Clear Channel Tries Sponsorship Model for Radio

Dallas Station Goes Ad Free Thanks to Southwest Airlines, Coors

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NEW YORK ( -- Radio listeners in Dallas tuning in to Lone Star 92.5-FM today might have thought for a moment they were on a plane when a familiar "ding" noise came on the air this morning. "You are now commercial free to move about the music, brought to you by Southwest Airlines," a female voice said.
J.D. Freeman, Dallas market manager for Clear Channel Radio
J.D. Freeman, Dallas market manager for Clear Channel Radio

Such sponsor-based spots would be right at home on a satellite-radio network, where advertising is limited or nonexistent on most channels. But for the first time in the FM format, Clear Channel is bringing a commercial-free, sponsor-supported format to the airwaves with its revamp of the Dallas classic-rock station.

Lesser-known music
The concept was hatched a year ago when Lone Star appeared in a completely ad-free form as one of 92.5's multicasted HD channels. In the absence of commercials, the station could go beyond the typical trappings of classic-rock playlists and include more lesser-known music from the likes of Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

"One thing [radio] has lost a little bit is creativity. We've kind of bred sameness," said J.D. Freeman, Dallas market manager for Clear Channel Radio. "What we've done with a lot of HD radio stations is really started with a blank canvas."

After 12 months of success with the HD channel, Mr. Freeman and his director of sales, Kelly Kibler, wondered if there might be a way to take the no-holds-barred programming approach to the main FM dial, without commercial breaks getting in the way of the music.

'Outlaw' theme
"Lone Star has always had an 'outlaw' theme," Ms. Kibler said. "Every [radio] jock I've ever known, the main thing they've always wanted to do was not play any commercials. But we also thought this could be very effective for my advertisers. The big theme I was hearing was, 'I want something new. I don't want your traditional 60 [second spot].'"

Ms. Kibler then pitched the format to a few key clients to offer up category-exclusive partnerships -- AT&T for telecommunications, Coors for beer, Guitar Center for music retail and the aforementioned Southwest acting as the airlines partner -- and all came on board as charter sponsors.

Her efforts did not go unnoticed by her boss, Clear Channel CEO John Hogan. "It's highly unusual to get a sponsorship for a program before it's ever aired," Mr. Hogan said. "But I'm a very passionate believer in this model in addition to that.

For the brands, getting such exclusive air time in a market such as Dallas means they might return the favor by plugging the partnership on their end. Brandy King, public-relations director for Southwest in Dallas, said, "Any time we enter a [media] partnership, it tends to cross over into other areas just because we develop a relationship. We may have a few events together, co-host, so to speak."
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