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Format change likely in offing for 107.9 FM

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Local radio station WNTR-FM 107.9, known as The Track, has dismissed four staff members and started playing holiday music in what observers say is likely leading to a format change.

WNTR, whose target audience was women between the ages of 30 and 35, scrapped its adult contemporary play list and is promoting itself as The Christmas Station on its Web site.

The station, owned by Philadelphia-based Entercom Communications Corp., ranked 13th in average number of listeners among metropolitan-area radio stations, tying with WTTS-FM 92.3, according to the most recent Arbitron ratings.

WNTR General Manager Jennifer Skjodt could not be reached for comment Friday morning. But several local industry sources said the station fired on-air personalities Greg Browning, John Culver and Kelli Jack. Steve Hartley, director of sales for WNTR and sister stations WZPL-FM 99.5 and WXNT-AM 1430, was released late last month.

The number of employees released and their importance to the station suggests that a change is in the offing, said Robert Unmacht, a partner at the Nashville, Tenn.-based IN3 Partners consulting firm.

“With the on-air staff and the director of sales going, it sounds like they’ve got new plans for the station after Christmas,” he said. “It has that look to it.”

Chris Wheat, local market manager for Atlanta-based Cumulus Media, concurred.

“The station has floundered for quite some time under the current format,” he said.

What the new format will be is anyone’s guess. Unmacht declined to speculate, but Wheat said it could adopt Entercom’s Mike FM variety-hits format, which uses pre-recorded voice-tracks instead of in-studio personalities. Cumulus' Jack format, which airs locally on WJJK-FM 104.5 takes a similar approach.

Posters to a discussion board on the Radio-Info.com Web site are weighing in on the future of the Track as well. One guessed last month that the station would be the first to play Christmas music as a transition to a new format.

“Lots of programming problems with the Track, but it’s a shame there is now nobody in Indy playing much pop music from the '60s, '70s and '80s,” another wrote.

Radio stations switching formats typically make them this time of year and play Christmas music in the interim to prepare for the change and to build anticipation.

Indianapolis stations certainly are no strangers to what has become routine in the radio industry. The biggest shakeup locally occurred in late 2007, when five stations changed their formats.

The highest-profile changes involved two Emmis Communications Corp. stations: WIBC-AM 1070 and WNOU-FM 93.1. WIBC ditched its news/talk format in favor of sports, and was rebranded 1070 The Fan. WIBC, meanwhile, jumped to WNOU’s former 93.1 FM frequency.

WKLU-FM 101.9 abandoned the notion of competing with classic-rock behemoth WFBQ-FM 94.7 and became the market’s only oldies station.

Maryland-based Radio One killed its jazz station, WJYZ-FM 100.9, when it bought the intellectual property rights to the Radio Now top 40 format formerly played on Emmis’ WNOU.

And Cumulus Media scrapped its news-talk format at WWFT-FM 93.9 amid flagging ratings and began playing light rock music under a different moniker, WRWM-FM.

That marked the second time in a year that formats changed on the 93.9 frequency. In January 2007, Cumulus gave up on its contemporary Christian format on WISG-FM 93.9, killing “The Song” in favor of “The New Generation of Talk.” Today, WRWM is a Top 40 station.

Entercom’s "The Track" launched in early 2005 after switching its call letters from WTPI-FM following the company's purchase of the station and its two sister stations from locally based MyStar Communications.

Unmacht at IN3 Partners said about 10 percent of radio stations nationally change formats each year.

“This has always been a pretty good time to do it,” he said. “Christmas billings are over and the first of the year is always slowest.”

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  • reply to Tony
    Some friends are I are in the process of finding people to start not-for-profit, locally-based, online-only beautiful music station across the country, in order to preserve the format. So far, there are 6 stations in the group, with 2 more people interested in doing similar stations. We're looking for someone to do an online version on Indianapolis' WXTZ. If this sounds like something you'd be interested in, email me at the link on my website, http://www.qezradio.com. Thx!
  • Bring back my variety
    I miss The Track it was the only station i listened to, theres no other station in Indy even close to playing the variety they played. They also had the best on air personalities
  • A LOST TREASURE OR NOT?
    The news about the dismiss is rude becasuse I've discovered The Track in January this year after being a listener to worldwide stations,so Mr.John Culver&Dave Smiley were just concentrated in their work making us really happy.I am sure everybody jumped out with joy next to Mr.Culver.I have never before heard a DJ like him never showing his real life but working to let the people know Blackamerican music masterpieces which almost nobody in the USA used to play;he is a generous and professional employee; also Mr.Culver showed us through the music when it is summer,when it is fall and when winter is through his musical programme,I loved this and I am sorry to say all this today,but I have been crying for him.It is a terrible mistake to have badly managed the whole great team of excellent voices The Track Director couldn't work with.Mr.Browning voice was one of the most professional voices almost nobody has on the whole USA radio stations. Thank you very much Mr.John Culver,Thank you very much Mr.Greg Browning,I changed my life for the best thanks to your voices,and I got lost now without you.But I have children and they are my best in my life here as an American abroad.If you check the weekly photo contest you both will find a photo of my daughter with our greetings with all the respect and love you deserve on Earth.
    A BA lovely E.S.O.
    ps.Once or twice I called you on the phone,remember me Mr.Culver?THANK YOU.I HOPE YOU COME BACK TO THE USA RADIO STATIONS!
  • I Miss The Track
    I loved to listen to the Track online from Japan. Their programming and djs are excellent. I also enjoyed the American Top 40: The '80s show during the weekend. I hope that The Track will be back after Christmas.
  • Bring back the oldies
    I'm sick of this radio changing crap. First I lost 101.9 and now 107.9. This is ridiculous. I can't stand listening to Bob and Tom laugh constantly and 104.5 is too hard in the mornings. Greg was awesome. I think I'm done with local stations and will investigate satelite radio stations!
  • Satalite radio
    This is why I have changed to satellite radio. I dont want to listen to Christmas music for 6 weeks. I am tired of getting used to a station and liking it and then it changes. Satellite radio you pick what you want and its always there.
  • on the spot!
    I'm on board with that comment fw. I enjoyed 'some' of the music, but mainly listened in the morning for Greg and Kelly... they brought fun to the station. Whatever the format change, I'm done with them. Wherever Greg lands on his feet, that's what I'll be listening too. Damn management has to get in the way of everything good.
  • RADIO
    I continue to be in amazement with the format changes on the Indianapolis airwaves.
    I was a big fan of WXTZ and that went off the air and I miss WTPI and WYJZ.
    I'm really going to miss Greg Browning he is a great personality in a market filled with trash.
    I have an eleven year background in radio and I wish companies would quit screwing people over and pay attention to listener demand instead of just ratings.
    • Very Sad
      I loved The Track!!!! That was the only station that I listened to, in my car and in our house!!! The djs were wonderful!!! It's sad that another great station gets shut down, but yet we continue to keep crap ones on the radio!!! I really hope they keep it after the holidays!!!
    • Music...
      1. It's been my observation that a format change spells ownership change within 18 months, usually.
      2. Can't help with the commute, but Beautiful Music is alive and well in Indy...
      http://radioxtz.com
      You'll need a special player that only runs in Windows,, but there is a limited direct connection available for those non-Windows computer types...
      3. Jeff, Bill Fronzman, and a few others...
    • Bah Humbug!
      The only reason I listened to that station were for Greg Browning and Kelli Jack. This sucks - it's not like they're actually going to switch to a format that I want to listen to anyway.
      • No Classical Either
        unfortunately, WICR does not have much of a selection of music. Or perhaps the students don't have much of an appreciation of Jazz music.

        If you want to hear what a good jazz music station sounds like, tune in to WUEV (online) during the day.

        Either way, we don't have many good options for Classical music either.
      • Gen X
        Louisville has a radio station 100.5 that plays Gen X music it seems that this would be a good format..no DJ's taped voice overs and commercials
      • WICR
        But you know, WICR-88.7 has jazz every day and on weekends.
      • I'm running out of stations to listen to!
        First it was WKLU switching to Christian MOR music programing and now the Track playing "Granda got ran over by a reindeer" 500 times before Christmas. With both of these stations switching formats, they just gave WJJK a major boost in the Aribitron ratings, with WFBQ picking up the slack. A morning commute to work really only leaves the middle age rockers one station to listen to unless you want to listen to re-fried Bob & Tom jokes from the 90's. I guess Greg Garrison will have to start taking Lynard Skynard and Loverboy requests a couple times a week.
      • Bring back Jeff Pigeon
        Please bring back Jeff Pigeon to the Indy airwaves... we miss him. Any format.
      • 101.9 Changed Twice
        101.9 went to a completely different format after they tried oldies. I sure miss those guys.
      • Jazz?
        Pathetically, Indiana has NO full time Jazz stations. First we lost WTPI then WYJZ. Now NOTHING!
        • correction
          Thats www.radiobrownsburg.com .
        • Oldies are still on for Central Ind.
          Although the am signal only reaches Brownsburg, www.radiobrownburg.com plays oldies from 1955-1985 24/7 on the internet. They include local news and guests.Good stuff.

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