Earlier this month, the folks at WFMN Super Talk Radio celebrated their one-year anniversary as the first FM talk radio station in Jackson.
Clarity of an FM signal, consistency of full power and good programming helped establish a market niche, said John Winfield, operations manager.
“For years, we had been trying to get a radio station in Jackson, and when the license became available for an FM station in Jackson, we took it,” Winfield said. WFMN is part of the Telesouth Communications Group, a local company. “There was only one other talk station in Jackson, yet 30 to 40 music stations. It`s a lot easier to come on with a format with only one other opposition rather than 30 or 40, so we felt we had a good chance to be successful.”
Talk radio is addictive, said J.T. Williamson, program director. “People want to hear what is said next.”
Williamson, a self-professed rock jock, started working at WFMN in the production department and landed a midday talk show spot with Paul Gallo and producer Dave Ingram. The show is an alternative to politics because “a lot of people don`t care to hear about politics all day, every day,” he said.
“The midday slot has been my thorn,” said Winfield. “The other stations have got Rush (Limbaugh) and Rush has got the world locked up. As long as he`s there, we`ve got to do something different, even though local politics may be mixed in.”
Last Monday`s show was directed at Jackson city officials, asking why they planned to spend $10,000 to entertain juvenile delinquents who wanted to cruise up and down the road. Calls to city hall were routed and rerouted while the buck was passed, Williamson said. “We have a lot of fun with the show, and we try to bring out some very interesting points.”
During the legislative session, the station broadcast from the rotunda at the New Capitol. When the Jones County sheriff was missing, listeners were calling in on their cell phones to let station officials know what was happening.
“When something happens, we don`t have to stop the music,” Williamson said. “The sheriff`s ordeal took up a whole week`s worth of talk shows because there were so many questions that needed to be answered.”
Because it was difficult to gauge the number of listeners in the first year of programming, Winfield said station officials considered the Dave Ramsey financial planning seminar in March an effective measuring stick. “We rented space for 1,500 people and only advertised on the radio and there was standing room only,” Winfield said.
Ramsey`s weekday, nationally-syndicated talk show, The Money Game, is perhaps the most popular talk show on the program list, Winfield said. On his show, Ramsey includes programs with ladies-only segments, calls from money-bickering couples and points fingers at businesses with bad service. “Business is like tennis. Those who don`t serve well don`t get the point,” he said on a recent show.
As with most talk radio shows, there`s always controversy brewing. “Matt Friedeman listeners think he`s crazy or the best thing since sliced bread,” Williamson said. “We had a regular caller who once called Andy Taggert the illegitimate son of Kirk Fordice.”
“Some of the calls during the (June) election got heated, especially the Phil Davis/Delbert Hosemann debate the day before the election. All the finger-pointing that was going on during that race made the debate one of the better moments of the first year on the air,” Williamson said.
Although the FCC has relaxed standards, a six-second delay keeps calls within limits. “We`ll put you on the air, but if you say something dumb, we`ll dump you off,” Williamson said.
Few changes in programming have occurred since the station went on the air. Time constraints forced Andy Taggert, a lobbyist and former chief-of-staff for Gov. Kirk Fordice, to drop his show when the legislative session started. When Buddy Bynum, one-time editor of the Mississippi Business Journal, took a job at the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development, potential conflict of interest kept him from continuing his morning show.
The station plans to add more high school, college and pro football this fall, including Jackson Prep games and all sports at the University of Mississippi, Thompson said.
“People shift gears on the weekend,” Winfield said. “We balance sports and talk. Felder Rushing`s Yard & Garden and Buddy Sloan`s Handyman is on Saturdays. We have a little more football on Sundays. And we try to offer advertising slants, such as Nevada Bob`s Rules of the Game.”
“Our goal was to be as successful as we could be,” said Winfield. “We didn`t expect to make a lot of money the first year. We didn`t take over an existing station and change the format.”
Marketing the new station included advertising through print, billboards, and cable television within the 30 to 40 mile radius the station reaches. Upcoming promotions include BellSouth numbered ads, scavenger hunts and a pay phone payoff, Williamson said.
Logical Data Systems paid $300 as the station`s first sponsor. Current advertisers include Edwin Watts Golf Shop and Equipment Inc., both of Jackson.
“Advertising on WFMN has been quite effective,” said Mike Tullos, manager of Edwin Watts Golf Shop. “There`s a good mix of programming that appeals to a wide audience. We`re doing extra spots during the (DGG) Classic to draw visitors from out of town into the shop.”
Callers to Equipment Inc. listen to the same on-hold message as the ad spot that runs on WFMN, said president Joe Schmelzer.
“It`s very effective,” he said. “More and more people are listening to talk radio and I assumed it was good to try.”
Rather than buying ad time on particular shows, Tullos and Schmelzer purchased packages that feature drive time, or prime time, spots. When Matt Friedeman brought his afternoon show to WFMN Super Talk Radio, he also brought several sponsors. Several businesses wanted to advertise only on Don Imus` weekday morning talk show, Winfield said.
“We had to go through the process of getting people to realize it existed, then get people that listen to talk radio to come over. We`ve been very surprised and satisfied with the results, but we`ve still got a long way to go,” Winfield said.