In addition to WVTF and WMRA, the two public radio stations that deliver NPR news, classical music and some jazz, there's also the more eclectic WTJU and WNRN.
Usually, when folks come in asking for a classical piece, it's something they've heard on WVTF. If they're asking for anything else out of the ordinary, it's usually a track they've heard on WNRN – most often, the "Acoustic Sunrise" program.
This time, however, both customers heard the tune on WCNR – a new commercial radio station in town.
I have a lot of respect for Mike Friend, the founder of WNRN. When he was a volunteer at WTJU he offered up a number of ways for the station to grow, all of which were enthusiastically ignored. He took those ideas and started WNRN, which has become a real success story for this area (and several other areas as their coverage continues to grow). WNRN thrived while WTJU continues to just survive.
Mike recognized that no one was programming music for college students. 3WV used to before their album rock playlists became frozen in time. WTJU used to as well until DJs ranged further and further afield – some to distance themselves from "popular" music – and left their audience behind.
WNRN's programming served the twenty-something audience and serves it well. Eventually, someone took notice and WCNR arrived. Make no mistake about it – WCNR is out to eat WNRN's lunch.
And they have a slight advantage – they're a commercial station. WNRN is non-commercial, which means their underwriting is limited by the rules laid down by the FCC.
1) No calls to action – you can't say "come on down," "call now" or other phrases that prompt action.
2) No reference to prices – you can't say "on sale" or "only $5.99" or "free" or anything like that.
3) No superlatives – you can't say "best ribs in town" or "lowest prices on air conditioners," "widest selection" or any other similar descriptors like you can in an ad.
4) No inducements to buy – you can't talk about special sales happening this weekend, or how every Thursday's ladies night.
So for local business (especially restaurants and bars), commercial radio can potentially be more attractive than non-commercial radio from an ad standpoint.
But this isn't a one-sided struggle. WNRN has been around for some time and has built a large and loyal audience. Plus, they already enjoy good relationships with many of the businesses WCNR is trying to woo.
So were the two customers that came into Plan 9 the first crack in the dam, or just two blips on the radar that mean nothing?
I don't have an answer, but it was something that got my attention.