This column originally appeared in RadioInfo.com on October 1, 2009
By Sean Ross
Ross on Radio
TAMPA — For a radio person of a certain age (mid 30s to mid 40s say), Jacor’s launch of “Power Pig” WFLZ Tampa, Fla., on Sept. 25, 1989 and its subsequent battle with WRBQ (Q105) is probably one of the formative events of their broadcast career. Not only was WFLZ a spectacularly successful attack on a heritage incumbent’s fortress, but WRBQ (Q105) became an example of how not to respond: it did nothing at first, then stunned the industry by deciding to engage for young-end listeners. A war of attrition ensued and although Q105 would actually pass WFLZ for a while, Q105’s true resurgence was when it went Country in 1993. Now the station is Oldies/Greatest Hits and invoking some of the legacy that was so damaging in 1988.
WFLZ was riding two waves in 1989. One was the explosion of rhythmic-leaning Top 40s around the country. WJHM (102 Jamz) had already shown up in nearby Orlando, Fla., doing a very mass-appeal version of Urban and WFLZ managed to fill the same niche in its market, which didn’t have an Urban FM at the time. The other was the increasing presentational aggressiveness of Top 40. The on-air chiding of the competition that Scott Shannon had begun at WHTZ (Z100) New York had been ratcheted up by the time Shannon launched KQLZ (Pirate Radio) Los Angeles with liners like, “Don’t be a dickhead.”
Within months, it was possible to hear rhythmic-leaning Top 40 and rude liners even in York, Pa. Shortly afterwards, a period of precipitous decline began for Top 40 – either from an overdose of rhythmic music or, equally possibly, a 180-degree whipsaw to Hot AC at many of the same stations in the face of Country’s stunning early ‘90s success. In either event, the presentational aggression of the time probably didn’t help. And even after Q105 left the battle, WFLZ felt the need to distance itself from the “Power Pig” name, which it phased out around 1995.
Long term, however, the WFLZ lesson that being more Urban than the other guy almost always won would start to take hold again in the late ‘90s, as Jacor successor Clear Channel launched in numerous markets with CHRs that were fast on rhythmic product and slow on rock, a formula that has only been confounded in the last 2-3 years. WFLZ found itself attacked by the market’s first dedicated Hip-Hop FM WLLD (Wild 94.1) and responded by flipping sister WBPT to the market’s first full-fledged Urban.
Q105 was a 15-year-old radio station when WFLZ attacked it. WFLZ is now 20 years old. Like Q105, WFLZ has a heritage morning show in MJ, but it doesn’t have some of the other hallmarks that WFLZ went after – heavy personality in every daypart, a deep gold library. If it’s an adult-friendly CHR station, it’s only that in the way that most Mainstream Top 40s have become palatable to adults, particularly those who grew up on a station like WFLZ in the first place.
Here’s WFLZ as The Power Pig from late evenings in December, 1989. Thanks to Rich Appel, Billboard’s Silvio Pietroluongo, WHTZ (Z100) New York’s J.J.Kincaid and Jagger, and Reggie Beas for help identifying some intros that I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that I needed help with.
Milli Vanilli, “Baby Don’t Forget My Number”
Pebbles, “Mercedes Boy”
Bobby Brown, “All Day, All Night”
Seduction, “You’re My One & Only (True Love)”
Exposé, “Tell Me Why”
Stevie B., “Girl, I Am Searching For You”
Surface, “Shower Me With Your Love”
Soul II Soul, “Back To Life”
And here’s the station on Sept. 30 at 10 a.m.
Shakira, “Whenever, Wherever”
Jay Sean, “Down”
We The Kings, “Heaven Can Wait”
Miley Cyrus, “See You Again”
Jason Derulo, “Whatcha Say”
Katy Perry, “Waking Up In Vegas”
Jay-Z/Rihanna/Kanye West, “Run This Town”
Jordin Sparks, “Battlefield”
Miley Cyrus, “Party In The U.S.A.”
Keri Hilson, “Knocks You Down”
Editor’s Note: When this article was written, the boom in second CHRs (many of them using WFLZ’s old game plan of leaning more dance and rhythmic) was well underway. But it took two more years for WPOI (Hot 101.5) to go up against WFLZ. And, at this moment, WPOI is leading. In Nielsen’s April 2017 PPM, WPOI was up 4.5-4.7 to WFLZ’s 3.9-4.0.
Hot 101.5 did launch as more dance/rhythmic than WFLZ. Such distinctions are a matter of degrees these days, but WFLZ is still the more pop-leaning of the two stations with songs like James Arthur’s “Say You Won’t Let Go” and Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill” that aren’t on WPOI. Here’s WFLZ at 3 pm on May 16, 2017.
Maroon 5, “Cold”
Kygo x Selena Gomez, “It Ain’t Me”
Drake, “One Dance”
The Weeknd, “I Feel It Coming”
James Arthur, “Say You Won’t Let Go”
Twenty One Pilots, “Ride”
Julia Michaels, “Issues”
The Weeknd, “Starboy”
DJ Khalid f/Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper, “I’m The One”
Ed Sheeran, “Shape Of You”
Zedd & Alessia Cara, “Stay”
James Bay, “Let It Go”
Bruno Mars, “That’s What I Like”