New Baltimore network talks around the clock Radio venture starts hunt for affiliates

February 07, 1992|By Leslie Cauley

Michael Hodes' new radio network may be all talk, but he isn't.

Mr. Hodes, a Towson attorney and local radio personality, has teamed up with five other businessmen to launch the United Talk Radio Network, a Baltimore-based 24-hour, all-talk radio network.

The network, known as UTRN, signed on the airwaves Jan. 24. Shows are broadcast from the studios of WCBM-AM in Baltimore, the same station that has carried Mr. Hodes' radio show on financial advice for eight years. Mr. Hodes' show is now carried on UTRN as well.

Mr. Hodes -- who combined with other investors to put up a combined $250,000 -- said he decided to take a run at the all-talk market after American Radio Networks, a New York-based all-talk network, folded last month. Mr. Hodes said UTRN picked up a number of affiliates from the defunct New York company, which had contracts with 208 radio stations.

"I just felt there was an opportunity to fill a void," said Mr. Hodes, chief executive of UTRN and managing partner of Hodes & Pessin, a Towson-based law firm that specializes in estate and business law.

Mr. Hodes was joined in the venture by four Baltimore County business people, Doug Strouse, president; Walter McManus Jr., vice president; Michael Freedman, vice president of programming; and Dorothy Schmitt, vice president of finance; and by Tyrone Parker, a local businessman who is an investor but has no title with the company.

With about 20 employees hired from the failed New York network, the new network has about 35 employees, including part-timers.

While searching for affiliates, Mr. Hodes said, he is also looking for unusual shows to fill UTRN's extensive programming needs.

In addition to signing up local and national radio personalities, Mr. Hodes said, UTRN wants to offer a number of off-beat shows to differentiate UTRN's brand of all-talk. A show featuring a psychic has been signed up. Waiting in the wings are shows with an outdoors theme -- hunting and fishing -- a Saturday morning game show and a program that focuses on the environment.

"We want shows that aren't found in other markets," Mr. Hodes said.

That is a smart strategy for cracking the all-talk market, said Tom Taylor, managing editor of Inside Radio, a trade publication in Cherry Hill, N.J.

Because of competition on AM radio, Mr. Taylor said, all-talk shows are differentiating themselves much like their brethren on the FM side of the dial.

"It's like a magazine," Mr. Taylor said. "People look for a specific magazine for specific issues. It's the same thing with radio stations. They're looking to create an identity."

But it takes more than an identity to hook advertisers, Mr. Taylor said. It takes market power.

"The challenge is to create a station lineup that includes enough larger markets to get advertisers seriously interested," Mr. Taylor said.

All-talk radio constitutes a small portion of the nation's radio market, which includes 9,000 commercial stations.

To drum up interest in the new network, UTRN has been broadcast for the past two weeks to about 100 affiliates on a trial basis. WCBM, which also has an all-talk format, is an affiliate.

Most of the shows are broadcast out of Baltimore, but some are picked up from other places.

After the honeymoon is over, Mr. Hodes said, affiliates will have to ante up if they want to continue to receive UTRN programming.

Mr. Hodes said he and his partners plan to use the $250,000 as a financial cushion until contracts can be signed with affiliates.

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