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Risky business.

Risky Business

Perched high atop a flag pole in the middle of the Fair Park swimming pool, Little Rock's first rock n' roll disc jockey, Cliff Ford, sat for eight days and nights spinning records on turntables strapped to the pole promoting radio station KLRA.

Today, Ford works with as much gusto to promote his own station, KWNN AM 1050, as he did when he was a disc jockey in the 1950s. The radio industry has undergone a conversion since Ford was a teenager, and FM waves are causing AM station owners like Ford to struggle to hold their audiences in the dying market.

"I've always heard that Little Rock is the weirdest market, but I think it's just like any other market," says Ford, who thinks he can make KWNN a success.

In September, KWNN celebrated a year of featuring a motivational format. The call letters are usually shortened to WNN, or "Win" to fit the station's logo "For Winners Only." It's not necessary to tune in to receive positive feedback, though.

Ford talks about plans for his station in the fervent manner that tent revivalists conduct healings without stopping for a breath. Ministers in town have even been known to quote KWNN from the pulpit.

Ask Ford one question about his station's format, and he'll answer 10 others before he gets around to the original query. One sentence isn't sufficient to explain his philosophy of "We don't play a hit song, we play a hit idea."

Recently, Ford launched a quarterly business magazine prompting some to say he should stick to his knitting. Entrepreneurs like Ford may run a good idea into the ground by not focusing their efforts on one project, they say.

"I don't consider the radio station a radio station. I consider it a part of a whole - a carrier," Ford says of his ambitious plans for other projects that target a specific audience.

But at this point, the station is having difficulty carrying itself in the all-important ratings world.

The 1000-watt station only has a listening radius of 60 miles and is too small to be included in Arbitron ratings, but the June-August Birch Radio ratings show KWNN has just 500 listeners. Ford says the ratings don't show a complete picture, and he has a much larger audience.

He carries briefcases full of letters from listeners and takes pride in dumping the praises on the desks of skeptics.

Pretty Small, But Thinking Big

KWNN's format includes self-improvement ideas, health tips, and motivational pitches for sales people. Ford says the station does not compete with other stations because listeners can tune in for positive messages for 30 minutes and then turn to a news or music station.

A quarterly publication for KWNN listeners, The Winning Edge, mirrors the motivational format of the station and will go monthly as of January. The second quarterly issue was released this month, but Ford says after 3,200 people requested the first issue, he realized the publication's potential to increase listenership as well as revenue.

How about the station's income?

KWNN has been in the black since May, but not by much. Ford dodges giving out exact figures, but says, "If you're in the black by a penny, you're profitable."

"Unless I saw a future, I wouldn't live off that profit for the rest of my life," he adds.

Can Arkansas Be Motivated?

"The fact that he's in the black is phenomenal," says advertising executive Hugh Pollard. "This is a major, major undertaking in Little Rock, and his response is unbelievable."

KWNN is one of about four stations across the country featuring a motivational format, and Pollard sees Arkansas as possibly leading the way for this type of station.

Ford calls his station a mobile media because sales people are his most frequent listeners as they drive in their cars.

Sales people also contribute to what is an $11 billion industry nationwide with the sale of motivational tapes, books and television shows.

KWNN listeners are a marketer's dream, explains Pollard. These people represent a cross section of middle management in corporate America and are typically aggressive in their careers as well as in their retail purchases.

"They're motivated people who want to do a little better than the next guy," says Wayne Ratcliffe, co-owner of Bauman's Mens Shop.

After almost 20 years of not advertising on the radio, Ratcliffe placed spots on KWNN because he felt its motivational format would reach people interested in self-improvement, which includes better dressing.

He experimented with radio advertising strictly on KWNN and says he did receive some feedback. He also adds that any response is positive because it usually takes a sale or a free gift to bring people to a store.

Selling the Station

Ford says he knows what it takes to sell a product, and that's why he is publishing the magazine and conducting seminars and expos.

The station held a success expo - one of six motivational expos KWNN will sponsor in the next year - Oct. 12 and 13 at the Statehouse Convention Center.

While only about 1,000 people came according to Ford's estimate, the expo was a success for the station in two ways. With 35 booths slotted for $500 a space, Ford will show a fair profit after paying for the $2,000 hall and some smaller expenses.

More importantly, says Ford, the expo presented a chance to see who his listeners are. Those present were asked to sign up for the Winner's Club which allows them to receive The Winning Edge and updated information on KWNN and gives Ford the opportunity to study the demographics of his audience.

Motivation Mondays are also a way for Ford to meet his listeners. For two Mondays in September and October, 300-400 people gathered around the fountain outside the KWNN offices in Pavilion in the Park to meet and socialize.

While the date for the next Motivation Monday has yet to be announced, Ford will be sure to be there with plenty of Winners Club applications.

Ford says he let the station mature during its first year, but now he's proceeding full force with projects that will develop the motivational concept in Little Rock.

As Ratcliffe and other advertisers are discovering, KWNN's format targets an audience and fills a niche better than mass audience FM stations. One person in the radio business called it "narrowcasting" rather than broadcasting.

Scratching a Marketing Niche

Ford may finally have found his own niche as well. An eternal optimist, Ford's personality mirrors the station's concept. He says he's never failed at new ventures he's tried.

In the late 1960s, Ford bought KMYO and experienced success with an easy listening format he called Cameo. When he moved to California in 1975, he sold the FM portion of the station and converted the AM to KSOH, a religious format.

The first years of the station were successful because there were no other religious formats in town, but in September of 1989 when he converted to the KWNN format, five other religious stations were operating in Little Rock, and his was doing poorly.

When Ford sold KMYO FM for $350,000, he predicted it would be a five-million dollar station someday. KMYO FM changed to a country format called KSSN which most recently changed hands for $10.2 million and is the number one station in the state.

"Show's you what a great businessman I am," jokes Ford, but he says he's got a plan for KWNN.

When he reformated the station in September of 1989, he was working with a staff of about nine or 10 people and soon discovered he had to, "Cut off all the fat to where we could be a lean station and be profitable."

He reduced his staff to five and only broadcast till 8 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. This September, Ford hired back his staff, and he's looking to extend his broadcast hours to 10 p.m.

Now past its infancy, KWNN is forging ahead, but not everyone in Little Rock is keeping up. The print media has largely ignored the station, and Ford doesn't generally advertise anywhere but on KWNN. When KWNN did get some publicity in Gazette media writer Paul Johnson's column, he was angered when Johnson pointed out the station has very few listeners. He claimed the column cost him a big contract, but Johnson says he was just reporting the facts. Ford contemplated running an ad next to the column explaining why the radio and television ratings do not always tell the full story.

While supporter's such as Pollard see KWNN as a chance for Little Rock to provide an example for potential motivational formats around the country, Ford has plans of literally networking the station nationwide.

While he doesn't intend to increase KWNN's wattage in Little Rock, he says, "There is no reason why it can't be syndicated on at least 100 stations around the country."

The 5,223 AM stations nationwide require more packaging to sell than their FM counterparts, and Ford sees KWNN as a total vehicle that he'll be able to use to cash in on the billion-dollar industry.

But before he can conquer the national market, Ford has yet to succeed in Little Rock. Supporters say the only people who are skeptical of KWNN's format are those who are afraid to take risks.

"I wouldn't have ever gone into this if I didn't think it was going to go anywhere," says Ford.

PHOTO : MOTIVATED PEOPLE: KWNN owner Cliff Ford sits with members of his staff who are determined to make the motivational station succeed.

PHOTO : POSITIVE WAVES: KWNN's Dave McCree pumps up listeners with positive messages.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:motivational format in Little Rock,Arkansas' radio station KWNN 1050
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Oct 22, 1990
Previous Article:Wrapping up loose ends.
Next Article:Alarming trend.

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