Maybe it was the time spent in Knoxville that gave WKTI its southern drawl.
Late last week, the familiar call letters returned to 94.5 on the dial when the station managers made a format change to mainstream country.
"People are very fond of the call letters," vice president and general manager Tom Langmyer said of the WKTI station designation. "It reminds them of a big station and fun and having a huge connection in the community."
The former pop and adult hits station in Milwaukee sent its call letters packing when a format change to WLWK-FM took place almost a decade ago. At that time The Journal Broadcast Group parked the KTI letters on an AM station in Tennessee. Later, the call letters were used on a TV translator in Sturgeon Bay. By using the call letters, the ownership wouldn’t lose them. That allowed the ace in the sleeve to be used for something like this.
The WKTI call letters harken back to a time when Gene Mueller, now at WTMJ-AM 620, and Bob Reitman had the top morning show in the market. I always thought it was funny that Reitman, a pioneer in freedom radio on the FM dial, and Mueller, a known newsman, would be put together on a station that played Milli Vanilli and Lionel Richie. But the pairing worked. Asking listeners what high school did they go to and giving away $10,000 a day … those things were huge.
Then there was the ratings slide. Music was changing, listening habits changed, and WKTI dropped in the ratings. The "Jack" format was on the rise, where music from different genres and decades were thrown into the playlist and a computer would pull them at random. "The Lake" took on the format change to varying levels of success. Lately, it had the station rank between 7-11 month-to-month.
In the past few years WMIL-FM, the largest of the country music stations in the market, has enjoyed the No. 1 spot in the local ratings. That means it can charge a premium for on-air advertisements as it had the best chance of reaching the largest market share of radio listeners.
"Country music is very popular in Milwaukee and Wisconsin," Langmyer said. "iHeartRadio has a great station, but we have the chance to do it a little differently and be more local."
Langmyer said that the group has reached out to many of the venues in the area and will be out and about in the community this summer. The Journal and its newspaper, TV and radio stations have had a huge and close relationship with Summerfest for a number of years. Now that Scripps owns the radio and TV stations in the recent merger of the two media companies, Langmyer said the relationship will continue. Expect WKTI to be on the grounds.
In the coming days and weeks the new country music outlet will be presenting the personalities that will be on air. According to Langmyer, the new staff will be on the air "24/7." In the meantime, Langmyer is doing the bulk of the work behind the scenes in making the station a go, including being heard on the mic.
ANALYSIS: On the surface, the format change makes sense. WLWK was floundering as a pop hits station trying to gain and grow market share among adults. As well liked as the random song playlist was for its core audience, it wasn’t enough for the now Scripps-owned station. WMIL-FM is the most listened to station in the Milwaukee market with its country music format. By bringing back the KTI call letters, which origins go back to initials for an account executive’s wife, the promotions team will have a good story to spin.
If WKTI is successful in stealing a chunk of market share from WMIL, then its sister station WTMJ-AM 620 may have a shot at being No. 1 in the market. Going deeper, this aspect is the biggest win for the former Journal Broadcast Group radio stations. With the top station in the market comes the best chance at landing national advertising spots. Some agencies only go one station deep to purchase ads in a market. If WKTI as a county station ranks in the top 15 spots in the market, but knocks WMIL to No. 2 behind WTMJ, that is the winning strategy in play. And it is great for the bottom line, and that’s why being No. 1 is important.
TRANSITIONS: With the format change at WKTI-FM 94.5 "KTI Country," morning show host Danny Clayton will be shifting duties and working on-air at sister station WTMJ-AM 620. According to Langmyer, Clayton will host on Saturday mornings and work on other projects at the station.
WLWK programmer John Roberts is going to Tulsa as the programming director of Scripps station KHTT-FM.
"Scripps Tulsa and 106.9 K-Hits are thrilled to welcome John Roberts to the team," Tulsa manager Jules Riley told the RAMP newsletter. "(Roberts) brings a wealth of programming knowledge to the table. K-Hits will continue to thrive under John's leadership, providing entertainment and connectivity to the current and next generation of CHR listeners."
Before coming to Milwaukee Roberts worked at stations in Memphis, Denver, New Orleans, Austin, Texas, and Dallas.
"After almost four years with Scripps/Milwaukee, I'm so pleased to be offered the chance to continue with the company in Tulsa. K-Hits has been one of the industry's great Top 40 stations for many years and I'm excited to join the group of programmers and air talents who've contributed to its success in the past and lead the team that will continue that winning tradition into the future. Thanks to Steve Wexler, Beverlee Brannigan, Bill Berry, Jules Riley and Tom Langmyer for making this happen," Roberts said in a release.
RACINE: With WLWK out of the popular hits game on the radio waves, the station at 92.1 on the FM dial made the quick switch to the adult variety format. WMKQ-FM took on "The Lake" slogan as well in an attempt to get the former WLWK audience.
This move has some pros and cons. One, it makes sense being a smaller powered station with a small market share to make a switch to grow audience. Being locally owned and operated, WMKQ is able to be more nimble than larger, corporate-own stations. The change in format makes sense.
Taking on "The Lake" branding so quickly may be great for promotional purposes, but I’m guessing this part wasn’t thought through all the way. In my workings within and in competition of larger media organizations, I know that branding elements are usually owned as intellectual property. That means, you can’t just go out and copy something – even if it doesn’t exist on one platform. Chances are "The Lake" in regards to a radio station in Wisconsin is probably trademarked, copyrighted, or at the least known enough to be tied to the station that started it. In a legal sense, it was probably a misstep by the smaller station to make the claim that it is now known as "The Lake."
With HD radio, internet streams and Scripps’ music-streaming app, the station group may just keep WLWK "The Lake" alive on one or all of those other platforms. WMKQ may want to re-think taking on the same branding, unless it is prepared to go to court. These are the things that keep media lawyers employed.
INTERVIEW: Fox News Channel’s Megyn Kelly landed an exclusive interview with Josh Duggar’s parents, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, on "The Kelly File" earlier this week. Tonight at 8 p.m., additional portions of the interview about their son’s molestation allegations and the controversy surrounding their family will air during a one-hour "Kelly File" special.
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