Andy Bloom's Labor of Love

Two months into the Howard Stern era, WRQC brings a new marketing man to Minneapolis to continue the assault.

By title, Andy Bloom is the new operations manager at WRQC-FM--formerly WBOB, and better known to Minnesota head-bangers as "Real Rock 100." But he's really Howard Stern's right-hand marketing guy--the man who helps crack the tough nuts. Eleven years ago, at the age of 24, Bloom made a name for himself in radio by syndicating Stern in Philadelphia, where the media refused to believe anyone could topple morning man John DeBella. "Philly will not accept Stern," DeBella confidently told a rapt Philadelphia magazine in 1986. Yet Bloom's station, WYSP, went from 19th to fifth in the morning during Stern's first full rating period, bumping its Arbitron from a 3.6 to a 4.5. And while it would take three full years for Stern to finally topple DeBella, his pull among men 25 to 54 proved so strong that WYSP was able to quadruple its advertising rates within a year. In 1991 Bloom repeated the feat as operations manager of KLSX-FM in Los Angeles, another market where the number-one morning show was presumed invulnerable. Within a year Stern was on top.

Now he expects to repeat the feat in the Twin Cities. The fresh-faced Bloom's most cherished possession is a beat-up cardboard box spilling over with press clippings and videotape that document his victories in Philly and L.A. Currently it's sitting next to his desk on the ninth floor of the Dain Bosworth building, where he entertains visitors with tall tales of Tom Barnard's imminent demise. "It's not a question of if KQ will fall, it's when," he says with a slick, spin-ready smile.

Radio may be Bloom's business, but Howard Stern is his calling. And he takes the job very personally. Before sprinting off to a meeting, he pauses to confer with an engineer who's been poring over tapes of Barnard's Friday, August 1 show. For some reason, Barnard seemed particularly flustered that day; he lost his cool after pausing in the midst of a digression about prostitutes shooting ping-pong balls from their--well, you know. Bloom is delighted. He thinks Barnard and the folks at KQ heard from Disney CEO Michael Eisner, who happened to be in town that day. (On Monday, Barnard essentially confirmed as much, complaining at length about a reprimand from his bosses regarding Friday's show.) Bloom can't wait to get a transcript of the show together to send to Stern.

After just eight weeks on the air, Stern has helped move the former country station from eighth to fifth among listeners aged 25 to 54, improving its Arbitron share from 4.3 in last winter's book to 6.2 this spring. During morning drive, among listeners aged 18 to 34, WRQC has jumped from sixth to second place; and while he still trails Barnard by 16 full points, Stern's doubled his station's share.

"Is it dramatic enough to say the sky is falling and the world is changing? No," says Jim Pounds, VP and media director at Periscope Communications. "But they [WRQC] are trying to pry off a manhole cover, and it looks like they've gotten hold of a crowbar. It means more uncertainty in an uncertain market."

Salespeople at KQ, who deny rumors about increased tension in the office but still refuse to speak on the record, point to their station's overall dominance. WRQC is up, they admit, but KQ's ratings have remained relatively static. Bloom, on the other hand, says there's enough in the numbers to help his station's sales staff. "Some advertisers thought Stern wouldn't fly here," he says. "Now, they're saying, 'Maybe I should get locked into this thing now, before it really takes off.'" Pounds confirms that Stern is already stirring up the market's fee structure.

Bloom is quick to take on critics of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which allowed a few moneyed players to consolidate their control of local radio to a previously unimagined degree. His defensiveness makes sense. Stern is here ultimately because WRQC owner Chancellor Communications has more stations--and thus more tactical prerogatives--than anyone in town. Disney in the meantime has to worry not only about guarding Barnard from Stern's assault; they also have to fret over the possibility of losing listeners to Chancellor's coordinated array of formats. One source at 93.7 The Edge says they've already started skewing their format to harder-rocking "alternative" music to keep kids from dialing up WRQC. In the spring Arbitron ratings, both KQRS and KEGE were off their winter numbers. Chancellor properties were even or up. "Even if we don't win, they lose," Bloom says with an air of nonchalance.

A recent yarn making its way round local radio stations may serve as a parable for what's happening. As the story goes, a Stern fanatic calling himself the Bathroom Man went to KQ's studios in Golden Valley and, while there, made quite a point of needing to use a rest room. He was let in. KQ staffers later found their men's room spray-painted with phrases such as "Howard Stern rules." Yes, Bloom has heard about the incident; yes, the Bathroom Man called up and described the vandalism on Stern's show. But he wants to make it clear that no one at WRQC had anything to do with it. "I'm competitive. I'm not crazy," Bloom says before breaking into a grin.

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