NEW YORK — This is a radio station where Arbitron numbers are arbitrary; everybody has to listen. You can't change the dial. You can't turn it down. You can't turn it off.
You can, however, leave the store.
It's Rite Aid Radio, a station created solely for the drug store chain. Morning drive, afternoon drive, it doesn't matter--the only thing its listeners wheel are shopping carts.
"I've had people tell me, 'I was standing in a Rite Aid and I thought I heard your voice.' And I tell 'em, 'You did,"' says disc jockey Dan Taylor, a country music DJ who doubles as the voice of Rite Aid Radio.
He's just one of several dozen radio personalities contributing their voices to POP Radio, which allows chain stores from Toys 'R Us to Rickel's hardware stores to Shop Rite supermarkets to operate their own radio stations each day.
POP is not what the stations play; it's an acronym for Point of Purchase, a fast-growing phenomenon in which the stores create their own format for an in-store sound system.
They don't want shock jocks or Top 40 screamers; you'll never hear "Gooooood Morn-innnnnng, A&P!" while cruising the frozen food aisle, or catch "Highway to Hell" cranking out while you check the fresh produce.
"The music's not Oingo Boingo. It might be Frank Sinatra, jazz, Earl Klugh. And you have to reflect that," said Taylor, who was among the first DJs to see the possibilities in POP.
Taylor is also the voice for the Toys 'R Us station and for People's Drug. Although the company started out in drug stores, it has since expanded tremendously: advertising revenues, which were at $350,000 in fiscal 1985-86, hit $17 million in 1988-89, and more than 13,000 stores play POP Radio.
The number of DJs has expanded too. According to POP Radio co-founder Bob Grey, there are now 75 disc jockeys providing vocals for his company--up from a hardy half-dozen when production first started.
Among them is Bob Taylor, who came to New York looking for a job behind the mike in the nation's largest media market. While he waited, Food Emporium Radio kept him busy.
And there's Jeff Shade. By day, he works behind the scenes at all-sports WFAN-AM; his other job is as the "warm and friendly, non-offensive" host of the Brooks Drugs in-store show.
"It's really a very intimate form of radio. You do have a captive audience," said Shade, who was a morning drive jock in Philadelphia before coming to New York.
"We try not to be offensive in any way, and we're conscious of that, because it's strictly an advertising medium," said Shade. "We not only don't want to offend the sponsors, but anybody else in the store--customers, employees, anybody."
There are other things which make POP Radio different from the average station: There are no cancellations over low Arbitron ratings. The DJs never give the weather, the sports, the news or anything else that is "time sensitive," and they don't spin records.
In some cases, the music and chatter are beamed in via satellite; in other cases the music alone is transmitted that way, and the DJs' rap is sent to the stores on tapes, which are then cut into the tunes.
The rap goes like this: "Rite Aid Radio! Hey moms, taking care of babies is a full-time job. And right here at Rite Aid, we have lots of ways to help you help yourself. I'll be right back with more tips after this."
An ad will follow, with the DJ returning to pitch more items. Then it's back to the music-- generally either adult contemporary tunes or background Muzak, depending on the store. There are 12 minutes of ads each hour.
"The stores want you to impart your own personality, but each one wants something different," said Dan Taylor. "One wants bright and happy, one wants laid-back. . . . If you're TALKING LIKE THIS in a Rite Aid, well, that's not what they want."
The company has also added features by various personalities; the best known of the bunch is Dr. Art Ulene, a science-medical reporter on NBC's "Today" show. But Shade recently discovered you don't have to be famous to become well-known via POP Radio--indeed, everybody does have to listen.
"I was in a Brooks store in New England on vacation, when I asked the guy behind the counter for an item. And he recognized my voice," said Shade. "They were quite shocked that their DJ was shopping in the store."