Orlando's Legendary Hit Music Station

Y106 - The Cat Radio - Orlando - DEFUNCT - BJ105 Radio Orlando, FL


Mar 18, 2021 0 Comments

Sheryl Leider, a loyal listener to the Y106 Breakfast Club, did not welcome the change.

Leider said she tuned in the show on WHLY-FM (106.7) one recent morning “and this guy came on — a total stranger!”

WHLY fans Kathy and Don Rodgers also said they were caught by surprise. “My husband came home from work and said, ‘Where’s Jeff?’ ” Kathy Rodgers recalled.

Jeff Cohen and Rick Stacy were the hosts of the Y106 Breakfast Club, one the most popular morning radio shows in the Orlando market, according to the most recent ratings in the Birch Radio Monthly Trend Report.

But on June 16, WHLY listeners like Leider and Rodgers woke up to an unfamiliar voice. Cohen and Stacy had been replaced by newcomer Gerry Cagle. Cagle has worked at stations in six major markets including New York, Boston and Los Angeles, but he is not well known in Orlando.

The same evening, WHLY listeners noticed the absence of disc jockey Jim Steal. Steal was the most popular Top 40 announcer in Orlando, according to Birch’s most recent ratings. Steal was replaced by Mike Hayes, formerly of WZOU-FM in Boston.

The reason for the departure of the DJs is disputed. The DJs say they were told that WHLY needed to cut its costs; their combined salaries topped $200,000, Stacy said.

But WHLY’s executive vice president and general manager, Jim Tillery, said finances were not a factor. He dismissed rumors circulating within Orlando’s radio business community of financial difficulties at WHLY or a possible sale of the station. The staff changes, said Tillery, resulted from a desire for even better ratings, which he believes Cagle and Hayes can produce.

“We were able to pick up someone of a high caliber,” Tillery said of Cagle. “Then you evaluate your talent and make the determination of whom you want on your team.

“You’re going to have loyal fans who obviously are going to be disappointed,” said Tillery, “but the majority are going to say the station sounds much better.”

Tillery’s moves come at a time when the Orlando radio market is getting increasingly crowded and competitive. A number of radio stations from surrounding communities have taken advantage of new Federal Communications Commission rules that allow the stations to strengthen their signals in Orlando. Each station is seeking its own share of advertisers’ dollars.

Tillery, who came to WHLY in January, said he was given the authority to make any necessary staff changes when he was hired by Peter Starr, president of WHLY’s parent company, General Broadcasting of Florida. The decision to replace Stacy, Cohen, and Steal was his and not Starr’s, Tillery said.

The three DJs said they are uncertain about when or where they’ll next appear on the airwaves.

Staff changes are not unusual in the highly volatile radio business. And they’ve even happened before at WHLY. At least 16 of 22 full-time employees listed on a company roster in March 1984 no longer work at the station. (The roster, which included announcers and other staff members, was filed in Orange County Circuit Court as part of a civil suit unrelated to the recent shake- up).

But listeners, industry observers and even WHLY’s competition are perplexed by the replacement of three DJs with strong track records.

“Not only did they die with their boots on but their spurs were polished,” said Rae Anne Campellone, of Marketinc., a Winter Park public relations firm that has included WHLY and other area radio stations among its clients.

“You don’t take off someone who has historically delivered a good audience and replace them with a question mark,” said Rick Weinkauf, general manager of competing stations WBJW-AM (950) and WBJW-FM (105.1).

Any new announcer, even one like Cagle who has worked in larger markets, may not do as well in a new city, Weinkauf said. Weinkauf hired Bill Cross to host WBJW’s morning show in April because Cross already was familiar to Orlando listeners. Cross had been a host with Cohen of the Y106 Breakfast Club until his dismissal in February by Tillery.

Tillery said Cross’ dismissal also was an effort to improve ratings. Cross said other issues were involved. Stacy, who had been the afternoon host at WHLY, was then moved into the morning slot with Cohen.

WBJW-AM and WBJW-FM, which carry the same programming, and WHLY are the only stations in Orlando that feature a Top 40 sound, a format the radio industry now calls contemporary hits.

WHLY was running ahead of WBJW-FM in the ratings in the weeks prior to the replacement of Cohen, Stacy, and Steal, according to the Birch report. (WBJW-FM has higher ratings overall than its AM counterpart). The Y106 Breakfast Club drew 9.4 percent of all listeners age 12 and older who tuned in during any 15-minute segment between 6 and 10 a.m. In comparison, WBJW-FM drew an 8.8 share of those listeners.

During Steal’s evening shift, WHLY drew a 17.3 share compared with 8.5 for WBJW-FM.

But Tillery said his decision was based, in part, on WHLY’s overall standing in the market. Although it beats its Top 40 competitor, the Y106 Breakfast Club ranked fourth in the recent Birch report behind other morning radio shows.

Those morning ratings show country station WWKA-FM (92.3) in first place with a 12.7 share, rock station WDIZ-FM (100.3) in second with an 11.3 share, adult contemporary station WSTF-FM (101.1) in third with a 10.4 share and WHLY in fourth with its 9.4 share.

With a 17.3 share during the evenings, WHLY ran second only to WDIZ-FM, whose evening host Slats enjoys a 22.4 share of listeners age 12 and over. But Tillery said he thinks WHLY can do better still in the evenings.

“There’s no question that Jimmy Steal had good numbers, but in our format we should own 30 percent of the market,” said Tillery. He noted that contemporary hit and rock stations traditionally draw the highest audiences in evenings when most listeners are younger.

Along with their high ratings, Stacy, Cohen and Steal stood apart from many of their colleagues in the Orlando radio market because of their roots in this area. Each has lived here for the past 10 years. Steal and Stacy are graduates of the University of Central Florida. As WHLY announcers, each has been involved in numerous community service efforts.

Cohen said he and his colleagues long expected the current booming growth in Orlando’s radio market. “I’ve waited for this moment and now it’s here,” he said, “and I’m out of work. It seems very ironic. To be suddenly standing on the outside looking in makes me feel really crummy and I don’t know what to do next.”