How Rob Miller Saved New York
April 29, 2014
When you look at how ridiculously successful Pitbull is today, it would seem unlikely that in 2009, combined spins on all of Pitbull's songs to that date garnered less than 1,000 total spins on the radio in New York City, while having massive success in numerous other markets, large and small.
Because I had previous success with Pitbull in Charlotte, with "Krazy," "The Anthem," "Culo" and even "Shake" from the Ying Yang Twins, I was baffled to arrive in NYC -- a city with heart, soul, culture and a pulse -- to find that Pitbull hadn't been embraced there at all.
When Dom Theodore had brought me to 92.3 Now in NYC in March of '09, to be his right hand, he had already built his on-air staff, and his music was already in place. As a programmer, I am extreme when it comes to sizing up music for a specific market, and after getting the lay of the land for a couple of days and truly listening to the competition and our own station, I keyed into this new little song on Ultra Records that Dom had already been playing, "I Know You Want Me," from Pitbull.
I KNOW YOU WANT ME
I declared that this was the lane for the radio station, the center sound that we could target in on, to build a viable Top 40 product, among one of the greatest competitors of all time, Z100.
It is typical that competitors won't touch the unfamiliar songs you're playing when you're a new station in their market, because by doing so, it gives your station credibility, if not obviously with the listeners, definitely with the record community, who just needs to know that you have miniscule influence to get them extra airplay within the marketplace if they simply hyper-focus on getting you on their songs first.
And from there, the less-than- 2 share that still existed from the Rock audience of WXRK began to grow as a Top 40, past a 2, then to a 3, and with each weekly, it was only going forward, and faaassssst.
CLIMBING OUT OF THE PIT WITH PIT
I put all of Pitbull's past songs that were not exposed in NYC in our callout, and just like that, our playlist had two more Pitbull songs to play, making him a core artist of 92.3 NOW out of the gate.
To set the stage for how underplayed Pitbull was in NYC, he was playing SOB's in SOHO, a club that fits 350 or so, and when we called to get behind the show, the club still had 250 tickets left. They gave us some for giveaways, and in an hour from hitting the air, the show was sold out. This was April 22nd.
Pitbull was about to break but NYC radio didn't know that yet ... but somebody had a hunch.
Now radio isn't just about the music, but bold music moves with strategy can get you audience, and ours continued to grow, now past a 3.4. As a radio station, we had our strengths, our weaknesses, our growing pains, but musically we had our focus, and it was about to hit paydirt.
TIME TO GO SHOPPING
I was shopping at one of those souvenir stores in Times Square and the radio station they were playing sounded hot, and there it was, Pitbull, so I knew they were listening to us. It was nighttime, and song after song, this was a fined-tuned playlist, but then I heard something that didn't seem right; a jingle that sang, "The Beat of New York!" WHATTTTTTTTTT!!!!!!
I put down my thimble-paying homage to the FDNY, never forget, and now had something else I'd never forget. WKTU was playing our music, song per song, and they sounded amazing. I was suddenly frightened for my job security. I frantically dialed up Dom and relayed what I was hearing, and purchased Rolaids from the street vendor. It wasn't the pizza.
As KTU continued in that lane, the ratings showed up for them, and they magically had risen to the top, even above Z100. That might have been the reason, why after having that success, KTU had gone back to the sound they had before overtaking Z100, and just like Robert De Niro in The Awakenings, where the dopamine wore off, KTU's sudden surge returned to the respectable numbers they had had, but not the ones when they embraced Top 40 full on.
Meanwhile, we were starting to find some local music weapons that would test the discipline of our competition, as songs like Serani "No Games" began to sell consistently in the top-10 week after week, jettisoned by our airplay.
When Michael Jackson had passed away on June 25th, with a tip from radio programmer, Jason Kidd, who wasn't yet in Baltimore, we had beaten everybody to the news and with access to mixers had three timely MJ Mixes, all of high-quality playing on the air in his honor. Since we were new, and had to be careful of sending the wrong message of what this station stands for, we didn't overdo the celebration of MJ's life and what it meant to all of us touched by his talent.
But KTU did.
Nonstop MJ all weekend, back to back, nothing but MJ; they owned it, and they could. The Beat of NY and Michael were a perfect fit. After a day, I was certain it was overkill, but as vehicles would drive by with their windows open, it was obvious by the songs Beat It, Dirty Diana, Thriller, Smooth Criminal and others playing at full blast, that this was a moment of effective impact. I was afraid for the day the numbers would come out, and when they did, my fear was for good reason. KTU had exploded.
MICHAEL JACKSON POSTHUMOUS POWER
Their cume had gone berzerk, reaching about 6 million. I was confident that when MJ was laid to rest and this time had passed, we would return to a more even playing field again, but even when the sounds of MJ were gone, KTU was maintaining, hitting cume beyond 5 million week after week, and then Rob Miller did something extremely heroic. He trusted his gut.
WKTU had returned to playing the hits. Not just the charted hits, but even those that were hits exclusively to NYC, and with 2 million more cume than we had, KTU had successfully boxed us out. Z100 was rock solid, and the one-two punch of KTU and Z100 together would prove to be tougher to beat than the team of Serena and Venus in their heyday.
And that's how Rob Miller saved New York.
IN SEARCH OF KRYPTONITE
There's no shame in the 3.8 that we posted under Dom's guidance, and our flirting with 4 million cume. We made an honest attempt to create a viable Top 40 alternative in the Gotham City, and for a minute, we had the Kryptonite. His name was Armando Christian Perez, aka Pitbull, but then, everybody got wise, Clear Channel got wiser, and Pitbull got Budweiser. (hooray for bad puns ... hip hip hooray ☺)
Three short years after playing SOB's in front of 350 people, Pitbull was selling out multiple back to back nights at Radio City Music Hall.