March 18, 2014

Winter Storm Shuts Down Steve Harvey and 96.9 BZJ for Good

Following a massive ice storm in the Carolinas that caused damaged to the 101.1 FM transmitter a couple of weeks ago, station owner Curtis Media began broadcasting Spanish/Mexican format music station "La Ley" on its R&B sister station WBZJ 96.9 FM. The move that listeners thought was temporary has now become permanent.

The Urban AC/R&B station was the Raleigh, NC affiliate for the Steve Harvey Morning Show. (We find it interesting that the ownership group was willing to take Steve Harvey off the air-- whose popularity is at an all time high and is under a syndication contract with Curtis Media.) The station also featured PD and afternoon host Chris Malone (see his facebook group page) as well as major market personality Kesha Monk on the weekends.

A listener of the station, Que Collins contacted us and shared the following info below on the demise of 96.9 BZJ. La Ley is back to broadcasting on both 96.9 and 101.1 FM!

In January 2013 Curtis Media, a Raleigh, North Carolina based media conglomerate which 
owns several radio and television properties in the Raleigh/Durham market decided to dip 
it’s toe into urban radio waters. 

But fourteen months later Curtis Media, pulled the plug on “The New 96.9 WBZJ”, it’s 
Urban/AC station and replaced it with “La Ley”, its Mexican programmed sister station. The 
change in format came swiftly, without warning and seemingly without any without regret. 
AllAccess.com reported that a recent snowstorm damaged “La Ley’s” radio tower and 
therefore WBZJ’s is being used to transmit the Hispanic station; but they also report that 
neither Curtis Media nor its EVP/Market Manager Tripp Avery have made any statements on 
the fate the Urban/AC. 

Without any marketing WBZJ still managed to garner 6,300 Facebook followers in a little 
over a year compared to it’s main competitor, Radio One’s Foxy 104/107, which only has 
3,600 followers. When the station was pulled on Monday many of its listeners took to 
Facebook to ask, were they being “Pranked”? One listener, Mia Hammond, started a group 
quickly gave over 200 members a place to vent. 

After several phone calls and emails to Curtis Media, Mia repeated to the group that she was 
told, La Ley has been “around for 11 ½ years” and that she still had “Radio One stations to 
listen to”. Another listener posted a response she received via email from Curtis Media 
stating, “There’s no need for you to keep emailing …”; another received a response telling 
her that she can listen to “FOXY 107”. Listener Khadiya Thomas writes, “Let’s say the 
“tower” is an issue, why shut down FB, Twitter and the website so abruptly?” 

Many question if Curtis Media was ever serious about making a dent in the urban arena, 
which is currently dominated by Radio One. They brought in Chris Malone from Memphis, 
Tennessee to pull double duty as both Program Director (PD) and afternoon on air 
personality. But Malone was basically left to man the station alone. 

WBZJ aired the syndicated, Steve Harvey Morning Show from 6AM-10AM and the syndicated 
Keith Sweat show from 7PM-12AM. Both middays and overnights were automated. For the 
first five months, they had no weekend personalities. Gayle Hurd, a local news talent was 
brought in to localize The Steve Harvey Show by providing news breaks in the mornings and 
Kesha Monk was eventually hired to be the station’s weekend personality. All other dayparts 
were automated. 

 The promotion director and social media assistant from CM’s other stations were charged 
with the responsibility to lend a helping hand to WBZJ when needed. 

A post on radio website All Access stated WBZJ didn’t do well ratings wise, citing a mere 2.5 
share in the market. It also claimed that damage was done to La Ley’s transmitter during 
the most recent storm and since La Ley is a heritage station having been around for 12 
years hey took the ‘BZJ transmitter. 

Listeners and many radio insiders are left questioning, why did Curtis Media even bother? 
There’s chatter that Curtis Media owns more than a dozen radio transmitters and any of 
those could have been used to transmit “La Ley”; but the supposed “ice storm” was just 
the cover they needed to do away with WBZJ. It’s also being buzzed about that there were 
several radio studios positioned next to its other five (5) radio stations that could have 
housed WBZJ, the urban station was stuffed around the corner in the back of a media, prep 
area in a 6’ x 6’ room with no windows, no telephone hotline and chairs that were barely fit 
to sit in. 

Almost a week after the station was pulled, Program Director Chris Malone popped up in the 
Facebook group to say, “Curtis Media has agreed to keep the WBZJ full time staff employed 
and work with us to find new roles…”; that statement is a bit self-serving if he is the ONLY 
fulltime employee from WBZJ. Furthermore, Malone went on to list other stations across the 
country where listeners can “tune-in” online if they wanted to hear the Steve Harvey 
Morning Show or a station with similar programmed music. That doesn’t give much hope to 
the listeners wanting the station and local appeal back. 

In a little over one year Curtis Media hired five (5) Black employees which doubled if not 
tripled the number African American people working at the Raleigh cluster. Now some are 
left unemployed and others a left looking for job placement. 

Responding to a listener on her Facebook page in a post that has now been deleted Kesha 
Monk wrote, “I was in New York speaking to some students at Hofstra University last night. I 
woke up to find out the station was gone just like you all did”. 

But a look at the most recent ratings, demonstrate that ‘BZJ, even in its infancy stage and 
with the lack of promotions, marketing and sales support – did rather well. 

With Curtis Media being eerily silent about the disappearance of the station feels rather 
disrespectful to the urban listening audience. Did they pull the station because of low profitability or because the tower collapsed? No matter the reason, CM’s lack of respect for 
its urban listeners and advertisers is loud and clear. 

Edited To Add – La Ley is now being simulcast on its old frequency 101.1. So a response from Curtis Media regarding the reason behind WBZJ’s disappearance would be interesting at this point to say the least.

1 comment:

  1. The defunct WBZJ was ok. It provided another R&B station in the Fayetteville area. But what I would miss the most is the Jesse Jackson show. This was the first time I heard him and it gave me a positive impression of him. He is not carried in the New York market of which I'm from so this was a great opportunity. His calls consist of a lot of North Carolina listeners, so this was a big lost. Besides people missing out on the Steve Harvey show could easily pick up elsewhere. But as for Jackson, tough luck.

    WBZJ was a little more experimental with their playlist unlike Majic 106.9 and Kiss 107.7. However, if you are not a gospel music fan, tough luck.

    So at the end of the day, the R&B public lost and Curtis Media won. They needed a little time to rebrand their product to a larger market. This is what I realized when I heard the pulse. It plays a mixture of white/black, hiphop/pop/R&B/dancehall (something similar to the old 93.9 Kiss FM).

    I don't like rap, so that cuts me out, but I can at least tolerate dancehall and most definitely pop. I'm more likely to listen to it than G105, as they do seem to play some old school jams .
    With that said, Curtis Media decision was a wise move. Capitalism is about staying competitive and this is exactly what was done in this case. Had FOXY 104.3 been KISS 107.7, there would have been demands to keep WBZJ. This happened not to long ago with 106.9. Unfortunately, 106.9 really isn't that much better, if not at all. It doesn't even provide an alternative as you can hear the same song on both stations at the same time.

    Besides, had I lived in Durham or Raleigh, I would have locked it on 104.3. They are that good. So Fayetteville lost this battle, as 104.3 does not come in well during the day, and sometimes at night.


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