On Wednesday, the Chilliwack, B.C.-based station changed music formats and began playing mainstream megastars like Katy Perry, David Guetta, Lady Gaga and Black Eyed Peas.
Rogers Radio has owned the station since 1999 and broadcasts it over three frequencies (107.5 Chilliwack, 92.5 Abbotsford, and 104.9 Vancouver).
Until yesterday morning, the station, known as Fun FM, was playing music predominately from the ’60s and ’70s. However, ratings would “attest to the fact it wasn’t really finding an audience,” said Geoff Poulton, vice-president and general manager, Rogers Radio, British Columbia.
That format meant it was competing against Rogers Radio-owned Jack FM. “We found that a lot of those listeners were coming over to Jack or coming over to Fun FM causing some erosion on both stations,” Poulton said.
The change was also driven by listener research the station conducts four times a year.
“The research allows us to take a temperature check of the stations in the market and of the formats that might have viability in the market,” he said. “The last time we did this was back in February/March for this particular format… and that’s when we saw the opportunity.”
The new premise is based on two brand promises: a place to discover new music first and fewer commercials.
With this in mind, Sonic has pledged to run 10,000 commercial-free songs in a row, which will take until mid September. After this, Sonic will run approximately six commercial minutes an hour, said Poulton.
“When we did some research on this format in all three of our markets, we found there was a huge appetite for Top 40 music and that people were weary on the length of commercial [breaks],” he said.
Sonic is using its commercial-free phase to determine its talent line-up as well. “To generate an audience over time, you need to properly staff your station with the right talent,” Poulton said. “So when we have completed our recruitment process we will have live announcers and talent on the air from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m., seven days a week.”
Because Sonic plans to offer fewer on-air advertising opportunities than its competitors, Poulton said the station has to be careful how it sells this limited airtime.
“We’re enabling our team to say to clients ‘Here’s who the audience is we expect to attract with this radio station, and if you don’t believe that we’re a fit for you and your client, then we would encourage you not to buy the station,’” he said.
“We are going to be selective and we aren’t going to give the station away,” he continued. “In this business people put a lot of emphasis on ratings. We’re going to put a lot of emphasis on the environment we’ve created at Sonic.”
But will this new format generate enough revenue to sustain a radio station? Poulton thinks so.
“At the end of the day a radio station is comprised of many elements, commercials are only one of them. There’s other things we do that speak beyond commercial minutes – promotional opportunities, digital opportunities. We’ve done the math, we’ve looked at our conservative ratings estimates and we’re real confident that, in the short term, the station will be profitable and in the long term we have a format that has a longer life span than Fun FM provided us.”
Rogers Radio is using out-of-home, television and Facebook ads (all produced in-house) to help promote the new format.
The station has also hired a street team to dance for the length of 10,000 songs during the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) that runs from Aug. 19 to Sept. 5.
Rogers Radio is a division of Rogers Communications. Rogers also owns Marketing.