NEWS- <span class="s1">Airwave wars</span>: Saga unveils 'The Corner' radio
The ever-crowding pool of Charlottesville radio stations got a little more cramped last week when the Charlottesville Radio Group and its parent company, Saga Communications, unveiled the latest addition to the Central Virginia airwaves: 106.1 FM, WCNR "the Corner."
Currently the station has no on-air staff, but between songs, a voice occasionally tells listeners, "Up on the Corner, it's different, and different is good." However, some listeners contend it's the same old song and dance. And one local broadcaster suggests it's a "rip-off."
With a playlist that includes everything from classic Stevie Wonder and Led Zeppelin to the latest from more recent groups like the White Stripes and Gnarls Barkley, how to describe the Corner's format other than "different?" Charlottesville Radio Group general manager Dennis Mockler says he's not exactly sure how to classify the new station.
"This doesn't really fit any specific, nice, industry category," he says. "All I know is that this will serve people who love music and that it's truly designed for the Charlottesville market."
Mockler says that the format for the eclectic station– which began its broadcasting life on Friday, September 15– was not ordered by Saga executives but resulted from countless hours of market research talking to Charlottesvillians.
"People who want to hear this don't have a lot of interest in what's out there right now, so maybe they're getting their music from other sources like CDs and iPods," he says. "Had people told us they wanted polkas, we might be playing that. But this is what they told us they liked and was missing from the market."
In keeping with the idea of programming by democracy, Mockler says that a listener survey on the station's website will be critical in determining the future sound of the station once its commercial-free "10,000 songs in a row" promotion ends.
"I've been in radio full time for 30 years and launched a number of stations,"Mockler says, "and I've never done anything like this. Listeners are helping to shape this station, and what they say will have a real impact on what we play."
Given what's been played thus far, and considering a moniker that evokes the UVA student shopping district, could the target listener of "the Corner" be what station-ranking Arbitron calls the "typical online radio user": a white male, age 25-34 who attended college?
Of the 30 songs the Hook heard in over two and a half hours of listening, 24 were from 1990 or later. If the selection continues to skew toward modern rock, it would put "the Corner" in direct competition with the non-profit, volunteer-run station that prides itself on "modern rock and no commercials," 91.9 FM, WNRN.
"They're saying different is good, but it's not different," says WNRN founder and general manager Mike Friend. "I guess we'll have to wait and see if it's good."
Friend says he doesn't buy Mockler's claim that the new station is serving some untapped market.
"If you think about all you can't find on the radio," says Friend, "it's a shame all they thought of was to be just like someone else." Still, Friend says he's not worried about WCNR cutting into WNRN's market share.
"People in Charlottesville are smart enough to have their rip-off detector working," he says, "especially with something that blatant."
Mockler pleads innocence.
"We didn't design it by saying 'Who are we going after?'" he says. "The people who listen to this are educated. They're not going to be fooled by traditional hype and games."
Local media analyst Waldo Jaquith says he's a skeptic when it comes to forecasting the new station's success– and not just because of its competition.
"You're looking at a generation of kids who think of music as Napster and iTunes," he says. "If they're going to listen to music, they'll use their dorm's network to share music. It's a hell of a market to crack."
Jaquith also says that those handicapping whether WCNR will ultimately triumph over WNRN need to remember recent local media history.
"We've seen that C-Ville and the Hook can each survive, and we've seen that WNRN and [UVA station 91.1] WTJU can each survive," he says. "I just wonder what will happen when it's a commercial station and a non-commercial station competing."
Whatever the outcome, in an age of satellite radio and digital downloads, all local programmers are just hoping that listeners stay tuned.
WNRN founder and general manager Mike Friend calls the new station a "rip-off" of his own station.FILE PHOTO