After years languishing as a ratings bottom feeder, WEDJ-FM 107.1 is quickly moving up the radio charts with its Hispanic format and is positioned to crack the market's top 10 stations.
Since local radio veteran Russ Dodge was hired as general manager in late April 2006, WEDJ's rating for area listeners 12 and older has more than doubled, from 1.0 to 2.1, according to New York-based Arbitron Co.
WEDJ's morning show is ranked No. 3 with listeners ages 18 to 34, behind powerhouses WFBQ-FM 94.7 and WHHHFM 96.3.
WEDJ, ranked 16th in the market overall based on the Arbitrons, is drawing more listeners than the area's other two Hispanic stations-WNTS-AM 1590 and WEDJ's sister station WSYW-AM 810-combined.
"This is an emerging population," Dodge said. "I don't know where this tops out."
Already, Dodge said, WEDJ has seen double-digit advertising revenue increases, with similar growth projected for the coming year. The growth comes despite Dodge's decision to pull paid weekend and evening programming in favor of locally produced segments where the station controls advertising sales.
"It was a [financial] hit at first, but we had all these program producers out there selling their own ads and in essence competing against us for advertising," Dodge said. "Now, we've seen revenue growth each month since January, and not many radio stations can say that."
WEDJ is beginning to charge more for advertising, but its average 30-second ad rate of $60 is still one-third to one-half less than what the area's top stations charge.
"We sell a lot of 50- and 60-second spots, and we're getting $100 or more for some of those," Dodge said.
He said the station's advertisers include health care, education, automotive, and cellular phone and other technology companies. Help-wanted advertising has also been a growing revenue stream, Dodge said.
"We've seen solid response in placing ads for some of our clients on WEDJ," said Roberto Ponce, president of locally based Ponce Publicidad, an advertising firm that works within the Hispanic market. "They've met needs within the Latino community in central Indiana that haven't been met before. The Hispanic market is very loyal, which is good for [WEDJ], but they can't get complacent."
Industry experts said with the influx of first- and second-generation Hispanics into central Indiana, WEDJ's ratings could easily double again within two years.
According to U.S. Census figures, the number of Hispanics residing in central Indiana is approaching 70,000, with 70 percent of those coming from Mexico. Some within the Hispanic community say that estimate is low.
If WEDJ is able to double its audience again, that would put it firmly in the market's top 10 and nearing the top five.
"At some point, advertisers will have to begin paying serious attention to this station if the numbers keep trending up," said Tom Taylor, executive editor of Radio-Info.comand a longtime radio industry expert. "The Hispanic market is one of the fastest-growing segments nationwide and Indianapolis is no different."
Longtime local media buyer Bill Perkins said while some financial institutions and automobile dealers have an increasing interest in reaching the local Hispanic market, other advertisers are taking a wait-and-see approach.
Dodge, who came over from WXLWAM 950, the ESPN affiliate, quickly moved to shake things up at WEDJ, launching a regional Mexican format, which is more popular with Mexican listeners than the previous Latin hits format. Dodge also hired industry veteran Manuel Sepulveda from Los Angeles as his new program director and WXLW alum Stephanie Myers as new operations and marketing chief. Sepulveda previously worked for powerhouse Latino radio groups in L.A. and San Diego.
Sepulveda and Myers have been central in launching numerous promotions and on-air giveaways to draw listeners.
Perhaps Dodge's biggest move upon joining the station was making connections between WEDJ and the local Hispanic community. Dodge, 55, said that's a lesson he learned working nearly two decades at WTLC, the city's largest radio station targeting blacks.
For instance, Dodge mandates that every WEDJ employee be involved in at least one community organization or cause.
"The key to growing in such a niche market is to connect in a significant way with that audience through community events and unique services," said Robert Papper, Ball State University communications professor and research analyst for the Radio-Television News Directors Association. "I think Russ Dodge has been able to do that at WEDJ."
In addition to a billboard campaign, Dodge primarily used cross promotions with local Hispanic newspapers and television station WIIH-TV Channel 17 to connect with his audience. Dodge said WEDJ's annual marketing budget is low six-figures, above WXLW's, but far below the market's larger stations.
While the regional Mexican format appeals to a younger audience, Dodge was careful to keep the content familyfriendly, an aspect he thinks is important to drawing a wider audience.
Myers helped launch a spring and fall job fair and a number of other community events, including the annual Summer Latino Family Festival, which was held June 9 this year at Military Park. By increasing marketing and booking several popular Hispanic bands, Dodge and his staff boosted the event's attendance above 25,000, more than double last year.
"The success of this event, I think, shows the local community's support for what we're doing here," Sepulveda said.