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Media: January 2022 • Signal Stays Strong at MeTV FM

| December 31, 2021

Rick O’Dell of MeTV FM


For the last few years, fans of MeTV FM (87.7FM) in Chicago have been bracing for their favorite station to be shut down by the FCC. Program director Rick O’Dell has good news for them if they haven’t heard it yet.

“We reached a critical point last July where the FCC had imposed a deadline, whereby they required all 87.7 stations to be digital or go off the air,” he explains. “The owners of the 87.7 stations (Venture Technologies Group) got special dispensation because they installed unique proprietary transmission technology that allowed 87.7 Chicago to go as a digital station. So, that meant we were able to comply with FCC regulations, and from what we hear, this will satisfy the FCC from now on. There’s no end date any more.”

Rick O’Dell has been a fixture in the Chicago radio world for four decades (WAUR, WCLR, WTMX, WNUA). One of the things that drew him to this station was the seemingly prominent position taken by the management of Weigel Broadcasting.

“I’m so happy to be working for a company that values the older viewers and listeners. The truth is that the heaviest users of radio are in their fifties and older. The people at Weigel are smart to see this for the great opportunity that it is. Everyone else is chasing the younger viewer and listener, and if you want them, you’re only going to be able to get a much smaller slice of the pie. The stations focused on listeners 25-54 are in panic mode as the average age of the radio listener climbs up and up. Still, Weigel Broadcasting, in their radio and television products, is successful in targeting the older viewer and listener. That means we’re not in crisis mode, and we’re putting out a product that overlaps with my own taste and preferences, and we’re filling a niche for people in that age group by giving them music they really have no other place to get.”

The format they have devised to go after this underserved audience may also be one of the country’s most unique and daring formats. As radio is zigging, MeTV FM is zagging.

“Radio’s formats have become so narrowly defined,” O’Dell says. “When we were growing up and listening to Top 40, it embraced half-a-dozen different genres. As long as they were popular and selling well, it didn’t matter what genre songs were in; you’d hear them all. The Carpenters into the Rolling Stones into a novelty song into a cross-over country tune into classic R&B. But now all of those categories have their own individual station if they have a station at all. The concept of MeTV FM, which was devised by Neal Sabin (Executive Vice President of Weigel Broadcasting), was to take our age group back to when we were listening to the radio for pleasure, as teenagers or high school students or college students, when we could turn on Top 40 radio and listen to everything that was popular at the time.”

It’s an old concept that somehow sounds refreshingly new. One of the biggest reasons is that the station is not afraid to dig deep into the hit catalog.

“The hits are the hits, and there’s something to be said about that, but we’ve always felt that as long as we played those secondary cuts in the right way, people would eventually embrace them. Neal’s perspective is that we’ve heard the big Oldies hits hundreds of times, but the secondary songs are kind of like new songs or new releases within the Oldies category. It gives the format a chance to broaden people’s horizons because we’re playing songs that maybe they didn’t hear the first time around. So it’s kind of like an Oldies format with new songs. (Former WXRT, WLUP, WDRV disc jockey) Bobby Skafish sent a note to us saying, ‘I don’t like every song you play, but God bless you for playing it.’”

And there seems to be a unifying tone to those choices.

“We do play more songs that are happy and peppy,” O’Dell admits, “and though we do lean a little soft by design because those songs are not getting any airplay anywhere else, we tend to focus on songs lift your spirits immediately.”

Another difference on ME-TV FM is that they don’t have any disc jockeys. This is a subject that O’Dell hears about a lot.

“Every year, we do a listener survey, and our core audience tells us that most of them don’t want to hear a DJ. But it’s still our plan to one day have a local person live handling one day part, probably mornings or middays. We hear from disc jockeys all the time, and we were almost at the point where our revenue would allow it, just before the pandemic hit. We’d still like to do it, but even when we do, it will only be one or two dayparts.”

It’s understandable if they don’t want to mess with the success they’ve enjoyed so far. Despite the incredibly inconvenient dial position (some cars don’t have 87.7FM anymore), the rating numbers don’t lie. MeTV FM is routinely in or near the top ten stations in the market.

“The ratings are solid,” O’Dell confirms, “and we’re happy about that. That’s helped keep us on the air for the past five years.”

– Rick Kaempfer

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