Why Cleveland Radio Sucks, the True Story Behind 87.7 Cleveland Sound, and the Future of Radio Innovation 

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Introducing La Mega

For his part, Wilson says that he was serious, but he couldn't keep plowing money into the station.

"We were 18th-20th in the market; advertisers just can't buy on gut anymore," he says. "We didn't do one stitch of national business. I lost several hundred thousand dollars. Instead of digging myself a hole, I decided that I'd rather fill a hole instead."

Talk of a format change began as early as January 2013, just months after Cleveland Sound went on air. Wilson came to terms with TSJ Productions, a Cincinnati company that runs Hispanic stations in Cincinnati and Columbus, in November. Staff members were notified of layoffs, and, at the end of the year, Cleveland Sound was no more.

No doubt a Hispanic station fills a need within the local market. La Mega Programming Director Daniel Melendez says the response so far has been tremendous. "What I hear the most is, 'What took you so long?' People have been waiting literally decades for a Hispanic radio station in Cleveland. They've responded to us with love and gratitude."

Wilson acknowledges that 87.7 may go off the air in September 2015, but says that he's confident the FCC will extend the deadline and eventually allow the station to become permanent. He won't discuss the possibility that the partners might sell the digital frequency to a TV station. "We're not talking 'what ifs' at this point," he says.

Whatever negotiations may be going on behind the scenes, the FCC maintains that the deadline for LPTV is still effective. "The FCC has established September 1, 2015, as the date for the termination of all analog low-power television service," its website states. "After that date, analog television will no longer exist in the United States."

Just in case the station is forced to go off the air, Wilson and his partners have already applied for a new digital license. Gorman says it's likely that they'll be able to eventually sell that license to a local TV station for millions of dollars. "It's a scam," he argues, blaming the FCC's toothless behavior on deregulation and Bush appointees.

The future of Cleveland radio

If interesting rock radio rises again in Cleveland, it may happen through embracing a new kind of localism. There are some radio stations taking advantage of this already.

Cleveland's commercial radio scene may be bland, yet we're fortunate to have a thriving college radio scene here. The four main stations, WRUW 91.1 (Case Western Reserve University), WCSB 89.3 (Cleveland State University), WJCU 88.7 (John Carroll University) and WBWC 88.3 (Baldwin Wallace) each offer unique independent options further down the dial.

"Cleveland has a really amazing college radio scene that's overlooked," says Shari Wilkins, a local programmer who runs two shows, Ivy's Red Sweater and Number 9. "We have more options on the left side of the dial than most other cities have. Also, college radio here is more freeform. We're lucky to have that kind of radio diversity."

Kramer-Gould believes the only way terrestrial radio can survive is by offering programs that can't be replicated by Spotify. WJCU's program "In the Heights" offers an example.

In some ways, commercial radio is already returning to local broadcasting – but through talk rather than music. 92.3 is now a sports talk station. WMMS brought on Alan Cox to do an afternoon talk show from 3-7 pm. This is a major departure from the past since WMMS, a station that is historically famous for rock music, now plays very little of it.

Cox says that interesting, locally-programmed radio can survive and thrive if owners are willing to develop and invest in on-air radio talent – a trend that he hopes will take place.

"The pendulum is swinging back – people are interested in local radio," says Cox. "The problem is that the talent in radio is really beaten down. Unfortunately, that's the way the entire radio industry has gone. Owners wanted to run stations like jukeboxes."

Herschel says CBS Radio now offers more music diverse options for listeners on its HD stations, which have more new music and rock formats for people that own an HD radio. (Raise your hand if you use one.)

Jim Marchysyn, who was marketing director for WMMS in its heyday, says the future is online. Most online stations haven't built up a large enough audience to lure advertisers, but they will, he says, especially now that it's easier to stream in cars. "It's just a matter of how quickly," he says. "Just as we went from AM to FM, we'll go from FM to online."

In the future, Clevelanders can expect interesting online radio stations to pop up, say observers. Gorman is already working on such a project, but details are under wraps.

Dave Whinham, owner of the sports, entertainment and media firm The Team, says that the success of CD 102.5 in Columbus shows that given the right ownership, Cleveland could have a successful, locally-programmed rock radio station. Whinham is scouting for opportunities to replicate the Cleveland Sound format elsewhere on the local dial.

"There's a lot of great new music that never sees the light of day," he says. "You mix that with live, vital personalities, I think that's the future. But it's going to take time."

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