WLDR‘s bold move into HD radio
Jan. 18, 2009Roy Henderson is back in town, and Northern Michigan is hearing the difference.
Three years ago, Henderson went toe-to-toe against the popular WTCM-FM when he turned WLDR 101.9 FM into a country station. The switch was considered profound because the station had played soft rock for four decades.
Now Henderson has made another bold move -- becoming the first in Northern Michigan to go HD (high definition), requiring an investment of $500,000.
Heres what it means for folks who have HD radios:
Static-free radio reception
The ability to listen to multiple stations at a single place on the dial. (See sidebar on WLDRs new stations)
A quality of sound that approaches a CD
Lots of text information on what youre hearing
Henderson said that WLDR will not only provide the names of songs and singers, but when commercials are running, the radio receiver will flash the product name and contact information.
Its 24-hour sports network station will scroll scores of all the local sportsEverything in northern Michigan, from the Straits to south of Cadillac, Manistee and Ludington. Were 100,000 watts and we reach a really large area with the help of our Petoskey station, WARD-AM 750 (named after his son).
The other neat feature is if you hear something you like, you can press a button and the radio can download the tune directly from iTunes so you can have it later for your iPod. Its called iTunes tagging. Its just a button you touch, and it does it all for you.
So heres the challenge: converting folks over to HD radio. Theyre for sale at most of the big box stores, and in 2010, many family sedans will have HD radios in them. The 2009 Volvo is taking the lead, with KIAs, Ford Lincolns, Hondas, Audis, and Mercedes Benz to follow. Satellite radios will also have HD capability built into them in the near future, Henderson said.
A LITTLE ABOUT ROY
Roy Henderson is a man youve heard about for the past 20 or so years, but havent seen much of. Hes been busy traveling around the world, buying and selling radio stationsup to 33 at one point, including one in Costa Rica.
Henderson said he fell in love with radio when he was eight years old, living in a small town in Louisiana.
We went to visit a 250-watt radio station in the 1960s. When I walked in
and saw the huge platters turning, the tubes glowing, the deejay, I was hooked. I think that HD is the biggest thing since then.
He started his career with WKLT back in the early 1970s when it was a 3,000-watt station serving Kalkaska (its now 50,000 watts). He owned the station for several years, sold it for $300,000 to its current owners, and then moved down to Houston where he bought another station. He also got involved in the oil industry and real estate. In fact, Henderson is the guy who owned the hole in the ground at the corner of Front Street and Park, which he recently sold to his business associate, Tom Darga.
So what was the story behind the hole?
Which hole are we talking about? joked Cleetus Crow, the station deejay.
Seriously, Henderson said the problem stemmed from a struggle between himself and WTCM owner Ross Biedermann, both trying to build a major project.
It was a struggle to see who could build it first, and I lost, Henderson said. Nine-eleven came along and that was the coup de grace [translation: death blow of a wounded creature].
Henderson said the press got a little old, describing him as a Texas oil tycoon.
I was born in Grand Haven, and had my children here in Traverse City. Ive invested more money in Traverse City than my competitor. I think Ill join the Rotary Club now so theyll stop making jokes about me, he said, laughing.
Henderson said Darga will use the original plan for the corner lot: a five-story building with condos, a restaurant, and shops.
Henderson returned to Traverse City last summer for the third time, eight years after buying WLDR from Don Wiitala, who still broadcasts the St. Francis games on WLJN. Dave Maxson stayed on as talent until last summer when he retired.
The decision to go up against WTCM was audacious, but the reasoning was simple, Henderson said.
We were in the adult contemporary market against four other stations for a 12-point share. WTCM was the only country station and it had an 18-point share. Id rather compete heads up for an 18-point share than be one of five trying to get the 12 points.
If I have the most powerful station thats located in Traverse City, why not go after the big guy? I remember when WTCM was also an adult contemporary station in the late 1970s, just like WLDR. So my question is why not us? The interesting thing is Les Biedermann didnt want to go country. He had to be talked into it.
So hows the station doing?
The new Arbitron book will come out in the next few weeks, so Im hopeful to see where were at, he said.
Although HD radio is a novelty in Traverse City, Henderson says tourists who visit here are already using HD radios.
With the economy in the shape its in, why did we consider it now? I think this is the time to stand out and excel. We have the opportunity to push forward with a presence. To think out of the box is the way to go. Other stations have proven that HD can worktheyre already on the super highway and were just getting on the ramp.
Henderson also wanted to time the announcement that non-cable televisions must convert to HD in February.
We wanted to get caught up in the HD awareness. We felt that was a lifetime opportunity. Eventually, every FM station will have to go to it.