Two years after its launch, Radio Disney's local WRZD-FM 98.3 affiliate is outperforming many affiliates in the 55-station network, even though traditional measures of its success are anything but magical.
WRZD's rating by New York-based Arbitron Inc., the industry's standard media research firm, shows the station barely cracking the top 20 in this market. But WRZD has prospered through another number: listener calls per day.
The station averages an eye-popping 4,070 calls a day, according to officials at Radio Disney's Dallas headquarters. That's almost 170 calls an hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"Those numbers are astonishing," said Bill Perkins, a longtime local media buyer and president of Perkins Nichols Media. "I've never heard of anything like that."
Radio Disney drives participation with a steady diet of call-in competitions, onair requests for "shout-outs" and listener polls, said Tom Taylor, editor of industry publication Inside Radio. The result is call-in numbers twice those reported by traditional radio stations, he said.
All Radio Disney calls are routed through Dallas headquarters and tracked by area code. Though Disney officials wouldn't divulge market specifics, they said Indianapolis' numbers were similar to those of Detroit and Chicago.
Perkins said that kind of success should "certainly cause advertisers to take a look at [the station]."
And they have. In addition to a number of national accounts that plug into the network, WRZD's sales staff has attracted a long list of central Indiana advertisers eager to pair with Disney's wholesome format. Local clients include real estate agents, home builders, hospitals, grocery stores, the NCAA, Indiana State Fair, Indiana State Museum and The Children's Museum of Indianapolis.
"It's not the typical advertiser lineup for a station with a 1 [percent audience] share," said WRZD General Manager Jim McConville, a 25-year industry veteran.
"We don't think the Arbitron numbers are a complete representation of our audience," he said, noting the Arbitrons don't measure Radio Disney's primary target: children ages 6 to 14.
The local station and its network brethren use that market to tap into the wallets of parents.
"The kids are the point of entry, but we're hoping to reach the entire family. We're especially strong with mothers," said Drew Rashbaum, Radio Disney vice president and regional director. WRZD is No. 14 locally among women ages 25-49, according to Arbitron.
And WRZD is a Radio Disney standout, Rashbaum added. California-based ABC Inc. owns 80 percent of Radio Disney affiliates, including WRZD, which it bought from Radio One two years ago for $5.6 million. Under Radio One, the station broadcast religious music under the call letters WXIR.
"There were signs this would be a good market," said McConville, the local GM. "The Disney stores have always done well here and our research showed a lot of people [here] book trips through travel agencies to Disney attractions."
Though Radio Disney won't divulge financials, WRZD officials indicated the station has been profitable from the outset.
With most content produced out of Dallas headquarters, affiliates only have to pay a sales staff and a few administrators.
"They have an efficient business model," said Scott Uecker, general manager of WICR-FM 88.7 and instructor of communications at the University of Indianapolis. "And they have a very powerful brand."
Despite its local success, Radio Disney has an uncertain future. National media have speculated that ABC wants to unload it, and Radio Disney officials confirmed July 21 they have received three offers for the business, which includes ESPN Sports Radio and ABC News Radio. Locally based Emmis Communications Corp. was among the bidders, but its offer was too low, the Financial Times reported.
"It's true; radio is not growing as fast as some other Disney assets," Inside Radio's Taylor said. "But those stations throw off a great deal of cash flow and are very profitable. It would take the right offer at the right price to sell."