Las Vegas Sun

July 29, 2014

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NFR — Vegas cash cow:

For Las Vegas’ country radio stations, NFR is a chance to win new listeners

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Country pop-star Taylor Swift played at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on May 23, 2009.

Once a year, thousands of people undergo cowboy transformations for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

For 10 days, they trade their slacks and dresses, gym shoes and high heels for blue jeans, belt buckles, cowboy hats and boots. Many want to give the duds a whirl on the dance floor.

That’s where Las Vegas’ two country music radio stations, 95.5 KWNR-FM and 102.7 KCYE-FM, come in.

In addition to playing country tunes, both will host a litany of cowboy events, including Fremont Street hoedowns, country concerts and whiskey-soaked rodeo after-parties.

The events not only help people satisfy their cowboy itch but offer a crucial opportunity for the stations to convert new listeners.

“It’s almost a lifestyle phenomenon,” KWNR Programs Manager JoJo Turnbeaugh said. “Because so many people here want to be part of the NFR events, we have the ability to touch and court new country listeners.”

Before NFR arrived in Las Vegas in 1985, the valley was a ghost town in December. Few tourists visited, and events were scarce.

Now, the 10-day rodeo is like a holiday for the radio stations. It invites a stampede of country music acts to perform on the Strip and downtown, as well as at restaurants and bars.

For the radio stations, that means sponsorship opportunities. Turnbeaugh said KWNR will host free concerts and hoedowns near the Fremont Street Experience. KCYE will sponsor concerts on the Strip and offer ticket giveaways.

While the actual spike in listeners — and revenue generated — from the rodeo is difficult to gauge, Turnbeaugh said he doesn’t doubt the impact.

“I don’t know if you see the spike in listeners because of the way ratings are done today,” he said. "But the ability to touch people who eventually hold the meter, that’s the huge upside for us.”

Tom Humm, general manager of the Beasley Broadcast Group, which owns KCYE, said young country artists such as Taylor Swift and their cross-over appeal help the station win new listeners.

“Country radio right now is the hottest format in the country,” Humm said. “There’s probably around 140 country concerts in Las Vegas annually, and during NFR, every hotel throughout Las Vegas has some form of country act.”

Both Humm and Turnbeaugh acknowledged there is competition between the stations to win listeners. But with only two country stations in town, both can benefit.

“A lot of people look at NFR as an event that brings in a lot of tourists and out-of-town money, but it is also something the people of Nevada embrace as their deal,” Turnbeaugh said.

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