Monday, April 29, 2019

Chicago Radio: MeTV FM Rewrites Radio Rules

Three years after launching, MeTV FM’s eclectic soft oldies format has turned a low-power TV signal at 87.7 FM into a top-10 Chicago radio station, confounding competitors and rewriting the unwritten rules of broadcast radio, reports The Chicago Tribune.

“A lot of people think it’s amazing that we’re doing the kind of numbers we are without all those traditional things,” said Neal Sabin, 61, vice chairman of Weigel Broadcasting, which operates the station. “But we’ve broken a lot of radio rules here.”

The mastermind behind the national MeTV classic television network, Sabin used his own iPod playlist to create an unlikely radio success story at WRME-LP, which can be heard at 87.7 FM but is actually licensed as Ch. 6, a low-power Chicago TV station.

Neil Sabin (Tribune photo)
The so-called Franken FM station is one of a handful of TV channels operating as radio stations across the country. All are potentially on borrowed time, facing a three-year window before regulators at the FCC may force them off the FM band.

None has progressed beyond the fringes as fast and far as WRME, which has resonated with its target audience by playing both familiar and forgotten songs for listeners who grew up glued to the radio from the 1960s through the 1980s.

Owned by Los Angeles-based Venture Technologies Group, WRME MeTV FM has steadily built its audience since debuting in February 2015.

The secret sauce, Sabin said, is an under-served older audience and an enormous playlist of about 3,500 songs. The format draws heavily on mainstays such as the Beach Boys, the Beatles and Billy Joel, but it also brings in more obscure singer-songwriters, one-hit wonders, deep album cuts and plenty of guilty pleasures.

There are no on-air personalities, but the station uses clever promos and well-produced artist profiles to create a strong connection with listeners. WGN Radio provides bite-size newscasts twice per hour in drive time, but a shared passion for the music is what drives the relationship.

The station’s core demographic is 45- to 64-year-olds, with a fairly even split between men and women. The aging audience makes MeTV FM something of a tough sell for advertisers, who traditionally covet younger consumers.

Sabin didn’t disclose annual sales but said the station’s revenues are up 50 to 60 percent from last year, thanks in part to the recent ratings boost.

In Chicago, MeTV FM may be facing another challenge. Despite its success, WRME and all low-power TV stations have been given a 2021 deadline by the Federal Communications Commission to convert to a digital broadcasting signal, which would end the de facto radio stations, since FM is still an analog medium.

Venture, which owns six low-power TV stations operating as radio stations, has a pending petition that, if granted, would permit it to continue transmitting their FM signals in analog after they transition to digital TV, FCC spokesman Charlie Meisch said. Otherwise the Franken FMs will disappear within three years.

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