Lost manhood

Like Austin Powers, DAVID MENZIES is distraught over the disappearance of his MOJO

September 13, 2004
Marketing
By David Menzies

When MOJO Radio first hit the airwaves in April 2001, Toronto was home to one of the most innovative talk radio stations in the world, an on-air equivalent of cheeky British "lad mag" Maxim. Rising from the ashes of the old Talk 640, gone was the psychobabble of Dr. Laura. Instead, MOJO was positioned as Viagra for the ears and it received a torrent of international press coverage.

Tune in today and one discovers that the station-"rebranded" in late August as the "New MOJO 640Toronto"-is a flaccid husk of its former self. Gone is virtually all of its original on-air and off-air talent. Gone is its naughty attitude. MOJO has lost its, well, mojo.

What happened? According to past and present staffers, MOJO's owner, Corus Entertainment, allowed the station to become beholden to advertisers and a hockey team. Indeed, MOJO is essentially a real life version of WKRP in Cincinnati-except that Herb Tarlek is calling the shots. Example: One ex-staffer recalls how he had to write a letter of apology to an advertiser for a supposedly off-colour remark. Incredibly, the offended advertiser was the owner of a Toronto strip club.

Being subservient to advertisers was a flawed strategy on several fronts. Content-wise, MOJO eventually lost its edginess. Ratings-wise, the station tanked. In terms of overall audience, one insider says MOJO was typically hovering around a 1.4 share. "A two share is when the station becomes a factor in media buying-below two, you must sell directly to clients," he says.

The dearth of advertising proved debilitating given some of the gross misspending on salaries. Morning man John Oakley rakes in a staggering $350,000 to $400,000 while ex-Leafs flack Bill Watters is earning an estimated $250,000 simply for co-hosting Leafs Lunch. Gulp.

Obtaining the Toronto Maple Leafs radio rights was also a costly cock-up. Corus is allegedly paying Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment $2 million per season to carry the team's games. At that price, observers say MOJO can only turn a profit on Leafs broadcasts if the team reaches the Stanley Cup finals. Worse, MLSE has taken an active role in the programming of MOJO. For example, the popular Dr. Date program (hosted by Rebecca Rosenblat) was dropped because MLSE did not want her racy content to follow Leafs broadcasts.

Radio industry consultant Warren Cosford says he "admired" the creation of MOJO Radio. "But I understand there were complaints from advertisers and then management began pulling the format back to the middle. That's dangerous-with any new radio station, you create a culture and that means sticking with it for years," he says, citing The Fan590 and 680News as stellar examples.

As for Mojoke's August "rebranding"? Typically, it was a dud. Aside from a new logo and name, management's whiz-bang big idea is a new show called The Beat, which would be twice as good if only it were half as long. The two-hour snore fest is co-hosted by Craig Bromell, the controversial ex-head of the Toronto Police Association-a bizarre choice given that Bromell has no journalism or broadcasting experience. Bromell may one day emerge as a broadcasting juggernaut. For now he has almost certainly secured a place in The Guinness Book of World Records for "Most frequent utterances of 'uh,' 'um' and 'y'know' during a broadcast."

Incredibly, the programs that have been kept intact are segments that should've been jettisoned long ago. Example: the PR exercise known as Leafs Lunch, in which Jeff Marek (who used to host a pro wrestling radio show) and Watters perform an endless on-air suck-up fest vis-à-vis the merits of the Leafs, a team that last won the Cup back when the Beatles were together.

As for brand positioning, the "new" MOJO is no longer "Talk radio for guys." Rather, it is: "We're talk radio for guys, but we want gals to tune in too-even though there's really nothing for them to listen to. And we're not targeting The Fan590 sports radio...except when we run Leafs stuff, of course. The rest of the time, we're Real Serious News Radio-like CFRB, except we don't have CFRB's news budget. Or content. Or talent."

In the end, MOJO is a tragic case of what occurs when a radio station is run by the sales team and clueless managers. For a frequency that was once adroitly targeted toward men 25-54, it's sad to discover there is now a complete absence of testicular fortitude occupying the 640 dial.

DAVID MENZIES is a Toronto writer. His "Consumer Guy" column appears every two weeks.