The conversation will take place with or without you

conversation I don’t often make “reactive” posts, but I did on Friday when I posted about local radio station Big Earl 96.3 switching formats and becoming Capital FM. I had noticed a lot of incoming traffic to an old post of mine about Big Earl, and decided I’d figure out why. I learned that the radio station “flipped the switch” on the new format that afternoon, and as a result, hundreds of listeners took the web to find out what happened. I posted about it so that others would learn the answer as well.

Now both posts are getting lots of traffic, and the new one has received a bunch of comments too. There are two questions to be asked here: why are people coming to these posts, and once they arrive, why do they comment?

My old post is the #1 result for the “what happened to big earl” search query, and my new post is #2 when you search for “96.3 capital fm“. Until today, it was actually #1, ahead of the radio station’s own website. The top five search queries that people used to find the posts yesterday were “capital fm edmonton”, “96.3 capital fm”, “big earl 96.3”, “big earl fm”, and “big earl”. In the last 24 hours alone, those two posts have been viewed more than 300 times.

So the reason that my two posts are getting lots of traffic is that they are ranked very highly in Google, and the reason people are searching is that they were given no notice about the switch. I guess that’s the way the radio industry works, you can’t really prepare people for a complete 180. As a result, lots of people were curious.

Once they arrived, why did they comment? I think the answer is very simple – Newcap Broadcasting simply isn’t participating in the conversation. Some listeners are happy about the switch, and they want to let the station know. Others are very unhappy, and they too want to voice their opinions. Aside from a very cumbersome “Members Club” section of their website, Capital FM doesn’t make it easy for their listeners to communicate. I think it’s a shame, really.

Like newspapers, radio stations are on the decline. Listeners are abandoning the airwaves for the web and iPods. And companies like Newcap aren’t doing much to reverse the trend. Which would you prefer – a radio station that suddenly starts playing completely different music than what you’re used to and basically says “tough luck”, or a radio station that changes its tune and also tells you to “have your say on our Facebook page?” It’s a no-brainer (even if your opinion won’t change anything, you’ll feel better about being able to share it).

CKRA has changed formats so many times now that you’d think they’d be better at it than they are.

It’s a different world than it used to be. Fifteen years ago, if a radio station switched formats, an article in the local paper would probably be about the only coverage it would get. Today, the web makes it easy for anyone to chime in.

As the comments on my post illustrate, the conversation will happen anyway. Newcap would be wise to join in.

UPDATE (4/1/2008): They’ve created a Facebook group! You can check it out here.

Big Earl 96.3 is now Capital FM

I never listen to the radio anymore, so the only reason I know about this news is because I’ve seen an influx of traffic to one of my old posts about Big Earl 96.3. Back in December of 2005, the radio station switched formats from “96X” which was hit music, to “Big Earl” which was country music. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

If you’re scanning the radio dial here in Edmonton, you’ll notice we have a new station. Or, more accurately, an existing station that has for the thousandth time changed formats.

They’ve done it again. Big Earl is out, Capital FM is in. Here’s what they say on their website:

Finally Edmonton has a radio station that plays all your favorite songs from the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s.   Welcome to the NEW 96.3 Capital FM, Edmonton’s Greatest Hits!

Yeah, because we don’t have that already? Whatever.

I have to agree with the verdict at the Edmonton Radio Ratings site:

It needs to be said. Someone has to take this lame horse of a station to a corner of the pasture and shoot it. Two’s company but three’s a crowd with the greenhorn seemingly regulated to always be on the outside looking in over the fence of the country radio market.

It remains to be seen how much longer Newcap general manager Randy Lemay can sustain the misery before accusations of radio cruelty can be levelled. Exactly five years ago the 96.3 frequency enjoyed a fifth-place 9.6 share … what was somebody thinking?

If you check out the ratings archive, you’ll see the clear decline. I guess they think that yet another format change will save them. Once again however, they’re going up against a Corus radio station that has been very successful for a long time (Joe FM at 92.5).

Currently, the Wikipedia entry for CKRA-FM still identifies the station as Big Earl. The latest switch is the station’s fifth since 1995.

Capital FM? Even the name is completely uninspired. It’s like a terrible car accident happening in slow motion that you just can’t look away from.

UPDATE: This Edmonton Journal article has more information.

UPDATE (4/1/2008): They now have a Facebook group – check it out here.

Big Earl 96.3

If you’re scanning the radio dial here in Edmonton, you’ll notice we have a new station. Or, more accurately, an existing station that has for the thousandth time changed formats. What was known most recently as 96X is now Big Earl, who apparently “plays everything country.” There are some really great posts in their forums, like this one:

I wonder how many of these loyal 96X listeners would convert to listening to country if they gave it more than 10 minutes of listening. I personally know of two people who HATED country music until they listened to it and then it became all they listened to!

I think a lot of people would be surprised if they actually gave country music half a chance.

And of course there are some not so good posts, like this one:


With this reply:

I HATE U STUPID BIG EARL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

To be truly honest, I really don’t care. I almost exclusively listen to music or podcasts on my Zen Touch in the car now anyway, and if I do happen to listen to the radio it’s to either The Bear or Joe FM (yeah I have come to like Joe FM). That being said, it’s always fun to throw out my two cents.

I think what happened is that The Bounce and Sonic started to take away listeners from 96X, so they “did some research” as their program manager said on the 6 O’Clock news tonight (must have been a slow news day) and decided country would be the way to go. The format is actually a copy of a Big Earl station that launched in Camrose last month, and that one is probably a copy of another station. In my opinion, Big Earl is doomed to failure. We already have a very successful country station in CISN, and unlike 96.3, they don’t change their format every year destroying any sort of listener base they might have managed to accumulate.

Futhermore, we already have the “play anything” format in Joe FM, so will a subset of that be successful? I guess we’ll find out, but I doubt it. The only thing that’s for sure is that being a program manager at 96.3 must suck.

UPDATE: My mistake, there are two country stations in Edmonton – CISN and CFCW. Also, looks like both 96X and The Bounce lost listeners in the Fall 2005 ratings while CISN and CFCW gained listeners. You can see the ratings here. Oh and the official website for Big Earl is While we’re on the topic of new radio stations, did you know that MAGIC 99, a Smooth Jazz/Adult Standards station launched on Thursday? Check it out at 99.3 or online at

UPDATE 2: Found a better ratings page complete with descriptions and commentary.

UPDATE 3 (3/28/2008): The station has changed once again, to Capital FM! You can read about it here.