Race for top FM radio station intensifies
By Pocholo Concepcion
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Fierce competition and an obsession with ratings have driven Metro Manila’s FM radio stations to revamp their programming.
For the past several years, a number of these stations have been changing their names—“branding” in marketing parlance—to go with the format shift.
The former jazz station City Lite is now Jam 88.3, which plays acoustic pop-rock. DMZ (Dance Music Zone) has mutated into Wave 89.1, which champions R&B.
KY 91.5, which played classic rock in the late ’80s, has become Energy, a pop and oldies station. The easy-listening, no-DJ, Crossover-sound-alike that was Joey 92.3 first became xFM, which experimented with club music, then settled down with smooth jazz. KC 93.9 is now i-FM but still plays the same mainstream pop. K-Lite 103.5, which used to play alternative rock, switched to easy listening and called itself Heart, and then diverted to contemporary pop as Max FM. And what used to be the eclectic pop sound of Kool 106 has been altered into a jazz-flavored adult contemporary mix now known as Dream FM.
Note that two of them, xFM and Max, have changed formats twice within a few months. And at least three of them have changed ownership.Most drastic overhaul
But the most drastic overhaul, which seemingly became a protracted struggle and triggered a backlash from loyal listeners, happened recently at 97.1 WLS—formerly known as Campus Radio and which now calls itself Barangay LS.
The flagship FM station of GMA Network, LS is directly under the supervision of Mike Enriquez, vice president of Radio GMA.
The station actually relaunched itself as Barangay LS on Feb. 14 last year. It was as a move to improve its rating and sales.
As Campus Radio, LS was ranked No. 6 out of some 24 stations.
A source, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to talk about the matter, said Enriquez had been attempting to “tweak” LS’ sound after he was hired by Menardo Jimenez in 1995 to oversee GMA’s AM and FM operations.
Enriquez allegedly wanted LS to divert from its CHR (contemporary hit radio) or Top 40 format to a “more masa” pop sound. As a result, the station started playing more dance tunes and OPM ballads. It also launched the Campus Radio Greetings and Message Center, which allowed listeners to talk on-air.
The shift was an instant hit. Ratings improved and by 1997, LS was said to have shot to No. 1. But ratings do not necessarily translate to sales, the source contended.Reviving the sound
The station’s marketing department reportedly persuaded Enriquez to revive LS’ Top 40 sound, which had already gained a strong fan base among high school and college students from middle-income families. This was also what advertisers preferred, said the source.
The source claimed Enriquez again instigated changes in LS’ song playlist in 2003, which unfortunately didn’t strike the right chord among many listeners.
But in 2007, the source said that Enriquez gathered the LS staff in a meeting and announced the station’s reformat from Campus Radio to Barangay LS. The DJs, who had to assume more street-friendly monikers, were also asked to do their spiels in Tagalog and crack jokes. In January this year, all but two of the announcers were fired and replaced by young jocks from RGMA provincial stations.
Some of the dismissed announcers were recently hired by the former 99.5 RT, which is now called 99.5 Campus Radio.
“The change of image from Campus Radio to Barangay LS was successful, but it needed a surge, a further boost to widen the audience,” said Enriquez in an interview at his GMA office. “The decision was to bring in new blood, a group of disc jockeys who would remain consistent with the Barangay LS image.”New format, DJs
Enriquez belied allegations that he was solely responsible for changing the LS format and axing the DJs. “There were a lot of research, brainstorming and discussions … consultations with our advertising partners … It was a collective effort. We needed a radical shift in image, a brand name that would immediately establish the fact that from one end of the listening spectrum, which is upscale, yuppies, etc., we were shifting to the mass audience, which is younger…”
He added that LS needed the change “to fortify the barangay image and sound… because that’s what radio is all about, the sound and the image, that’s what makes radio stations.”
Before heading GMA’s radio operations, Enriquez was VP of Radio Mindanao Network (RMN), whose Manila FM station, DWKC, proclaimed itself in the late ’80s as “The No. 1 pop music station in Metro Manila,” a feat that was attributed to DJs who spoke Tagalog and also cracked jokes, though in a more spontaneous manner at the time.But it’s 2008 and the city’s top mainstream pop station is 90.7 Love Radio. It is said to bring in a monthly advertising revenue of P13 million. It’s the kind of money that any station owner would certainly want to make, and which reportedly posed a challenge to Enriquez. He has vowed to make LS No. 1 soon.There are, however, some very crucial factors that Enriquez has to deal with squarely. Love Radio, for instance, has the wacky lady DJ Nicole Hyala who talks and cracks jokes in a pioneering style that everyone else is desperately copying—with disastrous results.Nicole Hyala on LS?Has LS found its own Nicole Hyala?
“No, not yet,” replied Enriquez. “Who knows, she may be with us one of these days. Nicole Hyala on LS … We’re offering career paths to people, because we are a TV network, so the horizon and the ceiling of anybody on radio become much wider and higher here.”If that sounded like an offer to Nicole Hyala, it merely confirmed Enriquez’s own description that the competition in radio has become “ruthless.”But if there’s at least one home-grown program that LS is proud to have launched, it’s the advice segment “Talk to Papa” which airs 1-3 p.m. daily. It was first heard on LS’ Davao FM station and reportedly caused controversy due to its sexually suggestive content.“The local bishop wrote our provincial station and complained about it,” said Enriquez. “Local government employees come late for work because of it … So we said, ‘Let’s do this in LS Manila’… and now it sizzles!”The nagging question is, has such a program convinced advertisers to go to LS big time, enough to push it to the top of the ratings?Enriquez did not give concrete numbers, but nevertheless sounded upbeat: “Revenue is picking up. We don’t have research numbers yet. Nagpa-rank kami ng aming internal research, not the industry … like Nielsen or Radio Research Council … Magpapa-rank kami ng post-change research, we’ll do that in a couple of months.”Consistency, creativity
And yet amid this raging battle for ratings, how does one explain the prominence of Magic 89.9—a station that’s supposedly nowhere in the Top 10, but which is said to pull in a neat P8 million in advertising billings monthly?
In the end, it seems to boil down to how consistent and creative these stations handle everything that comes out of their transmitters. For most listeners, the music is what matters most.
And how does LS define its new sound?
“Basta ang rule, we should be playing well-known, strong, familiar hits,” said Enriquez. “When people listen to 97.1 at any time of the day, they will hear a familiar hit that they know, can sing and hum, relate to, reminisce with... ‘Yun ang rule.”
As Inquirer Entertainment pressed him whether that meant there would no longer be any room for new local talents like bands, or if breaking unsigned artists as LS “exclusives” translated to breaking the rule, Enriquez made a slight turnaround and said the rules are flexible: “Any song, any piece of music, any element that would be consistent with the format, we will play.” walang pa ring tatalo kay Nicole natin #1........