On the Beat

850-AM drops news/talk for oldies music

For the past few years, Raleigh radio station WPTK has had a dual identity at 850-AM -- news/talk during the week, music oldies on the weekends. Monday morning, the Curtis Media Group station changed formats. Gone is its news/talk weekday programming in favor of a music format called “Just Right Radio,” consisting mostly of songs from the 1960s through the ’80s.

“It’s a wide variety of songs, on purpose, going back to the late ’50s,” said owner Don Curtis. “We’re playing songs we think go together by ear, not by era. Then at night we’ll do all love songs from 7 to midnight, going both further back and further forward in time.”

As originally conceived, 850-AM was supposed to be the talk-radio counterpart to Curtis’ news station, WPTF 680-AM. But 850-AM never drew ratings that were more than anemic.

According to Radio Online, the station ranked No. 20 in the Triangle in July with a 0.4 share. WPTF was a few spots ahead at 1.4. By contrast, No. 1 country station WQDR-FM drew an 8.9 share that same month.

With 850-AM switching to music, programs hosted by Bill LuMaye and Clark Howard are moving over to WPTF. For the most part, 850-AM will have just music and no live deejays. It will also be on the FM dial through a translator frequency at 104.7-FM.

“It’s going to be a great experiment,” Curtis said. “We’re trying to find our way.”

Meanwhile, there might also be a format change afoot at another Curtis-owned niche station near the bottom of the ratings. That’s WFNL, 570-AM, which used to be a country-oldies station until a tornado took out its broadcast tower in 2011.

When it went back on the air a year later, the station had become “Funny 570,” airing mostly standup comedy. But 570-AM’s comedy ratings have been dismal -- a 0.1 share in July.

Curtis said he’s weighing format options for 570-AM, citing bluegrass as one possibility. Last year, Curtis had an FM frequency it was selling and experimented with bluegrass on it during the World of Bluegrass festival.

“We had some luck with bluegrass last year,” Crutis said. “That was pretty successful, so we may look in that direction.”