Monday, April 24, 2017


Frank Dominguez (Photo: Charlotte Magazine)
Last week The Charlotte Observer ran a fascinating article [link] about the continued success of WDAV, Charlotte, and General Manager Frank Dominguez. Since Dominguez became GM over a decade ago, WDAV has become one of the most successful Classical music stations in the nation.  

 The ratings are strong and the station’s $1.8 million annual budget is self-sustaining.

The article explores reasons for WDAV’s recent success. One big factor, according to Dominguez, is WDAV’s “oasis effect.” This “oasis” is created by a continuous flow of music, a non-contentious style and building a haven away from a society that seems to be increasingly filled with political and social rancor.

Dominguez told The Observer:

“Part of it is probably the times we live in. It causes people to seek an oasis that they might not have sought two years ago. Everyone needs an oasis to decompress or recharge.”

Dominguez cites the reaction of listeners to WDAV’s decision in 2015 to eliminate hourly NPR newscasts. Overall listening rose almost immediately. Dominguez thought there might some backlash about not airing news, but he says over 90% of the listeners he has encountered like the change. Dominguez realized that WDAV wasn’t a news destination. So he is focusing on what works: Classical music with very few interruptions, locally-based hosts that provide loving curation of the music and station engagement with Charlotte’s music scene.

Perhaps the key to Dominguez's success is WDAV’s ability to be both an oasis and a community organizer at the same time.


Source: Walrus Research
If Dominguez’s description of the “oasis effect” rings a bell, it is because around 15 years ago research George Bailey labeled these listeners Classical Music Monks. In Bailey’s chart on the right, he compares characteristics of NPR News listeners and what he calls Classical music “monk” listeners.

Bailey’s terminology was criticized as a simplistic stereotype but what he saw could not be denied:  A sizable portion radio listeners only want music. And, they don’t want to be disturbed. Bailey wrote in 2004:

Most importantly, we found that classical music listeners, in sharp contrast to NPR Activists who engage with the troubled world, use the classical music format to relieve stress—an escape from contemporary problems. The classical listening experience was described in meditative, interior phrases such as "A necessity for my soul,"
"Relaxing, calming, sailing,"
and "A quiet forest meadow on a spring day."

According to The Observer article, Dominguez has found the “secret sauce” to appeal to older, passive listeners and younger, more engaged listeners. He points out that while half of WDAV’s listeners are older than 55, a quarter of the station’s listeners are under 35.


WDAV’s estimated weekly listeners were down a bit from February 2017. NPR News station WFAE continues to ride the news listening wave. Look at the showing by South Carolina Public Radio’s WNSE.  They are 24/7 news and talk and they put a terrific signal into metro Charlotte and their estimated weekly listeners continues to grow.

In Austin, NPR News KUT was down slightly from February. KUT may have set a record high number of weekly listeners in February.  KDRP’s performance shows they have some powerful mojo on the rise.

NOTE TO WMOT: If you haven’t done it already, investigate why KDRP is growing audience and you seem stuck in reverse. WMOT is a close cousin of KDRP.

KOPB, Portland continues to set new records for the estimated number of weekly listeners. KOPB is also #2 in AQH share percentage.  Nice to see KBOO’s number of weekly listeners is growing. They are one of the very few old-dchool community stations that subscribe to Nielsen.

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