Thursday, October 09, 2014

Ad-Free Weekends!

I recently read that 95.3 WZLR-FM "the Eagle" in Dayton, OH has switched to ad-free weekend programming. This wasn't a stunt (supposedly) but a programming change.  They will stick with this plan "for the foreseeable future." The idea is that this would improve their TSL, and their ratings book in general. That'd lead to higher ad rates and therefore net gains. It could turn out to be a coup for COX, we shall have to wait and see. More here.

It's worth noting why this is such a selling point. I remember when Sirius Xm was ad-free. NPR is always ad-free and I often let the dial rest there. Spotify, Slacker and Pandora all offer ad-free services for a price. All of them have ads if you don't pay.  (Some even if you do) Yahoo's LaunchCast Debuted as an ad-free service in 2003... but eventually introduced ads. In 1998 Lucent Technologies and CD Radio talking a big game about their ad-free satellite radio service. It never happened. In short, ad-free programming is rare and ad-free services are an endangered species. 

But they noted that they were inspired by a change at 92.3 WBMP-FM  "Amp" a New York City area station.
They ran ad-free weekends over the summer months through Labor day. It boosted their ratings, in a very tough market. This claim got me wondering how far back do ad-free weekends,stunts and events go? I've certainly heard ad-free blocks on radio stations before.. but I have to confess I didn't take much notice of them. the presence of obnoxious ads is so ubiquitous that I don't think I paid enough attention to their absence.

You may remember in the 4th season of WRKP, which aired in 1982, the fictional station went ad-free and became ranked as the 6th station in Cincinnati. But real ad-free radio programming is harder to pull off.  But back in 1988 when Channel 63 in Los Angeles flipped calls from KTIE-TV to KBEH-TV they introduced ad-free weekends. In 1980 WCBN-FM went ad-free when they received the news that John Lennon has been murdered. They did it again in 1985 as a stunt "Commercial-Free for a Free South Africa." But that was not the first either. When 105.5 WWWM-FM  flipped formats to Free Form FM as 'M-105" in March of 1975 they did an ad-free weekend. That is one of the earliest references I can find.

But If you go back to the origins of radio Lee deForrest and David Sarnoff both envisioned a radio band free from advertisements. He mourned the presence of ads on WEAF and even then in the early 1920s was reminiscing about the unstructured broadcasts of a decade earlier because they were commercial-free.