News Segment


October 25, 2005

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) – Taking a page out of the playbook of satellite radio companies, Viacom Inc.’s Infinity Broadcasting radio unit Tuesday unveiled a free-spirited new talk-radio format and a group of personalities as replacements for Sirius-bound shock jock Howard Stern, including former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth and comic Adam Carolla.

Also as part of the broad-based replacement strategy, ABC late-night talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel has signed on as creative consultant for “The Adam Carolla Show,” reuniting him with his “Man Show” partner, and as an adviser for Infinity to help it develop new radio talent and show ideas as well as make guest appearances on Infinity programs.

Infinity said Tuesday that Stern, who has been carried on 27 of its stations but is starting on Sirius Satellite Radio next year, will have his last live Infinity broadcast December 16.

With immediate effect in four of the top five and seven of the top 10 radio markets, Infinity on Tuesday launched “Free FM,” a new format that as part of the replacement strategy puts the spotlight on characters. Nine stations that have carried Stern will use that format, while an Infinity station in Sacramento will switch to the nascent “Jack” format of DJ-free music and a Tampa, Fla., station will change to a talk lineup.

“Infinity’s Free FM stations will feature an eclectic mix of personalities, whose distinct creativity, perspective, sense of humor, intellect and unpredictability do not fall under the guiding principals of any particular narrowcast theme or ideology,” Infinity chairman and CEO Joel Hollander said in a statement. He added that Free FM would be a “hybrid of provocative, political, pop culture, news, music and lifestyle formats.”

Satellite radio has in its programming often banked on characters, such as Stern, Martha Stewart and others. In the latest news in that vein, Sirius said Tuesday that it will launch E Street Radio on November 1, an exclusive commercial-free channel devoted to the music of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. It is set to run on Sirius through January 31.

As has been expected in recent weeks, Roth and Carolla will function as Infinity’s new morning drive time hosts on New York’s WXRK-FM and LA’s KLSX-FM, respectively, beginning January 3. WXRK will debut the new Free FM moniker that day, even though most other stations launched it as of Tuesday.

Basically splitting up the two coasts, Roth also will be broadcast in Dallas, Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and West Palm Beach, Fla., with Carolla to be carried in San Francisco, San Diego, Phoenix, Portland, Ore., and Las Vegas.

Infinity also hired Ohio radio host Rover for the morning slot on WCKG in Chicago. His show “Morning Glory,” which has already been on the air in Cleveland and Columbus, and been a favorite among adults and men 18-34, will now also be heard in Detroit, Cincinnati, Memphis, and Rochester, N.Y.

Additionally, Penn Jillette, half of the comedy duo Penn & Teller, will host a one-hour live program that will air in January in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Detroit, San Diego, Baltimore and Las Vegas.

Also as part of the new Infinity programming lineup, midday hosting foursome the Junkies will expand their reach from one station to two.

“This is the first time anybody can remember that any singular company is replacing 27 morning shows at once,” Hollander said in a conference call Tuesday, signaling that changes are possible in the program lineup over time as certain talent could switch to other stations and markets depending on success.

About 10 months ago, Hollander and Infinity programming chief Rob Barnett began to think about the company’s life without Stern.

They paid a visit to “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart and thought about other big-name replacements before realizing, in Hollander’s words, that it might not be best to try to hit “a grand slam” with one host. Instead, they hit upon a regional strategy. In Austin and Tampa, program directors asked for a locally based morning show.

“It’s not a competition, but (we want) to see who does well, and obviously the ones who are doing well can be spread to other markets,” Hollander said, adding that Infinity wasn’t putting any definite timeline on judging its success. “This is going to be a period of time. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to be a 12- to 24-month process.”

And while Infinity has been circumspect on the fact that it will take a hit with Stern off the air, Hollander said in his conference call with reporters that he’s viewing it as an opportunity to gain advertisers, such as American Express and several unnamed banks.

“There’s millions of dollars that have been spent on radio over the last 20 years by people who didn’t want to advertise on the Howard Stern show,” Hollander said. He declined to discuss specific financials.

Barnett said that the hiring of Roth and Jillette were conscious decisions to go with entertainers who don’t have radio experience. “You’re going to see more of that in coming months,” he said.

Roth was signed to a long-term contract with undisclosed financial terms, Infinity said. “It’s a significant investment for the company,” Hollander said.

Roth appeared on Stern’s show Tuesday morning, the same day he was introduced to the audience as his replacement in a number of markets. Other hosts, such as Carolla, were also introduced on their new radio stations.

Stern’s presence was felt during Tuesday’s conference call, even though the radio host wasn’t invited. In what Hollander called “a typical Howard Stern prank,” one character posed as a radio trade reporter before interrupting the question-and-answer section of the call.

“I’m glad that Howard thought this call was important enough to put on Beetlejuice (a developmentally challenged Stern favorite), but there will be no 24-hour channels of farting and people with mental illnesses,” Hollander said. “You won’t get that from Infinity.”

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