining its sound, hoping to appeal to more people. Since Vocalo began in 2007 it has seldom appeared in Nielsen Audio’s PPM ratings.  No estimate is available for the amount of money spent by WBEZ on Vocalo but it is rumored to be in six figures.

Now with a $450,000 grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). WBEZ’s management is implementing a plan “to develop and refine a fresh format that can potentially be scaled to other public radio stations.” CPB and WBEZ called on Paragon Media Strategies to learn more about awareness of Vocalo with Chicago adults ages 18-44.  When the results came back, according to Falk’s reporting only 21% of the respondents were aware of Vocalo and 13% said they listened in a typical week.

Part of the problem has been Vocalo’s limited coverage area. Its programming is first broadcast on WBEZ’s HD2 channel, then is repeated on WBEW-FM in northern Indiana.  WBEW is then repeated on FM translator W216CL-FM 91.1 MHz, located on top of the John Hancock Center in downtown Chicago.

As we reported on May 5th [link] Vocalo’s downtown translator power is going up from 10-watts to 99-watts thanks to a frequency-shifting arrangement with local jazz/blues station WDCB.
Torey Malatia

The increased power helps but the big problem with Vocalo is its programming. When then-CEO Torey Malatia designed Vocalo, he threw away almost every broadcasting best practice. There was zero consistency, music few had heard and discussion programs that few people cared about.  But it was hip.  Turns out it was too hip for the room. Losses due to Vocalo were a factor in Malatia’s downfall as CEO. (Torey Malatia is currently the GM of Rhode Island Public Radio.)

 Work is just beginning on the retrofit of Vocalo. The schedule is still full of programs about social justice.  These shows cover important topics but they often aren’t suited for the radio platform.. Vocalo’s music has become more focused on alt-rock, Triple A and Latin & Latino music. 

According to its Spotify playlist, the top five tracks on Vocalo this week are:

Phases I’m In Love With My Life
Ibeyi Stranger/Lover 
Azekel Mad About the Boy
San Cisco Isabella  Jealousy
Rainy Milo This Thing of Ours

For comparison, I checked the playlist for 89.3 The Current and most of these tunes also are airing there.  Chicago needs a “music discovery” outlet that is more adventurous than WXRT.  Maybe the new Vocalo can take advantage of the opportunity.

Check out Vocalo’s website at [link] and Facebook page at [link].


Tom Taylor reports [link] reports that WXXI, Rochester, has acquired a FM translator that will repeat NPR News station WXXI-AM. WXXI is taking advantage of the FCC’s policy of saving AM by moving it to FM that allows FM translators to be moved 250 miles to be paired with an AM station. 
WXXI-AM now repeats some its news programming on WRUR-FM. It is anticipated that Triple A WRUR will become a full-time music station when the FM translator – W266CL FM 101.1 goes on the air. W266CL currently is licensed to Marathon, NY.  Its new location to serve Rochester is not known at this time. The translator was owned by WRVO, Oswego. The purchase price is $50,000.


Some things are just different in Madison, Wisconsin, and that is why I like the city so much.  One Only in Wisconsin experience is Wisconsin Public Radio’s (WPR) statewide Ideas network based at Madison’s WHA-AM. Ideas features a 24/7 lineup of mostly local talk programs and no NPR Newsmagazines.  NPR News is heard on WPR’s News & Classical network based at WERN. In Spring 2016, according to Nielsen Audio estimates, Ideas has more weekly listeners in Madison that dual-formatted WERN.

 In Colorado Springs, KRCC recently dropped Triple A to go all news. Time will tell if this move boosts KRCC’s weekly listeners. They fell 21% from Spring 2015 to Spring 2016.  Meanwhile Colorado Public Radio’s news stations went up dramatically.


Full-time Classical in Portland, Maine, is just beginning. But Maine Public Broadcasting’s now 24/7 news station WMEA is increasing.

Monday-Sunday 6AM-Midnight Persons 12+
These data are provided for use by Nielsen subscribers ONLY,
in accordance with RRC's limited license with Nielsen Inc. Data Copyright Nielsen Inc. Format distinctions are the sole responsibility of Ken Mills Agency, LLC.

1 comment:

  1. I'd wager more that WXXI is thinking about moving the classical content on 91.5 to 1370 + the FM Translator, and then putting news/talk full-time on 91.5 and making 88.5 full-time Triple-A music.

    Simulcasting the news/talk of 1370 on 88.5 during drive-time periods has been confusing yet quite successful. The ratings for 1370 have spiked because people say they're listening to 1370 when they're really listening to 88.5FM. That's not surprising; Rochester is a diary market and the branding for WXXI's news/talk is all about "1370-1370-1370-1370".

    Insiders have lamented for years that WXXI didn't bite the bullet and put news/talk on 91.5 a long time ago. But there's reasons for that. Especially back then, and even now to some degree, there were a lot of major donor prospects that listened to classical. And WXXI lacks the legal control over WRUR 88.5 to just make it all news/talk.

    But adding an FM translator to 1370...while obviously it's not gonna cover the huuuuge area that 91.5 does...will allow them to still provide classical on FM to a core market: Brighton, Victor and Fairport NY. All three towns are immediately next to each other, and all are between Pinnacle Hill (where 91.5 & 88.5 are now, and presumably where the translator will broadcast from) and Baker Hill (the next most likely location) and it's a quite-wealthy area where a lot of those major-donor classical prospects likely live.