It may not be a surprise to most of you that our beloved News 92 is no more; national broadcasting conglomerate, Radio One, pulled the plug on the all-news-all-the-time station last week citing poor ratings. The real reason for News 92’s departure is for a different conversation (Ken Hoffman has some great insight into this in his Houston Chronicle article).
The once 24-hour news station quickly became a 24-hour Beyoncé station, playing only songs featuring the Houston-born artist. This caught most Houston radio listeners off guard and left us wondering if the new B92 was the real deal. After some serious media hype and national attention, we all found out the real truth: we were duped. The Beyoncé-only radio station was just another form of “stunting,” a surprisingly-often used tactic to draw attention to a station changing its format.
Slate staff writer, Amanda Hess, explains the tactic in a piece she wrote earlier this year in response to a San Francisco station playing Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” on loop for 72 hours — great, now that’s going to be stuck in my head for the rest of the afternoon.
There’s a long tradition of radio stations engaging in a practice called “stunting” to prank audiences, drum up publicity, or signal the station’s impending doom. The stunt is usually to denote a format change: In 2010, a Milwaukee radio station played a whole day of “songs about cheating inspired by Tiger Woods,” temporarily rebranding itself as Tiger 106.9, in advance of a shift from smooth jazz to contemporary country. As Tom Taylor of music radio trade publication RadioInfo put it at the time: “Parading an elephant down the street alerts people that the [old] format is gone.” It’s like “when the circus comes to town.” But some stations have engaged in stunts for more artistic or political purposes: In 1994, a sports talk radio station in Akron, Ohio played “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” 57,161 consecutive times (and made it into the Guinness Book of Sports Records) in order to protest that year’s Major League Baseball strike.
A full list of recent, similar stunts can be found on Wikipedia — I would’ve been all about the 24 hours of “Hungry Like a Wolf” by Duran Duran on Syracuse’s WOLF-FM
This is a good lesson in PR 101 in terms of seizing any opportunity to make a splash in the headlines. Change doesn’t have to be bad, and even if there is negative news to report there’s always a way to change the conversation for the better.
Earlier this week, 92.1 FM finally showed us its true form as the newly branded Boom 92, an urban contemporary station featuring “classic hip-hip” from the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Time will tell if the change will pay off, but in the meantime I’m going to go listen to some Run DMC.
-Written by Sonny Patten