Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Sunday, August 15, 2021

I don’t listen to enough radio to give much of a damn about the medium. But one trend has me puzzled: What’s with applying identity-like brandnames to individual stations?

Many radio station names are basically mnemonic devices for remembering the call letters — stations like KROQ in Los Angeles (“K-Rock”) or New York’s WHTZ (“W-Hits”) — and some even manage to turn the mnemonic into a brand, as did San Francisco’s KLLC, known as “Alice,” a name that goes beyond the call letters to effectively evoke its “chick rock” brand identity as well as referencing Lewis Carroll’s famous Alice (their in-studio webcam is called the “Looking Glass”) and the lyrics of “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane (“Go ask Alice…”).

A growing trend, I think, is that more and more radio stations are beginning to realize that there’s no law requiring them to be named after their call letters, so you get stations like San Francisco’s KSAN calling themselves “The Bone,” a name related more to their hard classic rock format and brand identity than their call letters (which, typically, just relate to the local area). When a station has an evocative name, it has more than just call letters or a handy way to remember the call letters — it has a brand. And since radio is now such a competitive big media business, brands are more important than ever. So The Bone’s listeners are called “Boneheads” and KFOG’s are called “Fogheads,” and all kinds of promotion is done playing-off the names.

The local New York examples that come to mind: The Breeze 107.1 (hardly unique, as I’m betting there are a few hundred easy listening stations across the land that use the same name); The Peak 107.1 (Adult Album Alternative format, whatever that’s supposed to be); and The Wolf 94.3 (upstate-oriented country music). The trend is probably more prevalent on non-music format stations, chiefly news and talk.

Music stations are so homogenized, with the same songs on virtual repeat for days/months/years, that some kind of station-based branding is the only way to build listener loyalty. What makes it unique is how it’s applied strictly on the local level — by necessity, but still. Television networks do the same thing, especially when they’re niche (Spike TV, Cooking Channel, etc.); but they have the additional advantage of exclusive content to distinguish themselves. With radio, outside of format restrictions, the same song can be heard on a range of stations.

The big constraint in communicating these brands: They’re always accompanied by the station frequency. That’s another necessity, because the goal is to have people know where to tune in. But it’s an awkward pitch. To me, it sounds goofy: “Music festival sponsored by one-oh-two-point-five The Sound!”.

But again, radio is largely dead to me, so maybe I’m immune to this marketing angle. The charms of station-monikering escape me.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 08/15/2010 09:06pm
Category: Advert./Mktg., Business, Radio
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3 Feedbacks »
  1. They rarely did any of this in my home town. The call letters were usually pretty obscure and often matched right up with a completely unrelated TV station owned by the same company. So the local CBS affiliate would have the same call letters as a soft rock station while ABC’s affiliate would have the same call letters as a sports station. It doesn’t seem to hurt their branding at all.

    Comment by Trumwill — 08/16/2010 @ 12:00 AM

  2. @trumwill: What makes this stand out for me is how odd/unique it seems. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but the messaging seems weird: It’s never communicated as “Listen to The Wolf radio”, it’s always, “Tune in to The Wolf” — as if this made-up name actually has some permanence beyond the medium it’s on (until the next format change).

    Comment by CT — 08/16/2010 @ 11:11 AM

  3. Sometimes this practice generates mirth. There is a classic-rock outlet in Fargo at the far end of the dial, branded The Fox. (KPFX, 107.9, if you’re keeping score.) I caught them one morning during a commercial-free hour, which was known as “Shut The Fox Up.” In freaking Fargo, North Dakota. I was seriously startled.

    Comment by CGHill — 08/16/2010 @ 10:04 PM

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