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Clearing the Air: Clear Channel's Dallas Boss Dials Up KZPS, KDGE Issues

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J.D. Freeman handles all the Clear Channel Communications stations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, among them KDGE-FM (102.1) and KZPS-FM (92.5, better known as Lone Star Radio). And the company's regional vice president called this morning because he heard Unfair Park was lookin' for him, which was true enough: We left word last week at Clear Channel HQ in San Antonio that we wanted someone to explain the company's decision to fire Josh Venable on Friday -- a stunning, inexplicable move, far as we and many of our Friends are concerned.

As it turns out, this morning I wanted to talk to Freeman for two reasons. I'd heard from Friends still listening to Lone Star 92.5 that the allegedly advertisement-free station was once more running pre-recorded ads -- just seven months after it made national news by declaring it was now commercial-free. So happens that, yeah, it's true: Lone Star Radio is now running commercial spots again. (A story in the Dallas Business Journal this very morning says ads have run for Verizon Wireless and DirecTV and that "commercials for Whataburger are on the way.") So much for the radio revolution. After the jump, Freeman talks about the changes at both stations -- and suggests that all may not be lost for The Adventure Club after all.

So, how come Lone Star Radio’s running commercials again?

We’ve been doing it for about a month. But Lone Star was -- or is -- what I could call a development project, where we're wrestling with different types of sponsorship models. Clients have had good success with the sponsorship model, where we integrate the advertisers’ names into live spots, but there are a number of advertisers who use the radio station who feel like the recorded message is best way to get message across.

How many recorded spots have you mixed in during the past month?

I’ve been asked that a couple of times, and we don't have a strict clock on it right now. We're going to let people who want the sponsorship model and those who feel recorded commercial work better decide. We’ll accept them based on what we consider to be acceptable and consistent with what radio the station is. I can’t say yet whether it will be four, five, eight, whatever.

Are you disappointed that the commercial-free format isn’t working with all your advertisers?

I'm a little bit disappointed that more clients who told us they were looking for a different way to get their message across in a cluttered media landscape aren’t interested in going the sponsorship route. Getting your message to connect is a very difficult thing these days. I am a little disappointed some clients weren't willing to make the leap to see whether it could connect with the consumer, but I can't blame them. It’s their money, their choice to advertise. But some did use it and got tremendous value from it. Am I disappointed? I am. But have I completely given up on the sponsorship model? No. We’re going to continue to offer it and integrate it into Lone Star and be advocates of it, but I have to be realistic.

How have the ratings for Lone Star been?

The first rating book was good; the second, not so good. We went back to the pre-level before we changed it to Lone Star. By the same token, KZPS had a good audience. We made two changes in April: We minimized the repetition of the music and minimize the disruptions, which was the amount of commercials we ran. Those two things are still the key focus. And the music format also remains a little bit fluid. It’s still Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan and Tom Petty and classic rock. … I've had an iPod for three years, and I have everything and anything on there. But sometimes I get tired of picking the music. Sometimes I'd lie to listen to somebody else's perspective and that's how radio plays a role in the increasingly fragmented landscape. It’s still our job to introduce people to interesting and entertaining music.

Speaking of which, you had that very thing with Josh Venable’s Adventure Club, only to kill it when you let him go Friday. Can you explain?

Yeah, I feel badly Josh is not with us anymore. He was co-music director with Chris Ryan, who will take over those responsibilities full time. The decision was made not because of a poor performance on Josh's part. it is unfortunately the environment we’re in today. We're going through some expense management issues, and it was a difficult decision. And it's one I made. That's where we are today. I make a lot of difficult decisions, and I have to back up and say on a business level, “What are the things we do that are creating more innovation for us, attracting more listeners?” And I will sometime make decisions that are unpopular.

We’ve gotten a lot of negative comments from folks who say this is the last straw, to hell with The Edge, time to get a satellite radio receiver.

When someone says, “I am going to buy an XM receiver,” that’s them saying, “I'm mad at you. I am going to date the other girl. But will The Adventure Club come back? It’s possible.

With Josh?

[Here, Freeman gives an answer he asked to remain off the record.]

Why didn’t you guys let Josh at least say farewell yesterday, given the size of his fan base?

I am going to talk to Duane [Doherty, station manager] about that. I said to him, “You make the call on what you want to do here.” I know he's gotten a number of e-mail, as you have, and he will make the decision. --Robert Wilonsky

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