The Lake is rising.
WLKK-FM 107.7, in its first full Arbitron ratings book, cracked the Top 10 of local stations.
No one at Entercom Radio, which runs the Lake, or at the station, expected such high ratings in its debut, virtually unheard of for a station with a new format.
"We thought it would do well but nothing like this; it was probably the biggest debut book in Buffalo radio history," said Greg Ried, Entercom's general manager here. The Lake, which plays a blend of classic rock and alternative music, finished with a 4.3 average quarterly hour share. It was good for tenth place overall in the just-released summer ratings book.
The station had a 1.1 share in the last ratings book, when it was doing a sports/talk format as WNSA. When it became the Lake the station's ratings soared nearly 400 percent.
Hank Dole, the station's program director, said that the objective was to build ratings over the next two years to a 3.0 to 3.5. "We figured it would take two years but we did it in one book," he added. "Now it's a question of where we go from here."
The station's goal was to reach "disgruntled listeners" in the 35-54 age group, Ried said. The Lake finished fourth in the demographic for men in the 25-54 age group and is the second rated rock station in Buffalo, trailing classic rock powerhouse 97 Rock. The Lake easily beat classic rocker WBUF-FM (2.6), which is strongest in the morning with Howard Stern.
97 Rock, WGRF-FM, finished with a 6.9 overall rating, good for third place. WBEN-AM 930, a news/talk station, topped the summer ratings at 10.5, followed by country music WYRK-FM 106.5, at 10.3.
The big story, though, was the Lake.
It offers a wider variety of rock music, limits commercials to eight minutes per hour and avoids trash-talking air personalities. Sometimes it's hard to believe the Lake is a commercial station.
"We are trying to reach a lot of disenfranchised listeners out there who are tired of all the garbage we are putting on the air," Ried said. "Those people are turning to satellite or CD. We want to show there is still a place for them on radio."
The goals for the Lake were simple but revolutionary in today's corporate radio structure. Limit conversational clutter and play different music. Turn on the Lake and you could hear everything from Bob Marley to Pearl Jam.
Will big ratings kill the concept?
"Success is not going to change the Lake," Dole said. "We're not a mass appeal format. Nobody likes us but the listeners. Obviously, they wanted something different, and there is room for what we do."
One noticeable change are the personalities on the air. The station began in the spring with no live announcers. Now it has Doc Phillips, Tina Peel and Loren Hunter. Dole also said the station is determined to play more local music.
Whatever happens, "we're not going to change the principles that make the station work," Dole said. "We respect listeners and are committed to the music."
That describes the Lake formula that led to the ratings success.
"We wanted to break the rules and be different," Ried said. "For too long, everybody in the radio business has been telling people what they want. This time, we decided to listen to listeners and they told us what they want. That's what the Lake is all about."