All The Keys For Unlocking Radio’s Best Traits

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RBR+TVBR OBSERVATION


It’s a holiday weekend in an unrated radio market. Yet, there’s something unique about what’s to be found when scanning up the local stations — even on the Fourth of July. One cannot hear any syndicated radio programming. Nearly every radio commercial is for a local business. The mix of music is decidedly geared toward the local audience.

Welcome to radio in Key West, Fla., a locale with a reputation for being weird. But, perhaps the only thing “weird” — at least to those in Radio — seen across the Independence Day holiday weekend was an encounter with a Classic Rock station’s afternoon host and his producer as they hosted the first of two consecutive live remote broadcasts.

 

 

To be clear, this wasn’t a tent with two promotions department interns handing out station swag. That’s why it was notable that, behind the table featuring station swag such as T-shirts and Koozies, sat Bill Hoebee, host of the “Hoebee in the Afternoon Experiment” show on WAIL-FM 99.5. He was alongside his producer, Carolyn, and was at Ocean Blue Galleries on bustling Duval Street on July 5 and 6 to help promote its exclusive collection of John Lennon prints.

An off-air conversation was struck up with Mr. Hoebee. This quickly shifted to an on-air chat that weaved between promoting the gallery to the power of local radio, and why it was so welcome and heart-warming to RBR+TVBR to see a station such as “WAIL 99.5” do what Radio has always done best — appear in-person in the heart of the community.

They were not off for the holiday, nor were they on the Fourth of July, as Mr. Hoebee and Carolyn ventured up to Marathon, Fla., for a live remote broadcast at a venue one hour north of Key West; social media posts ensured those following WAIL on Facebook were aware of Hoebee’s whereabouts.

While WAIL’s afternoon host demonstrated the power of radio it has simply through presence, WAIL played on a friend’s boat across much of the holiday weekend. As sunset came and the 9pm fireworks show was about to start, another Florida Keys Media LLC-owned station, WWUS “US 1 Radio,” was tuned to. This station opted to broadcast patriotic music timed to the Marathon, Fla., Fourth of July fireworks show; it provided the perfect soundtrack to a blissful holiday in the Conch Republic, courtesy of people who live and breathe the Conch Republic.

WAIL and “U.S. 1 Radio” are part of a group of seven stations that also includes Top 40 WEOW-FM, Country WCNK-FM, Sports WAVK “The Zone,” and two FMs serving Key Largo and Islamorada. As 2024 began, a decade of ownership under Bob Holladay was set to conclude, as Joseph Fiorini and his Florida Keys Media LLC has agreed to purchase the properties for $1.6 million. For Hoebee and the rest of the crew at WAIL, it was hardly a concern when they talked about the behind-the-scenes moves off-air; as far as they were concerned, it was business-as-usual and doing what they know best that mattered the most.

For Fiorini, the “competition” includes Buddy Shula-owned “Yacht Rock”-focused WKEY “Key 93”; Keys Media Company‘s WKYZ “Pirate Radio Key West,” with ties to Glades Media; and unique Magnum Radio-owned Rhythmic Adult Contemporary WGAY “Party 105.7.” All compete vigorously against two print publications and local digital media.

Interestingly, the broadcasters entrusted with delivering live and local radio across the dial to those in the Lower Keys are a bit different than what was seen circa 2011. WKEY was one of a host of properties placed in the Aloha Station Trust by iHeartMedia predecessor Clear Channel, which until late November 2013 owned WAIL and WEOW — plus two stations in the Upper Keys. They were sold to Holladay, just three months after he agreed to purchase WAVK, WCNK and “U.S. 1 Radio” from Gamma Broadcasting.

Meanwhile, the stations owned by Magnum, led by Michael Stapleford, were acquired  after Jonathan Smith’s Choice Radio Keys Corp., was forced in early 2016 by a court to liquidate its assets in order to settle outstanding debts.

Today, the lone hint that Key West was once a market in which the nation’s No. 1 ownership group had properties can be seen at Florida Keys Media, as WEOW, U.S. 1 Radio and WAIL are all streaming on iHeartRadio. Each of the stations have listeners far and wide, with Hoebee noting that he enjoys hearing from fans from across the U.S. who tuned to his show while in Key West and now connect to WAIL via audio streaming.

In a world with digital options galore, community connectivity for local radio is more important than ever. Across a holiday weekend, Key West’s radio stations provided the nation with a fine example of what AM and FM are all about: being relevant, being unique and speaking to an audience in ways no one else can.

As Monday morning began, a listen to “The Bubba Todd Show” on WAIL yielded a lengthy and highly detailed fishing report. While one may laugh at such a feature, a local explained to RBR+TVBR that anglers’ updates are highly important — the local sportfishing and commercial fishing industries are vital components of the Florida Keys economy.

Miami television stations, some three hours to the north, can’t deliver this content to those in the Florida Keys. Spotify or SiriusXM cannot, either.

Finally, we asked our friend how important it is to have a radio on his boat, and why he doesn’t stream music or use satellite radio. His response? If he’s out on the water, and for some reason his cell phone service is lost, the radio is the only way to know about storm warnings, tides and wind speeds, and any sudden emergency. Local weather reports also offered detailed marine forecasts, which are extremely helpful to hear while out for a cruise.

This statement is perhaps the most important reason why live and local radio in Key West matters so much. A faraway host or a voicetracked air personality can’t do what Hoebee and his local on-air companions can do.

With radio’s presence in the automobile threatened, it is also important to remember that in many parts of the U.S., radio is a vital and life-saving service to those on the water. Without the locally focused programming from the local owners in Key West, the Conch Republic would be at a loss — one that digital media simply cannot fill.

 


The views expressed in a Radio + Television Business Report Observation are those of the editor-in-chief and not necessarily those of the Publisher, of Streamline Publishing, or its staff. 

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