Walt Sabo though he found a format need for "women's news" (whatever that means) at 101.9. Big consultant, big flop and now a redirection after his exit.
What that suggests to me is the same "country will never work in New York" attitude may be wrong as well.
Walt Sabo was trying to create a specific format that had never been tried before.
He was targeting young women because they are the most desired demos for advertisers. And that is because they make the biggest share of buying decisions. He was trying to reach them with "news" because that is a "foreground" format that listeners pay closer attention to than music. Many advertisers prefer the closer attention and will pay more for it. And the all news format allows more spots to be stuffed into each hour boosting the potential billing numbers.
That part of the strategy can't be argued with, but the execution of the programming and its marketing plan didn't go well. In some sense it was a rush job, put together over a couple of months using people who had never worked together before, and using a plan that hadn't been fully developed and tested. It was truly, a "let's wing it, throw some stuff at the wall and hope it sticks." They knew where they wanted to go, but they still don't know how to get there.
On the other hand, a whole lot is known about Country music as a format. There are loads of data on who listens, how much they make a year, where they live, what they buy, etc. You can be sure that a Country music format has nowhere near the chance of billing as highly or being as profitable over the long term as all news on FM aimed at younger demos, or specifically women.
The Merlin investors see the potential for a major market all news brand that has a real chance to bring in the big bucks and growth over the long-term. With younger people increasingly carrying smart phones and i-pod like devices no radio music format offers the same potential. For ethnic demographic reasons I won't bore you with again, the core of the New York market is likely to be less interested in Country music than it was in RXP's rock. And then there is the fact that the stereotype image of Country listeners isn't as attractive to some advertisers as other formats, and even if it becomes a ratings surprise, it could be a billing disappointment because of known data about typical Country listeners. IIRC, WRXP and WPLJ were not that far apart, ratings wise, but having an audience of suburban soccer moms produces billing for PLJ that just wouldn't go to an RXP, and would be even less likely to go to a Country station.
Investors who want profits and growth aren't going to put out all that money for a station that predictably scrapes along the bottom of the ratings or billings list, making just enough to "survive." Remember, RXP didn't survive and the format lasted only as long as it did because the station was for sale. The big cumes of the Clear Channel and CBS FMs aren't likely in New York with a Country format, but could be hit with all news or talk. Country has "survived" at times but not "thrived" in the NY market in the past, and the big money boys always want to "thrive." I have said before that the first thing I do when I drive out of the NYC radio market core is to turn on a Country station. I would listen to a Country station here, but when it comes to the likelyhood of a Country station in NYC I am going where the numbers and the other data takes me, not where I "wish" the data would go.