Each time an FM station flips format or purchases a New York City dial position, the new opportunity for Country is overlooked.
In an examination of the lack of Country in the nation’s top market, FishbowlNY gets the thoughts of former New York City Country DJs, a veteran radio programmer, and a current program director at a Country station on the outskirts of Manhattan.
First, some background.
New York, which has been in the radio biz for more than 90 years, has had just a smattering of full-time Country stations. WHN made the flip in 1973. Prior to that, only WJRZ in neighboring Hackensack, New Jersey, and Mineola-based WTHE, gave listeners the Nashville twang.
WHN and its respectable ratings suffered when it faced some competition in the early 1980s with the birth of WKHK at 106.7, now the home of WLTW/Lite FM. It was the era of the John Travolta film, Urban Cowboy, where bars with mechanical bulls were popping up everywhere–even this far north of the Grand Ole Opry.
On July 1, 1987, WHN was gone and WFAN took over 1050, and ultimately 660 AM. But Country got a reprieve from the Governor. WYNY used the WHN change to fill a void in the market and inject life into its own sluggish station by giving the rarely used New York format another shot. It remained that way until February 1996.
Pete Salant, who ran the now-defunct WYNY in the 1980s as an Adult Contemporary station, tells FishbowlNY that Country can get people tuning in here, but not enough.
“The problem is not a lack of potential Country listeners in the New York Metro,” Salant tells FishbowlNY. ”In New Jersey, Long Island, and Connecticut, inside the Metro geography, there’s probably a 3 share in total persons for a full market signal FM Country station.”
He says that would typically generate eight to 10 million dollars per year in gross revenue for a format.
“The problem is the advertising time buyers, who are young, inexperienced, generally women born and raised in the boroughs,” Salant says. “They don’t personally like most Country music, and they perceive it as being for hicks or cowboys. No amount of education has changed their minds, just ask the former general managers of the post-1988 WYNY when it was Country and owned by Westwood One. They pulled their hair out over this.”