Former WMMS 100.7 personality Ben “Maxwell” Bornstein has returned to FM airwaves after a year off, and his curious new home at 98.5 WNCX is receiving mixed feedback about the morning drive host — but the early numbers look good. In recent memory, the classic rock station’s morning show has hovered around no. 7 in Arbitron ratings and hasn’t cracked the top five in any meaningful metrics.
The new Maxwell Show — Maxwell 2.0, as the host calls it — is fundamentally at odds with the ’NCX audience, who have been content with a little banter between the same warhorse songs they’ve been listening to since 1975. But the station was the home of Howard Stern for 12 years. With Maxwell and friends on the mic, it’s been way less rock, much more talk.
“You can only do so much with music in the morning,” says program director Bill Louis. “You’ve got to take a risk. And Maxwell has a huge audience. You do what you think is going to get you the audience you need to get.”
The same on-air lineup from Maxwell’s WMMS days has returned with essentially the same shtick that made them favorites for Gen-Xers driving home in the afternoon. They’ve adapted old bits to the new environment: The “Turd or Not a Turd?” method of evaluating songs has become a brilliant excuse to play — gasp — new tunes from Iron Maiden and Eric Clapton.
The show’s first week was a scorched-earth campaign against his former home. The crew goofed on ’MMS program director Bo Matthews for not recognizing Led Zeppelin material, but Maxwell’s female sidekick Tiffany “Chunk” Peck showed her own colors when she didn’t know Clapton has a song called “Crossroads.”
Louis says ratings won’t arrive until December, but early metrics are through the roof: The station’s number of streaming listens has tripled, and website hits have increased tenfold, from 2,500 to 25,000.
Fan feedback on the station’s Facebook page has skewed positive, but the station has deleted more scathing comments. Maxwell says he has a one-year contract with an option for two more. Ultimately, the station will let the audience determine the final ratio of Zeppelin to zingers.
“It’s a situation where we have to respect the legacy of ’NCX,” says Maxwell. “I think it’s the wrong plan to walk right through the door and say, “Screw you people who want music.’ We’ve got to ease them into it. If we can take two different groups of people and make it work, that’ll be great. I want to do what wins.” — D.X. Ferris