Normally, my Nashville Radio Primer has been moving in a set direction—literally. The profiles of each station have been released based on their location “on the dial”, starting on the left-hand side of a typical radio dial (or the 87.9 position) and moving right, towards 107.9; once 107.5, Nashville’s long-standing Top 40 station, has been profiled, we’ll start back on the left for AM radio.
The last station I profiled was 97.9, or “The Big 98”, placing us about halfway through the dial; this profile, however, requires taking a few steps back, as it’s on a lower position. Why hadn’t it been profiled while I was “already down there”? Simple—it didn’t exist yet. It has now been on air for just over a year—in other words, it has demonstrated enough staying power to warrant a profile—and thus appears to be a contender for a long-term slot in Nashville’s radio history. The station’s approach to its audience is an interesting one, and it’s easy to wonder exactly how the station’s approach will play out.
94.5 WHPY-FM, Hippie Radio
In the past, this station had not been a Nashville-based radio station at all. It began as WFGZ-FM, a Christian station owned by Grace Broadcasting, serving the small town of Lobelville, TN. Last year, however, the station was bought for $1.8 million (which is not a high price; Nashville Public Radio, by comparison, paid over $3 million for what had once been 91.1 WRVU-FM) by Federated Media, an Indiana-based company. Federated is, like a lot of media companies, an omelet with a lot of ingredients; they own billboards, they create digital apps, they publish a newspaper in the bustling metropolis of Elkhart, IN. Also, naturally, they have radio holdings, mostly in the Hoosier State; as it happens, a clear summer night will allow Nashville natives to hear another Federated holding—Fort Wayne’s 1190 WOWO-AM (and yes, it’s pronounced “whoa-whoa”). The new station here is part of a new branch of Federated, known as Kensington Digital Media. Kensington, and thus Hippie Radio, are longtime dream projects for one Tony Richards, the COO at Federated. An article in Radio Ink quoted Richards—whose first station was in his own basement, when he was 13—as saying that radio “still has a bright future”. Oddly, for Hippie Radio, that bright future has a lot to do with the past.
Hippie 94.5 is reaching for a very specific demographic. So is every other radio station, granted, but few are as plain-spoken about it: the station’s tag line is, in fact, “Radio for Baby Boomers”. Merchandise available at the station’s website includes t-shirts and hats which say “Still p***** at Yoko”, and the contests offered include “Classic Car of the Week”. It’s a shock to the system, frankly; other stations (and companies that own stations) are increasingly embracing the Brave New World—most notably in the form of Clear Channel’s streaming radio app—and Hippie seems to be thumbing its nose at all things new. (The operative word there is “seems”; it is, of course, possible to listen online, and the parent company creates apps.) The music, however, is not new, focusing on the 1960s and 70s. Another way that Hippie promotes familiarity and comfort for Boomers—and this Gen-Xer—is the presence throughout the day of actual, flesh-and-blood DJs.
Hippie’s morning show is helmed by Chris Lucky, who also serves as the station’s Program Director; he’s been in radio for 30 years, mostly in (you’ll never guess) Indiana. It’s Lucky’s opinion that audiences seek “fun and personality” from radio, two traits that “big, corporate radio ripped from the airwaves”. Chris is therefore seeking to provide both, and has made the choice which most likely will—the whole broadcast day is helmed by a real person. The 12:00 AM—6:00 AM slot, so often filled now by a syndicated talker, belongs to Keith Harris, who also has 30 years behind the mic; other shifts are taken by Mark McGill and Joe Case (late of local television).
Syndicated Favorites/What No One Else In Town Offers:
The one syndicated jock is Spider Harrison, whose weekly show “Whatever Happened To…?” is aired on Hippie Radio; Spider has done commercial and voice-over work, was a founding member of Sugar Hill Records, the pioneering hip-hop label, and as for radio, his first DJ gig was here in Nashville, replacing WLAC’s legendary jock John R when he retired.
Hippie also produces a local show which could readily become syndicated, and really should. It’s called The Originals With Even Stevens, and airs on Sunday nights at 8:00 PM; its topic is one of interest to a lot of Nashvillians, especially those of the cock-eyed optimist bent—songwriting. Even (yes, his name is an adjective) interviews songwriters, and often plays demos and alternate versions of well-known songs, so that the listener can get “under the hood” of an iconic tune. Stevens himself is no stranger to Tin Pan Alley, having penned hits for Dr. Hook and Eddie Rabbit.
I plan to watch 94.5’s development cautiously; its commitment to old-school radio is admirable, but will targeting boomers always yield benefits? Is it even the thing to do? The person I know who most religiously listens to Hippie is my sister-in-law, who, at 34, is not a Baby Boomer. (I don’t for a very technical reason—its signal is much stronger in the western parts of Nashville, and I’m in Inglewood, to the east.) What is the formula necessary to keep live-jock radio extant?
In our next profile—which returns us to the middle of the dial—we’ll look at a station whose demographic is even more specific. (And older).
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