Dying listeners, satellite radio, the voracious Internet, the damnable iPod: It’s all enough to make Bill Stedman, the new program director at South Florida oldies station WMXJ, think wistfully of the days when his biggest worry was keeping people from driving motorcycles into the studio. Which, by the way, he was surprisingly unsuccessful at.
‘Back in 1970, I was doing the late-night show on WEDR [now a hip-hop station, then a rocker] at the old studios on the second floor over on 36th Street when somebody called and said, `Hey, my friend’s outside, and he’d like to see the station,’ ” Stedman recalls. “We had a no-visitors policy, but it was near midnight and things in those days were a little, um, lax. So I said, sure, send him on up, and the next thing I knew, a Triumph Bonneville is roaring up the stairs.”
Stedman doesn’t expect any choppers coming up the stairs at WMXJ (among other reasons, it’s in a one-story building) but he’s got plenty of other challenges, from fierce competition posed by new technology to the aging of the baby boomer audience that’s been the backbone of oldies radio. ”It’s a tough environment out there,” acknowledges Stedman, who began his second tour of duty as WMXJ’s program director in early December. “We’re not just in the radio business; we’re in the entertainment business. And from iPods to video games to cable TV to the Internet, people have never had so many entertainment options. We’re competing with each and every one of those things, not just other radio stations.”
To make matters more difficult, the 58-year-old Stedman — who came here from a Detroit classic-rock station, though he has worked on and off at various South Florida stations for almost four decades — is arriving at WMXJ in turbulent times. The station fired morning jock Bruce Kelly and program director Bob Hamilton within a couple of months this summer, unprecedented turmoil at a station where many of the DJs have been in place for 20 years or more.
Stedman, however, is confident that things will work out — for radio, for the oldies format, for WMXJ — without any revolutionary change. ”We’ve been through this before,” he says. “Everybody said TV was going to kill radio. It didn’t. Everybody said FM was going to kill AM. It didn’t. Radio programming just morphed into something different, and that’s what will happen again.”
The morphing has been going on for some time in oldies radio, which was created to capitalize on baby boomers’ affection for the rock ‘n’ roll music of their teenage years. But the advance guard of the boomers is moving into its 60s, which is almost the same thing as being dead as far as advertisers and radio ratings services are concerned.
Many stations — including big ones in New York, Chicago and San Francisco — have junked the format altogether. The survivors dropped the word ”oldies” (the format is now known in the industry as ”greatest hits”) and pushed the focus of their playlists from the 1960s into the 1970s and beyond.
”There’s even an oldies station in Orland o, WOCL, that has music that runs through the late 1980s and even plays [the 1989 Tone Loc hit] Funky Cold Medina, something that’s nominally a rap record,” notes Sean Ross, vice president of music and programming at the consulting company Edison Media Research. “That’s pretty remarkable for a radio format that for many years cultivated the listeners who couldn’t make the transition to rap.” [source]