Merlin Meltdown: Lessons Learned | TALKERS magazine - talk media trade : TALKERS magazine – “The bible of talk media.”

Merlin Meltdown: Lessons Learned

| July 19, 2012

By Holland Cooke
News/Talk Specialist

BLOCK ISLAND, RI — Admittedly, I had a tough time hearing these stations objectively, for two reasons:

• By the time I heard ‘em in-car, I had been predisposed by terms like “abortion” and “crib dead” in published reviews.

• Having programmed WTOP, Washington for seven years, I’m an aficionado, a tough grader for this format.

These conspicuous flops should NOT suggest that news doesn’t belong on FM, where some 80% of Time Spent Listening now occurs, and with music radio’s days now numbered.  Heck, WTOP is the USA’s top biller, something no other station outside NY/LA/Chicago ever accomplished.


Indeed, some good came out of this: Merlin nudged CBS to flank their WBBM, Chicago with a FM simulcast, and similarly supporting either or both WCBS and/or WINS seems as prudent as inevitable.

That said, the Merlin fiasco does demonstrate that simply being on FM doesn’t ensure success.  During my 1984-1990 stint there, WTOP was a stand-alone on 1500AM.  We had to give listeners a reason to weather the snap-crackle-pop; and if you listen to modern-day WTOP on its multiple FM sticks, you’ll hear ‘em earn their success, minute-by-minute-by-minute.

Other lessons learned from the Merlin mess:

• On-air talent: Look before you leap.

• Owners: Don’t experiment on air.  Be clear: I’m NOT putting down Merlin’s programmer for not having had all-news experience.  I went to WTOP from a music station…BECAUSE I was from music radio, I was told, when instructed to “play the hits” there.  Merlin’s stations defied fundamentals about the appliance-like way heavy users consume all-news radio.  And what’s with the reverb?

• Rehearse: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression;” and technical gremlins and fumbling talent hurt whatever early sampling Merlin’s frat-boy stunts brought to the stations.

• Quality control matters: EVEN IF your information needs are sated by two reports about a Marshall’s shoe sale before a single mention of that day’s stock market tailspin, you won’t sit through two network commercials airing FIVE TIMES each in one hour…especially if one of ‘em is that annoying Troy Aikman/Hulk Hogan spot in which The Hulkster says “BRUTHER” to the intended female target audience.


See/hear/read more from consultant Holland Cooke at; and follow HC on Twitter @HollandCooke.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Category: Opinions