RADIO TUNES IN TO FRESH IDEAS NEW FORMATS, TALK SHOW HOSTS ADD SOME VARIETY TO AIRWAVES

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Radio, once criticized for sticking to the tried and true, is now sticking its neck out with some new programming ideas.

"Over the last seven years I haven't seen such an emergence of new programming as there is now," said Leslie Sturm, VP-associate director of network radio for the Media Edge, New York, a subsidiary of N W Ayer & Partners, New York. "I think radio is becoming more creative and programming is becoming more targeted."

Previously obscure or unknown formats, such as new rock, adult album alternative and all '70s, are suddenly mushrooming; and networks are adding a slew of talk personalities to go where radio hasn't gone before.

"For a long time it's been very stagnant," said Corinne Baldassano, VP-programming for SW Networks, a Sony Software and Warner Music Group venture. "All of a sudden, last year there was a resurgence in money and duopolies. Duopolies have really changed the face of radio and allowed it to be more creative."

By early next year, SW Networks will launch three 24-hour satellite formats not currently available through other networks, including Classic FM, with classical music; a motivational talk format called Success Radio; and an unnamed new adult contemporary format. All are aimed at upscale adults 35 to 54.

"We're intentionally choosing niche formats with growth potential; we don't want to be like everyone else," Ms. Baldassano said.

Westwood One Entertainment is taking talk radio to another level with Richard Simmons, the self-proclaimed "court jester of health," and Mike Walker, gossip editor for the National Enquirer. Mr. Simmons is expected to appeal to women 25 to 54, and Mr. Walker to adults of the same age.

"We're obviously looking to do talk radio in ways that it hasn't been done," said Westwood One Chairman Norm Pattiz. "There are plenty of political commentators-we want to broaden it."

While Ms. Sturm of Media Edge says her radio advertising budget has not yet increased to keep up with the number of new choices, Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising VP-Senior Associate Buying Director Sam Michaelson said hers has risen 14%.

CBS Radio started ARROW (All Rock 'n' Roll Oldies, with a W added) a little over a year ago at KCBS-FM in Los Angeles when the lackluster, traditional oldies station was "looking to do something new," said Rod Calarco, VP/CBS-owned FM stations.

After changing its playlist, the station's ratings increased significantly to take first place among adults in their 30s. Ad dollars also followed, with spots from airlines to guitar shops doubling revenues.

CBS has since added three more ARROW markets. The name has been licensed to two dozen stations, and many more are playing similar music. Westwood One launched the first 24-hour satellite '70s format Nov. 1.

"These days, a lot of non-radio advertisers can find a show that really targets their product," said John Lund, president of Lund Consultants, Millbrae, Calif.

Joe Mandese coordinates MediaWorks.

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