Commercial radio in the morning can be a happy, silly place. "Humble" Howard Glassman and Fred Patterson -- newly installed as Mix 99.9's wake-up men -- fit the mould perfectly.
Yesterday, Humble and Fred's goofy enthusiasm was focused on Don from Orangeville, whom they had phoned to give away a free trip to Jamaica. Don's reaction? "Holy crud."
Mr. Glassman soon moved on to other topics, including the effect of age on human ears. Apparently, the world's oldest woman, at 116, has "truck-tire flaps on the sides of her head."
The CBC it is not. But hundreds of thousands tune in to the antics of the city's various private-radio morning hosts every day. And these days, the jokes, stunts and contests are part of an increasingly scrappy fight for audience share, heating up after an unprecedented summer of major changes at several Toronto stations.
Three local frequencies have new morning shows: the Mix (99.9 FM), CHFI (98.1 FM) and "guy-talk" Mojo Radio (640 AM). Newcomer Jack (92.5 FM) may add one soon. Industry insiders said the city's radio business has never seen so many shifts so quickly.
"This is the most upheaval and sort of turbulence in the market that I can remember," Mr. Glassman said off the air. He has been in the Toronto morning-show market for 14 years, working with Mr. Patterson at alternative-rock station the Edge, then at Mojo.
It is not a battle without casualties. One is Erin Davis, the 15-year veteran and well-liked morning host at adult-contemporary station CHFI. She was fired one June weekend, over the phone while she was at her cottage.
Afterward, Ms. Davis -- rumoured to be moving to a live television show on a cable network -- said she received 4,000 e-mails from jilted fans.
Ms. Davis was replaced by the Mad Dog and Billie morning show, which came over from hip-hop station KISS 92.5; KISS itself has been transformed by Rogers -- which owns it and CHFI -- into Jack FM, a station with no DJs and large doses of '80s rock.
The 40-year-old Ms. Davis, who came to CHFI in 1988 as a co-host with Toronto radio legend "Dazzling" Don Daynard, thinks she was pushed out because of her age and CHFI's plan to chase younger listeners. "There was stuff I wasn't comfortable doing that, you know, you could hear on KISS or you could hear on the Mix, but you wouldn't generally hear on CHFI."
After other changes at the station, such as an 8 a.m. all-music hour, the former highly rated show slipped, she said. She was out and partner Bob McGee was moved to an afternoon slot.
Chuck McCoy, a Rogers vice-president and general manager of its Toronto radio group, said the decision to let Ms. Davis go was necessary to reposition the station.
But CHFI may have paid dearly in the short term for its decision to cut Ms. Davis, according to ratings numbers sent to radio stations yesterday (and being made public today) by BBM Canada. Among the coveted 25- to 54-year-old demographic, CHFI slipped from a 10.4-per-cent market share in summer 2002 to a 6.6-per-cent market share in summer 2003.
That is far behind the market leader, CHUM-FM (104.5), and its long-standing, popular trio of morning hosts, Roger Ashby, Rick Hodge and Marilyn Denis. Their summer 2003 share of listening hours among 25- to 54-year-olds sits at 13.5 per cent, with 345,000 listeners compared to CHFI's 237,000.
Who is winning, of course, depends on who is being measured. Looking at all listeners over 12, the venerable CFRB (1010 AM), with morning man Ted Woloshyn, wins with a 10-per-cent share but a more greying audience.
Advertisers make their decisions based on the fall and spring ratings, not the summer ones. And one radio-industry source said that CHFI, by firing Ms. Davis, was banking on driving away its old audience to reposition and attract new, younger listeners.
While CHFI falters, the Mix may see its fortunes rise. It has struggled to find a morning show that clicks with listeners, going through several in the past decade -- including a previous stint by Mr. Glassman without Mr. Patterson. While the summer numbers only capture a week of their first broadcasts, they reflect the pair's new base -- a 5-per-cent share of listening hours and 208,000 listeners among 25- to 54-year-olds.
Rob Farina, program director at CHUM-FM, said the market leaders are too busy making radio every morning to look over their shoulders.
"We really, and I mean this honestly, we never look at what our competition is doing. We're always focused on our listeners."
Listeners in a.m.
The top eight Toronto morning shows, ranked by share of listening hours among 25-54 year-olds.
Station: Per cent of market: Number of listeners
CHUM-FM: 13.5: 345,000
680 News: 9.4: 404,000
Q107: 8.9: 278,000
EZ Rock: 7.8: 257,00
CHFI: 6.6: 237,000
CFRB: 5.1: 150,000
The Mix: 5.0: 208,000
Jack: 4.0: 181,000
SOURCE: BBM CANADA SUMMER 2003 SURVEY