Tuesday, December 15, 2009

V-103 – Atlanta’s Station of the Year

If Time Magazine can have a Person of the Year, it’s only appropriate we have a Station of the Year.

We all know V-103 (WVEE-FM) has been the market’s ratings champion seemingly forever; except when WSB-AM has managed to temporarily claim the top spot. So why is V-103 the 2009 Station of the Year?

This was the year when V-103 was to be knocked off its perch, right? Prior to the PPM’s Atlanta introduction, I had a conversation with former Cox/Atlanta Market Manager Chris Wegmann, whom I respect. “I’ve done (Arbitron) diary reviews, and people write in V-103 in the morning and draw a line down through the rest of the day,” he told me. I agreed with Chris and others that the PPM’s intro would dovetail with a V-103 swoon.

The first few PPM reports appeared to confirm expectations. Atlanta had a new #1, Urban AC Kiss 104.1 (WALR-FM). The Kiss sales force hit the street with the story that the People Meter reported actual listening and not remembered listening.

Four months later, V-103 was back on top. As the year progressed, V scored some of the highest audience shares in its history, PPM be damned.

V-103 is an anomaly in today’s pared-down, consolidated environment. It has a live and local morning show, and features personalities—not just jocks—in all dayparts. In fact, V-103 places emphasis on personality and reaps listener loyalty in return. But, V-103 is more than that.

V-103 is the New York Yankees of Atlanta radio. Every fulltime personality is unique and loaded with star power. Earlier in the year, when V was looking for a midday host, my money was on Ramona Debreaux, who was filling in. Ramona personified the V-103 demo and handled the format flawlessly.

Surprise, surprise. Program Director Reggie Rouse tapped Ryan Cameron sidekick Elle Duncan for the slot. What? How could he have bypassed Ramona Debreaux for the young, inexperienced and quiet-voiced Duncan?

Think about it…the New York Yankees of Atlanta radio; every personality is unique. The move made consummate sense, and Elle has really grown on me. Happily, Ramona Debreax remains at V-103 for weekends and traffic reports.

The final ingredient in the V-103 success recipe is the station’s massive 100,000-watt signal at 1,000 feet from New Street, a perfect location for penetrating an Urban audience.

Why is V-103 able to do what it does? Why don’t other stations emulate V’s formula? I guess it’s the old chicken-and-egg thing. V-103 makes tons of money so it can afford great personalities. But the personalities, and the audience they attract, enable the station to make that money.

General Manager Rick Caffey’s stewardship of 92-9 Dave FM and WAOK-AM as well as V-103 suggests he is a personality radio believer.

So, congratulations to the people of the People’s Station, V-103, for being Atlanta’s 2009 Station of the Year.

That’s it for Atlanta Airwave Action in 2009. Thank you for reading. I hope you have a happy holiday and the best New Year ever. We will see you in January.

Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/atlantaairwaves, and we’ll follow you back. Email your comments to roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net.

Link to Rodney Ho’s AJC Radio & TV Blog:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

12 Months of Radio Towers

I continue to be amazed at how boring wall calendars are. How long can someone stand to look at U.S. tourist destinations, flowers of the month, racing cars or dogs? Wouldn’t you much rather be looking at radio towers?

If radio geekdom were a society, I’d be among its royalty. My radio interest extends beyond programming to signals and transmitter sites. I had never known quite what to make of my odd hobby except to assume most people would think it was slightly unusual. In fact, my transmitter passion turned me into a devious little kid. I’d suggest to my parents taking a pleasant Sunday drive, and then guide them unsuspectingly down roads to places where I had seen towers in the past.

I had attempted to find a therapist but was unable to locate anyone specializing in Tower-Site Syndrome or Radio OCD. Nevertheless, I eventually met others with the same affliction, one of whom is Scott Fybush; more on Scott later.

My good friend Chris Murray, now a radio station owner in Macon, is interested in and very knowledgeable about FM antennas. But when Chris looks at towers, he sees dollar signs. One day about 10 years ago, Chris told me that official aviation maps identify and illustrate all significant towers. That sent me off to DeKalb Peachtree Airport in search of one of those precious maps.

As I approached the PDK entrance, I was thinking, “I hope they don’t ask why I want this.” When I requested the map, the man behind the counter asked, “Going flying today?” “Not today” was my sheepish reply. “Well, it’s a beautiful day to fly,” he added. Whew!

When I first came online in the late 90’s, I discovered a treasure trove of radio stuff. One day, I came across a site at http://www.fybush.com/ that consisted of a newsletter, Northeast Radio Watch. The next time I returned, the site had grown exponentially in sophistication and content, and now featured a “Tower Site of the Week.” That week, the tower was the one shared by WCBS-AM and WFAN-AM on High Island in New York.

As I continued to follow Tower Site of the Week, I started communicating with its creator, Scott Fybush; and thought just how cool giving Scott a radio tour of Atlanta would be. That wish has come to fruition 4 times. In fact, the towers themselves are no longer enough for Scott’s insatiable signal-radiation appetite; he now must go inside to see the equipment.

Scott took things a step further, creating the world's most unusual calendar nine years ago.  Each month offers a mesmerizing view—well at least I think so—of an interesting and scenic broadcast site.  That's 12 months of transmitter bliss plus the cover photo, for 13 views in all.

The Tower Site Calendar 2010 contains some of the most unique and famous sites, including a few of my favorites. One is the former and endangered WTBS-TV site, part of virtually every shot of the Atlanta skyline. Next is a landmark visible around the south end of Charlotte, WBT-AM, with its unusual diamond towers. Another is the 7-tower array of 690 AM at Rosarito Beach in Mexico, which pumps out 77,500 watts by day and 50,000 at night.

Some other notable scenes for 2010 include the legendary KDKA in Pittsburgh, New York’s newest AM site (for WEPN/1050) and KTAR-AM in Phoenix, whose towers straddle two sides of a shopping center.

If you are still reading at this point, you probably agree that adorning your home with the Tower Site Calendar would be a slice of radio heaven. The price is $18 including postage, payable by check to Scott Fybush; 92 Bonnie Brae Avenue; Rochester, NY 14618. You can also pay by credit card at http://www.fybush.com/.

Bouncy November PPM
When Arbitron brought its PPM technology to the Atlanta market, we thought a more stable sample would arrive with it. As discussed in a prior issue, that has not seemed to be the case.

When I reviewed the results for November 2009, I knew one of two things had most likely happened. Atlanta’s 18-34 community got religion big time, or the 18-34 PPM sample was woefully small. I suspect it’s the latter, and maybe we're not getting as many Cell-Phone-Only homes as promised.

Kevin & Taylor do a quality morning show on 104.7 The Fish. But what did they do from October to November to cause their 18-34 numbers to triple? Why have the 18-34 numbers for Praise 102.5, a station that has skewed older than most gospel FM’s, taken an Olympic jump from October to November? Conversely, why did CHR/Rhythmic 95-5 The Beat get, well, beaten by The Fish and Praise in the November PPM’s?

Arbitron of course weights the demographics in line with the market’s population. In other words, if 10% of the population was 18-34, the 18-34 results gleaned from the PPM were weighted to equal 10%. If the 18-34 sample was small but represented by a couple of religious folks who listen heavily, the sample would have been weighted up to 10% based on their listening.

Star 94, The Beat and V-103 all got skewered by the fluky 18-34 numbers. The Bull, which lost Persons 6+ share for the first time in months, actually increased in the key 25-54 demo, but saw a tremendous amount of 18-34 year olds vanish into thin air, or into Gospel or Christian Contemporary listeners.

Personally, I would not base a radio buy on the November PPM report. The next monthly will not be much better; it’s December, heavily skewed by Christmas music.

Thank you for reading. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/atlantaairwaves, and we’ll follow you back. Email your comments to roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net.

Link to Rodney Ho’s AJC Radio & TV Blog:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Bert Show’s Invincibility

Will anyone ever beat The Bert Show? Well yes, actually. V-103 and Kiss 104.1 do in the 25-54 demo, and V-103 does among 18-34’s. But of course those stations are not trying to beat The Bert Show; they’re trying to beat each other.

Okay, take 2. Will anyone who wants to beat The Bert Show ever accomplish that feat? Let’s peek at the October PPM. In morning drive, Q100 (WWWQ-FM) had 140% more 25-54 audience than Star 94 and 29% more than B98.5. Among 18-34 year olds, Q100 had 178% more than both competitors.

The obvious answer is no in the current competitive scenario. Bert, Jeff, Melissa and Jen are sitting pretty, and deservedly so.

Now I’m going to ask a slightly different question. Is there a show in another market that could come to Atlanta and defeat Bert and company? My answer to that is maybe not, but I’ve found a show that could compete well with Bert. In fact, it sounds a lot like The Bert Show, and its host started his radio career as an intern for Q100.

The show is “That Guy” Kramer on Panama City’s Island 106 (WILN-FM). The show’s anchor is a young, sharp, talented radio guy raised in Atlanta, Steve Kramer. You can tell he’s listened to The Bert Show. But, this no cheap imitation.

Kramer’s co-hosts are Holly O’Connor and Miguel Fuller. Both Holly and Miguel earn their keep. Holly handles middays on sister AC station Wave 100.1, and Miguel does afternoon drive on Wave.

The owner is Magic Broadcasting, which has had enough drama in the past several years to start a more spellbinding soap opera than Dallas. But Magic’s Panama City cluster has been relatively stable (as opposed to Dothan). Island 106 has been a good-sounding CHR station over the past several years. I’m glad to see that now that Spoon has moved to midday, Cupcake has replaced him in evenings.

I’ll Miss Dene Hallam
I am still a little shell-shocked about the sudden illness and subsequent passing of Dene Hallam.

When I lived in New York during the 1980’s, I constantly saw Dene’s name in trade publications, such as Billboard and R&R. He was the successful young Program Director of 50,000-watt Country station WHN-AM. After New York’s first country FM, WKHK, became established, Dene crossed the street to program it. Although WKHK eventually beat WHN, the ratings of both stations were low, and owner Viacom flipped WKHK to Soft AC, where it remains today as Lite FM (WLTW).

One day on my then favorite morning show, Z100’s Morning Zoo, “zoo master” Scott Shannon mentioned the WKHK format change and Dene Hallam. I continued to see Dene’s name through the years as a blue-chip programmer. He had perhaps his greatest success in Houston at 93Q (KKBQ-FM), where he created a Country station with Top-40 formatics. 93Q pushed longtime Country outlet KIKK-FM out of the format and beat powerhouse KILT-FM.

Dene was one of only two programmers to win Billboard’s PD of the Year award in two formats, the other being the legendary Scott Shannon. Dene won the award in the Top 40 and Country categories.

I first met Dene in person at the Kicks/Eagle offices. I had spoken with him by telephone and knew he was a reader of a radio column that I used to write. Shortly after he left ABC, Dene emailed me through the Radio-Info website to comment on a thread in which I was involved. We continued communicating, and he eventually suggested we meet for lunch.

Dene was a bit rough at the edges, not exactly a corporate type. I could see he probably was too strong-willed for some people. He admitted that he had both disciples and detractors at Kicks and Eagle. I could tell despite the gruff exterior, that he was good-hearted and cared about people.

Dene was definitely a guy who breathed radio waves and was very smart. His radio acumen was certainly intact. He shared his opinions of the on-air talent at Kicks and Eagle with excellent perception and objectivity. (I agreed with him on everyone except Garry Kinsey.)

The lunch, however, was a somewhat sad one. The combination of his recent separation from his wife and release from ABC seemed to have broken him. He had gone into a tailspin from which I wonder whether he ever fully recovered.

Approximately 9 months later, Dene got a plum job in Kansas City, where he had been so successful years earlier. WDAF-AM was still near the top of the ratings, ahead of its two FM Country competitors. Yet Entercom management had made a decision to move the station to one of the cluster's FM signals and replace the AM with Sports. Dene Hallam was tapped to handle the transition and turn the new station into a winner.

Dene unfortunately left for Kansas City in the wrong frame of mind. Before departing, he sent an email saying that being forced to move was going to separate him from his 3-year old daughter, who was the love of his life. I was not surprised that job did not last long.

About 2 years ago, Moby hired Dene to program his syndicated morning show. When I started writing this blog, Dene began emailing me again. He was grateful to Moby and his wife, and certainly helped make Moby’s show much better. Yet his email left the impression that Dene was still not the happiest man in the world. But, his love of radio was still evident in his continuing correspondence.

With the Moby in the Morning Network expanding to other dayparts, my hope was that Dene would earn more and eventually get fully back on his feet. And then came the very sad announcement that he had passed.

On to happier things…

A Cadillac at Every House
WKHX’s Cadillac Jack, named in our recent Atlanta’s Best issue, will host the afternoon show on Citadel Media’s Today’s Best Country network. The talented Kicks morning host will be heard on 108 stations for starters.

Caddy will voice track the program, and recycle interviews and phoners from the Kicks morning show. He estimates the ratio of new to recycled material will be around 70/30.

Kicks Morning Show Manager Matt Hoffberg, Cadillac Jack’s right-hand man, will be coordinating and producing the tracks. A producer in Dallas will plug the breaks into the satellite.

This of course is the Citadel version of Clear Channel’s Premium Choice. So we all know what adding marquee talent to Today’s Best Country is really about, saving bucks through job elimination. That said, no one deserves TBC’s afternoon show more than Cadillac Jack.

Thank you for reading. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/atlantaairwaves, and we’ll follow you back. Email your comments to roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net.

Link to Rodney Ho’s AJC Radio & TV Blog:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Santa Claus is Coming to…a Radio Near You

You better watch out. Thanksgiving is next week, and you might hear Christmas music on the radio without warning, all Christmas music that is.

Maybe I’m overreacting because things have calmed down since several years ago. I remember hitting the Peach 94-9 button one October and hearing a Christmas music preview weekend. (Or maybe that was one of the years when they weren’t supposed to say Christmas, so it might have been a holiday music preview weekend.) The temperature outside was in the mid-eighties, and I was not ready for what I was hearing; although I recognize that people in places such as South Florida are used to that.

When I was a kid, stations started adding Christmas songs right after Thanksgiving and increased the number per hour as the weeks wound down toward the big day. Soon after that, most formats played virtually no Christmas music for years. Then, in the middle of this decade came the onslaught.

It seemed to start innocently enough. I believe our late beloved Peach 94-9 was one of the pioneers in the new age of Christmas ditties. Around the early 2000’s, the station added holiday songs in season, and by that I mean after Thanksgiving. The songs fit just fine with Peach’s soft AC format. And a funny thing happened on the way to the Arbitron book; the numbers showed a meaningful increase.

The following year, Music Director Steve Goss was quoted in the AJC mentioning Peach would be all Christmas following Thanksgiving. The ratings hit the stratosphere, and wall-to-wall Santa would become a staple at AC stations around the country. AC’s were going all Christmas faster than that darn reindeer ran over grandma.

With audiences at a high, Peach and its musical brethren announced a holiday rate card that was no pre-Christmas sale. And retail advertisers have always known that holiday music put customers in a mood to jingle their change.

That the radio world knew all-Christmas music meant big ratings and big money for AC’s would cause craziness to erupt. In markets having more than one AC, the race was on to become the first holiday music station. The thinking was once radios were tuned to a Christmas outlet, they would stay there. This led to Christmas music playing while pumpkins were being carved. Correctly guessing when to go all holiday called for a panel of the nation’s leading radio minds.

Some oldies stations joined their AC competitors by digging out the Phil Spector, Chipmunks and Bobby Helms CD’s. Stations planning to change formats rocked around the Christmas tree as a transition to their new sound.

The insanity continued into January, when the fall Arbitrons were released. Salespeople tried to pawn off their Christmas numbers as the ratings for the coming spring. Competing stations were fast to point out the “Christmas kiss” enjoyed by the opposition. Arguments ensued about exactly when the competition ramped up its holiday playlist.

Some stations have already embarked on their all-Christmas marathon. One controversy that’s being thrown around is how all Christmas music will work in a down economy. Some say it makes people feel better, but others say it feeds depression. And this all started so harmlessly about 6 years ago.

Several years back here in Atlanta, B98.5 surprised a lot of folks, including most of its employees, by turning all Christmas on the day after Thanksgiving; after having ceded the Christmas audience to 94.9 for a couple of years. Of course, we all know B98.5 has been “your home for the holidays for 50 years.”

These days, little mystery exists as to what will happen. The odds are that 104.7 The Fish will start its Christmas music around Monday, November 23, and B98.5, which doesn’t really consider The Fish as direct competition, will make the move that Friday, November 27.

I’m looking forward to the holiday songs. Long ago, I came out of the closet as a Jewish guy who likes Christmas music. I was relieved, and the family didn’t disown me.

If we don’t talk until after Thanksgiving, enjoy the turkey…and of course the Christmas music on the radio.

Thank you for reading. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/atlantaairwaves, and we’ll follow you back. Email your comments to roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net.

Link to Rodney Ho’s AJC Radio & TV Blog:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Atlanta’s CHR Face-Off

Star 94 (WSTR-FM) had a tumultuous 2008 and early 2009. The station brought back JR Ammons to be PD, and he made a number of changes. Q100 (WWWQ-FM) recently altered its music clock, most likely in response to summer gains by Star 94.

At this point, both of Atlanta’s CHR stations have their product in place, and it’s probably an appropriate time to take stock of where they are.

Atlanta, much to the frustration of CHR devotees, is an unusual market in that both stations go head-to-head on the adult side of CHR. Star 94 and Q100 leave out a slew of songs that are monsters nationally, and they both continue playing certain songs long after they are hits, at least in other markets. Q100 has a more liberal policy at night, when some Hip-Hop is added.

Q100 was the winner among Persons 12+ in the October PPM, continuing the trend of the past few months. Q100 had a share of 3.4%, ranking #12, while Star 94 was listened to by 3.1% of the audience, landing in a tie for #15. In Adults 25-54, one of the demos that really matter, Q100 was significantly ahead with 4.3% of the listeners versus Star 94’s 3.2%, with the stations coming in at #7 and tied for #14, respectively.

The total week (6AM-Midnight) 25-54 numbers make it appear that Q100 is beating the pants off Star. And that is the case in morning drive. The Bert Show on Q100 absolutely devours Star 94’s Cindy & Ray. In Adults 25-54, the shares were 6.7% for Q100 and 2.8% for Star. In middays, things are much closer with Q100 somewhat ahead, probably a result of its stronger lead-in. In afternoon drive, things are tight, with Q100 holding a slim lead over the syndicated Ryan Seacrest on Star.

The Morning Mess on Star 94 and the absence of Steve & Vikki from morning radio for 6 months last year gave The Bert Show a great opportunity which it capitalized on. Had Star 94 immediately replaced Steve & Vikki with Cindy & Ray, the station might be in a better position today. But, it is what it is.

So what do you do if you’re Star 94? The answer is probably not a lot. The station still has brand equity in the market and is competitive after 10AM. The product is still saleable. A format change seems out of the question.

I continue to feel Cindy & Ray is the right morning show for Star. C&R reestablished Star as an Adult CHR after it had gone off track for over a year. Moreover, changing morning shows again would convey an aura of uncertainty, both within the station and among listeners, and would give competitors a convincing argument to advertisers.

When Cindy & Ray moved to mornings, Star found a way to make giving away $1,000 a day sound like a major deal. Maybe an exclusive C&R giveaway of some sort would help. Perhaps the show’s content can be spruced up. In any case, changing morning shows is not an option for Star.

While Star 94 is an Adult CHR and apparently wants to reinforce that position, I fail to understand its aversion to anything leaning the least bit rhythmic. The station waited until Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” hit #1 before adding it. And I still have not heard Britney Spears’ “3,” which is #8 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Neither of these songs is anywhere near hard-core Hip-Hop. Maybe Star associates playing Kanye West and Flo Rida last year with down ratings, and Flo Rida might have been pushing it a bit. But Kayne’s “Stronger” was a pop song that seemed perfectly appropriate. Star had far bigger problems than that at the time.

What about Jason DeRulo’s “Whatcha Say,” the #1 song in the country? Where are Beyonce’s “Sweet Dreams” and Jay Sean’s “Down,” both of which are played by Q100 all day? Yes, they lean rhythmic but are huge national hits being played by virtually all CHR’s in other markets. Perhaps not coincidentally, when Star 94 was more aggressive with new music last spring, ratings were higher.

Here’s a question for both stations: When should a big song be dropped? “Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon was a smash that crossed over into multiple formats, even Adult Alternative. It’s still #20 nationally but on the way down. Yet Star 94 and Q100 play it like it’s still at the top of the chart.

I am also a bit puzzled regarding how songs from a year or two ago are among the most played on Atlanta’s CHR stations. Q100 is probably slightly guiltier of this. But I may just smash the radio if I hear “Sorry” by Buckcherry on Star one more time.

Since the Star 94 brain trust is probably not singing my praises right about now, I might as well add that bringing back jingles would brighten the station. I also would love to hear Chase Daniels, who has proven he can entertain, in place of Seacrest. By the way, I will not be going anywhere near Maggiano’s for lunch in the foreseeable future.

Despite what you have just read, Star 94 is in a much better position than a year ago. Of course, mornings will continue to be a challenge. But with a few tweaks, Star could be able to make the battle tighter.

Thanks to Jonathan Hirsch, who helped with his CHR insight and music expertise.

Thank you for reading. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/atlantaairwaves, and we’ll follow you back. Email your comments to roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net.

Link to Rodney Ho’s AJC Radio & TV Blog:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

CC’s Mays Demotion Has Implications

The financial troubles of Citadel, Clear Channel and Cumulus have been well chronicled. The companies all have mountains of debt that they probably will not be able to service by 2010. You might have been dreaming about station clusters being dismantled and sold to smaller operators who are broadcasters, and not conglomerates just using radio as their money-making vehicle. I certainly have. Unfortunately, from what I've been reading in the past few weeks, that will not happen in the short term.

The three C’s—and CBS Radio is not included—are apparently negotiating with their lenders behind the scenes. What most likely will happen are debt-for-equity deals through which banks and holding companies will own large shares of the station groups. Initially at least, current management will probably stay in place. But, the lenders will by and large be calling the shots.

The banks of course do not want to be in the radio business, but the problem is the huge multiples at which the three C’s purchased stations, multiples as high as 12 times net cash flow. Truthfully, stations were never worth anywhere near that, but the urge to rule the radio world overshadowed rationale thinking. Although radio stations are not their cup of tea, the lenders do not want to sell at the current going rate, as low as 4 or 5 times cash flow. So you can expect banks and holding companies to own broadcast properties for the foreseeable future.

There will be some exceptions. In Portland, OR, Alpha Broadcasting, whose CEO is Citadel founder Larry Wilson, cobbled together a super cluster by purchasing the stations owned by Rose City and then CBS Radio. Bonneville, which reportedly has wads of cash, is rumored to be swooping over a number of the former ABC stations now owned by Citadel.

Last week’s demotion of Clear Channel CFO Randall Mays was not a tremendously publicized event. But, it was noteworthy because it suggests the investment banks are already pulling the strings. Clear Channel CEO John Hogan will likely be a highly-paid puppet of the lenders. And that does not auger well for the affected radio conglomerates.

The banks and holding companies are going to be all about keeping costs down. That increases the likelihood of more rounds of layoffs, and greater use of voice tracking and syndication. I don’t expect much in the way of investing in air talent and content.

The groups that have been fiscally responsible, such as Cox, Bonneville and others, might have the option of going for the kill by out-programming voice-tracked operations. Will they spend the necessary dollars to do that as the economy improves, or will they stand pat or cut back, taking advantage of their dramatically pared-down competitors to improve profits?

Best of Atlanta Part-Timers
Last week’s Atlanta Radio’s Best & Brightest column generated some email regarding the glaring omission of several personalities. Only full-time people were considered for selection, and I certainly was remiss in not mentioning that. If I had included part-time air talent, the choices would have been Mark Arum for his Saturday talk show on WSB-AM, Matt Jones for Organic X on 99X and JoJo Morales for his weekend work at Q100.

Mouse Out of Intensive Care
Russell Smith, Radio Disney (WDWD-AM) Chief Engineer, checked in to report the station is back to 12,000 watts during the day. As you probably know, the adjacent creek’s rise to at least 25 feet above its stream bed brought 12 feet of rain inside the transmitter building. Ironically, the flood hit immediately after the station had boosted wattage from 5,000 and was waiting for FCC approval to use the new antenna system fulltime. Planning for the new signal commenced in 2003.

WDWD made a wise decision on September 21, when access to the site was cut off, to cease operation and kill the power. By 4 that afternoon, everything inside the building was submerged.

On September 24, crews from Belfor Property Restoration began cleaning, and on September 28, Belfor technicians began dismantling all the equipment and processing it through chemical baths, autoclaves and convection ovens.

Belfor was able to restore three transmitters and almost all other gear to working order. Because the power had been turned off, equipment was dirty but undamaged by electrical shorting in nasty water. One piece of gear was not salvageable since it was connected to a phone line. Many of the small porcelain insulators in the antenna system were broken and took several days to replace as did rewiring and reinstalling the restored equipment.

Radio Disney was silent for a week, coming back on from an emergency 1,000-watt transmitter on September 28.

Russell was previously the Chief Engineer for the ABC/Citadel cluster of WKHX-FM, WYAY-FM and WDWD, which was retained by Disney after Citadel purchased the other two stations. Russell left Citadel to manage the estate of Country singer Travis Tritt and handles Radio Disney on a contract basis. I usually reject pleas for plugs in this blog, but Russell is a friend and a great guy. So I’ll mention that he is looking for AM stations that need site rehabilitation, mowing, clearing, have a drainage or wildlife problem, or require ground and antenna system repairs. You can get in touch with him at afllc@bellsouth.net.

Thanks for reading. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/atlantaairwaves. Email your comments to roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net.

Link to Rodney Ho’s AJC Radio & TV Blog: http://blogs.ajc.com/radio-tv-talk/

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Atlanta Radio’s Best & Brightest

Atlanta, like all other radio markets, is somewhat stripped down these days. Yet, bright spots still abound across the dial. This issue contains our selections for the top on-air talent in town. The picks are strictly my opinion, and you probably will not agree with all of them, and you might feel some folks are missing.

The criterion for being eligible for selection is broadcasting from an Atlanta radio station. No personalities voicetracked from another market were considered. Syndicated shows are eligible if they originate from an Atlanta station.

So here we go, starting with the low end of the FM dial. After the FM choices, we’ll move to AM.

Steve Goss – WABE-FM – Steve worked at WPCH/WLTM for over 25 years, going back to the Beautiful Music format, with dead air programmed in and #1 12+ ratings. His professional and easy-going style makes him sound even better as the local host of Morning Edition than in his AC days.

Lois Reitzes – WABE-FM – Lois has been on the air at WABE for 30 years. She has a flair for hosting a classical show and sounds both major market and distinctive. After serving as PD for 15 years, Lois is now Director of Arts & Cultural Programming.

Dennis O’Hayer – WABE-FM – Dennis established his authoritative as well as affable presentation as the longtime host of WGST’s “60 at 6.” He has also been the moderator of a show on WABE’s sister station, WPBA-TV, and a reporter on WXIA-TV’s news. He now brings his considerable skills to his job as local host on WABE from 3 to 7PM.

Mara Davis – 92-9Dave FM – Mara has been at the station for 15 years and under two of its incarnations, Z93 and Dave-FM. She is engaging, interesting, opinionated and fun, and is one of Atlanta’s most talked-about radio people. While Mara’s overall talk time has been scaled back somewhat, she’s at her most creative on Radio-Free Lunch in the noon hour.

Margot – 92-9 Dave FM – Margot’s smooth delivery creates an ambience like that of KINK-FM and other successful AAA stations. She is so into the music, a definite plus for a format whose listeners are all about musical discovery. Her knowledge of music really comes across on “Dave After Tomorrow,” a program showing how songs from all eras and genres have connections. Margot is Dave-FM’s music director and the visionary behind WZGC-HD2, Dave Roots.

Cindy & Ray – Star 94 – Ray Mariner is so smooth while Cindy Simmons is kind of valley-girlish with a slightly goofy edge. But, it all works, as it has from day one. Content is topical and fun, with lots of audience interaction. After getting stellar ratings in afternoons, Cindy & Ray moved to morning drive this past spring, where they reestablished Star 94 as an Adult CHR station. In mornings, C&R have come up against a juggernaut called The Bert Show, and while Star’s AM drive ratings are up, they are not among the top stations. Getting there will require time and patience.

Darik at Night – Star 94 – When a personality loves what he is doing, it comes right through the speakers. And, that’s one reason why I enjoy listening to Darik Kristofer so much. He sounds like he’s having a great time doing the show and interacting with listeners. Darik has also shown growth as an air personality since he joined Star 94 about 2 years ago. Finally, he has appeal to his young evening audience, but his sound is also adult friendly.

Jason Pullman & Kristen Gates – 94-9 The Bull – Including The Bull’s morning show took a little debating. Jason Pullman was not selected because of his broadcast delivery because he really has none; he speaks as if he were talking to you across the kitchen table. (I’m not saying he’s not capable of an excellent broadcast delivery because he proves he is, on the many national commercials that he has done.) However, Jason is very quick and funny, as well as friendly. And, Kristen is the perfect foil for his humor. She enjoys a more prominent role than she had as morning co-host on Kicks. The chemistry between the two appears to be copacetic.

Maverick – 95-5 The Beat – Maverick is The Beat’s elder statesman so to speak; he was brought in during the colorful Sean Phillips days. He actually has been in Atlanta radio longer than that, having worked weekends on Q100 when it was just a baby. Frankly, I always felt Maverick was a utility player. But, he apparently purchased the Beat edition of Rosetta Stone and now has a “Beat accent.” He’s definitely with the program at Atlanta’s #1 for Hip Hop.

Knox – Project 9-6-1 – Knox provides real entertainment in the evening hours and relishes his job as a personality. He and his drop-ins are simply fun to listen to.

Kaedy Kiley – 97-1 The River – I know what you’re probably thinking. She used to be great, but she’s on The River. She can no longer use her considerable talents. That’s true, but Kaedy is still the consummate professional with a mastery of music. At least she does her quiz. Hiring Kaedy was a win-win for her and the station.

Steve McCoy & Vikki Locke – B98.5FM – This is the show that broke the mold, the music-intensive, liner-reading mode at Cox’s Atlanta AC station. In truth, it was the second time that Cox’s Bob Neil tossed aside his playbook and hired a personality morning show. He had seen what grabbing Rick & Bubba had accomplished for Cox’s Birmingham country station, WZZK. With the Steve & Vikki package, B98.5 instantly got a well-oiled, well-established, family-friendly morning show hosted by two of the market’s best. The station also picked up a ton of potential in endorsements by McCoy and Locke.

Jordan Graye – B98.5FM – Jordan is another Atlanta personality who is a real broadcaster, meaning she thoroughly enjoys what she does; what comes out of the radio doesn’t lie. Her voice bubbles with personality, much more so than the stereotypical female AC midday jock. Jordan is a nice person, and that comes across too.

Kelly McCoy – B98.5FM – I’ve heard it said that Kelly McCoy has read basically the same liners for the past 20 years. Yes, the station is highly scripted. But, Kelly’s rich voice and broadcast talent still come through loud and clear.

The Bert Show: Bert Weiss, Jeff Dauler, Melissa Carter & Jenn Hobby – Q100 – On his way to becoming President of CMT, Brian Phillips stopped to launch Q100 and tapped the co-host of the Mix 107.3/Washington morning show, Bert Weiss. Of course, the rest is history. Weiss’s ability to talk to and relate to listeners, and the blend of relationships, celebrity interviews/news and current issues have made The Bert Show the gold standard for morning radio. Dauler, Carter and Hobby add intelligent insight and perspective.

Adam Bomb – Q100 – He might not have the big voice of a JJ Kinkaid or Robert W. Walker, FM CHR stars from the seventies and eighties. But, Adam sounds good and delivers a quintessential CHR presentation full of energy. His fast pace is just right for evenings, when the audience and the Q100 playlist become younger.

Cadillac Jack & Dallas McCade – Kicks 101-5 – They say every cloud has a silver lining, and the Citadel Leap Year Day Massacre in 2008 paved the way for two of Atlanta’s best morning hosts to get together. I’ve always thought Cadillac had a unique sound that made him a great country jock. Dallas is also a true talent, always up and sounding happy. I’ve heard it said the show is not funny. Well, the show doesn’t try to be funny. The audience loves the hosts, and that’s what matters.

Frank Ski & Wanda Smith – V-103 – I never felt Frank Ski was a great personality based on his broadcast skills. But I guess I was forgetting about several things, like community involvement, charity, working hard and showing up everywhere. Oh, did I mention being a lightening rod? And, broadcasting on a station that perennially goes to the Super Bowl doesn’t hurt. How could I not include a personality who earned a share of 20.6% among the 18-34 demo in the latest Arbitron PPM’s? Is that not slightly amazing? And the pundits said PPM would put a serious hurt on V. Wanda Smith and Ms. Sophia complement Ski by keeping us laughing.

Ryan Cameron – V-103 – Ryan Cameron is a master storyteller. Consequently, V-103 in afternoon drive sits at the opposite end of the spectrum from the typical Urban station. Ryan has a captivating style all his own and intelligently discusses issues with his listeners. He also can be very funny.

Greg Street – V-103 – In 1995, former V-103 PD Tony Brown recognized that Hip-Hop, not yet a genre of critical mass, was the future of Urban music. He hired Greg Street to do a Hip-Hop show in the evening. It worked, and Street’s show was Atlanta’s ratings leader in his daypart. He left to go to Dallas and returned a few years ago. Smooth and Hip-Hop do not often go together, but somehow Street manages to be the smoothest Hip-Hop jock in the universe.

Art Terrell – Kiss 104.1 – Art’s predecessor, Mitch Faulkner, has one of radio’s golden voices. When he left and Art took over, the voice contrast was pretty dramatic. But, it soon became obvious that Art Terrell has a terrific booming voice of his own, is friendlier sounding, and has more on-air personality than Faulkner. Mitch might be the better voiceover guy, but Art makes Kiss sound great as he accomplishes a lot within the formatic limitations.

George Mason Dixon – 106.1 WNGC – His station sits on the cusp of the Atlanta market, but George Mason Dixon has perfected the sound of a major market country personality, always having the perfect inflection. He makes this well-programmed station sound as good as it should.

Silas “SiMan” Alexander – Majic 107-5/97-5 – A true Atlanta radio veteran, SiMan has plied his craft in prominent dayparts on V-103, Kiss and 102.5 before moving over to the new Majic 107-5/97-5 this past spring. He has a great voice and substantial talent, and skillfully brings his listeners through the evening hours. That SiMan is a super-nice person in real life is evident when you hear him on the radio.

Maria More – Hot 107-9 – Maria exudes both street and class when she speaks into the mic during middays. Hot is a well-programmed machine, and Maria is a big contributor to keeping it running at full efficiency.

Emperor Searcy – Hot 107-9 – Emperor Searcy takes over after Maria More and continues the superb execution of the format. He sounds at ease and confident, and his delivery contains an element of excitement. Searcy is a high achiever, also working successfully in the music business and voicing commercials yet finding time to give to the community through various outreach programs.

The Durty Boyz – Hot 107-9 – The Boyz (J. Nicks and ET) take listeners to the wild side of Atlanta radio every evening. Their show is a party on the air as well as one of the market’s most interactive programs. Call and ask them to let you go.

Scott Slade – News/Talk 750-WSB – The host of Atlanta’s Morning News comes across as a natural. He has the voice, poise and experience to be the ultimate professional. Waking up with Scott is a pleasure as he skillfully tosses the ball to his cohorts and then catches it back. Scott has been honored with just about every radio award there is.

Neal Boortz – News/Talk 750-WSB – I’ve heard it espoused that Neal now “phones it in,” that he no longer puts himself into it. As a listener, I have to disagree. Boortz is smart and creative, and understands it’s about entertainment. He still delivers the ratings to prove that.

Clark Howard – News/Talk 750-WSB – A sharp businessman as well as broadcaster, Clark Howard walks on water in this market. He’s highly trusted and respected. He may not have the best radio voice but manages to overcome that with high-quality advice that commands attention.

Herman Cain – News/Talk 750-WSB – Yes, he does not have perfect diction. But, he does conduct an intelligent talk show and exercises some reason, which is often not the case in Talk radio. Herman is someone worth listening to based on the incredible heights to which he rose in the business world. As the promo says, “You just might learn something.”

Chris Dimino & Nick Cellini – 790 The Zone – Chris and Nick are sports guys first and radio people second. Yet their broadcast talent is good enough to make it all work. In my opinion, these guys paired together are the best sports talkers in Atlanta and show superb knowledge. Their appeal is demonstrated by their moonlighting activities, Chris with Falcons Radio and Nick with CBS 46 (WGCL-TV). By the way, they make up two-thirds of “Mayhem in the AM” on The Zone.

The 2 Live Stews – 790 The Zone – Who says Sports radio can’t provide your daily entertainment fix? Brothers Ryan and Doug Stewart do sports talk that sometimes veers onto other subjects. Their Hip-Hop sports program is the most different show on Atlanta Sports radio. Zone PD Matt Edgar showed his ingenuity with these hires. Originating from The Zone studios, The Stews are syndicated by Sporting News Radio.

Atlanta Radio’s Best Newscasters:
Rob Stadler – Star 94, Pete Combs – WSB-AM

Thanks for reading. As always, your comments are welcome. Email me at roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net.

Roddy Freeman

Link to Rodney Ho’s AJC Radio & TV Blog:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Will Atlanta Get Into The Groove?

A change had been rumored for a couple of years, but when it finally happened yesterday, it evoked some mild surprise. For anyone who does not know, Clear Channel flipped 105.7 from Viva, a Latino Hits station, to The Groove, a Rhythmic AC format.

On at least some levels, the move made consummate sense. Will 105.7 The Groove (or The Groove at 105.7, depending on when you’re listening) bear fruit for Clear Channel? My answer is an emphatic maybe.

The original frequency for Viva was 105.3. It got some good ratings straight out of the gate and soon replaced Oldies purveyor Cool 105.7 on the higher frequency. The reason? The 105.7 signal booms into Gwinnett County, a hotbed of Hispanic growth, while 105.3 lacks oomph in that northeastern county.

Although Viva, as the only full-market Hispanic FM, attracted a sizeable audience, Clear Channel had made a strategic error. Approximately 75% of Atlanta’s Hispanic market is of Mexican origin. Viva’s programming appealed mostly to Latinos of Central/South American descent. Most of its ratings were by default.

Clear Channel made a second strategic error when it launched El Patron on 105.3. El Patron, a Regional Mexican station, should have been launched instead of Viva. As predicted, El Patron cannibalized Viva’s audience; in fact, it quickly grabbed about two-thirds of Viva’s listeners despite being on the signal that stopped short of Gwinnett. Two Hispanic stations was simply an idea far ahead of its time.

Has Clear Channel made another strategic error by placing The Groove on 105.7 instead of moving El Patron there and giving the vacated 105.3 frequency to The Groove? Not necessarily.

Moving El Patron to 105.7 would have enabled it to serve Gwinnett. Clear Channel has in effect abdicated Gwinnett County to Davis Broadcasting’s La Raza (WLKQ-FM), which is already #1 there. A shift to 105.7 would have made El Patron the more important station in the cluster as opposed to 105.3. It would have positioned El Patron to be the bigger biller as the Hispanic population grows over the next several years.

The Arbitron PPM, however, has not been a friend to Hispanic stations. Moreover, while probably not deserved, Latinos have a reputation of not being good prospects for advertisers. Thus, Hispanic formats tend to underbill compared to their audience share. With all of the progress African-Americans made over the years, bringing Urban radio billings commensurate with audience share has been a slow uphill climb. How many years will it take before Hispanic radio bills in line with its share of audience?

Clear Channel may feel a general market station has the potential to bill far more than a Hispanic outlet for years to come. Atlanta’s most affluent population is in the northern environs, and that’s an audience that many advertisers seek. So keeping El Patron at 105.3 and launching The Groove on 105.7 does make some sense.

What about the format? Will The Groove dance its way to ratings glory?

A talk simulcast of WGST-AM would have been a way to rejuvenate those historic call letters. And News/Talk stations have been enjoying success on the FM band elsewhere in the U.S. Nevertheless, adding an FM to WGST would have required some serious bucks. The station would have needed a local morning show and a rebuilt news department for starters. An FM simulcast would have required an investment that’s not in the cards for Clear Channel.

That left two choices, straight-ahead AC and Rhythmic AC. I liked the idea of mainstream AC. B98.5 doesn’t play any current product, unlike most AC stations, and its music sometimes leans toward Modern Rock. AC’s target audience is women 25-54, and AC stations have always been the darlings of media buyers. I would never have expected 105.3 to come close to B98.5 in ratings, given the difference in signals, but an AC run inexpensively (read: voicetracked) could have made some decent money for Clear Channel.

Rhythmic AC makes sense for several reasons. First, the market had a hole; no one else was doing the format. Second, The Groove should do a lot better in cume than time spent listening, which is conducive to getting ratings with the PPM. Third, the target audience, women 25-54, is a lucrative one. Fourth, The Groove will be inexpensive to run.

My feeling—and I’m going to coin a term—is The Groove will be a skimmer. It will skim audience from several stations but be limited in its P1 appeal. The Groove might be a refuge for certain B98.5 listeners, a place where they can let it all hang out for a few. It might provide a temporary haven for Star 94 and Q100 devotees when they feel like releasing their frustrations. Also, The Groove will likely attract the gay community, which tends to like dance formats (and was a major reason for Cardio Radio on Q100 back in the day).

Whether all of this will result in decent ratings is the question. Several years ago, CBS Radio installed a Rhythmic AC format called Movin’ on a number of stations. Movin’ went the same way as Jammin’ Oldies and the Ford Edsel.

Clear Channel has done a little better with Rhythmic AC. The two CC stations with the most success in the format are WKTU-FM in New York and WMIA-FM in Miami. But Atlanta is not New York or Miami. Both markets have a very high Cuban population that provides a “plug and play” P1 audience for Rhythmic AC.

The format has enjoyed some success in Philadelphia and Seattle, and has flopped in Los Angeles, Dallas, Jacksonville and Denver. While I’ve been having a blast listening to The Groove today, I predict its 6+ PPM share, once things settle down, will be no higher than 2.2%.

The Groove, as a quintessential music-intensive choice, will be inexpensive to run. You already know to expect voicetracking. And don’t be surprised if Clear Channel Rhythmic AC star voicetrackers Paul “Cubby” Bryant and Jagger of WKTU show up inside a pair of speakers near you.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Jonathan Hirsch for his help with this issue.

Join us next issue for the Best of Atlanta Radio. (The BOARY Awards? I don’t think so.)

Roddy Freeman

Link to Rodney Ho’s AJC Radio & TV Blog:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Is Cume the Road to Riches?

Whether you love or hate Arbitron’s Portable People Meter, you have to admit it’s having an effect on the radio landscape. Like the diary, the PPM has prodded programmers to go for their masters in ratings maximization. A larger effect, however, is the change in formats that the PPM hath wrought.

The PPM has sounded the death knell for Smooth Jazz and Hot Talk. And lately, every time you turn around, Clear Channel, CBS or Cumulus is flipping a station to CHR.

The CHR format is providing some nice music these days, with acts such as Jordin Sparks, Kings of Leon, Kelly Clarkson and The Fray. Is this the reason that CHR stations have been popping up all over the map? Not really. The reason is the huge cumes that stations in the format have been racking up from the PPM methodology; and big cumes also boost quarter-hour numbers.

Will the giant cumes shown by the PPM lead to big billings increases among the leaders? My best guess is to some extent but not dramatically.

The greatly increased overall cumes might lift radio as a medium. For years, the Radio Advertising Audience has attempted to sell radio as a reach vehicle. After all, 92% of U.S. consumers still listen to radio every week.

As a buyer of radio, I have always felt insulted by the RAB’s reach story. The 92% is attainable if you buy every station. Unlike TV, where viewers watch more for programs than stations, radio listeners have music and information preferences and never listen to stations with other formats. Therefore, achieving a reach higher than 60% with most buys was almost impossible. Having said that, I want to stress radio does have favorable attributes, frequency among them, that the RAB would be better off touting.

The PPM methodology has increased the reach of radio. In light of that, radio might make its way onto media plans sooner. Countering that, however, is the fact that the same dollars now buy approximately 70% of the rating points reported by the diary.

Average quarter-hour ratings are the currency used by agency buyers. The buying goals provided by the planning group are expressed in rating points, and there is good reason for this. Average quarter-hour ratings are a combination of cume and time-spent listening; in other words, cume is already factored in. A tremendous cume can be a dual-edged sword. Together with a small quarter-hour rating, a high cume means very low time spent listening.

For years, I have heard radio salespeople complain that buyers ignore cume. I predate the PPM by many years and have always considered cume though not usually to select stations. I have used cume more to decide how many spots to purchase on a station. For example, I tend to put more commercials on stations with high turnover rates, i.e. high cumes and not-so-high quarter-hour ratings. For mass-appeal ad campaigns, I sometimes use high-cuming stations as a base and add stations having high duplication with these base stations, in order to achieve both reach and frequency.

My experience at big ad agencies has been in the planning, not the buying, area. The buying group implemented media plans that I wrote. What I saw at these agencies was this: Buyers were typically very young people earning low salaries. These folks were under incredible pressure; having to knock out 8 markets in a morning was not unusual. It’s no wonder that radio buying had turned into a mechanical process: Contact the top stations in average quarter-hour share, calculate the costs-per-point and place the buy.

There are exceptions to this. Some buyers at large agencies do request qualitative data on consumers of the products being advertised, and some do consider cumes.

Arbitron’s PPM ratings have shown greater compression among stations, meaning lots of stations very close or tied in some demos and dayparts. Radio salespeople tell me that the better buyers are using cume to break ties. I don’t totally agree with doing that because a large cume compared to average quarter-hour indicates short time spent listening. But cume should be part of the equation.

One thing that I have learned over the years is very few marketers know what they are doing although most believe they do. Therefore, selling high reach should benefit stations pitching their wares to small agencies and direct clients. And since small agencies and direct clients make up most of a station’s business, the high-cuming formats—CHR, AC, News—stand to gain from the PPM’s.

Whether the cume-leading formats’ share of billing will change significantly remains to be seen. But, some of the big radio conglomerates have been betting the ranch on it.

The Fan Soars, Relatively Speaking
You might remember the old saying about ratings, “Those who have them like them.”

WUVG-TV, Channel 34, is Atlanta’s Univision affiliate. Though the station subscribed to Nielsen, it would not give the ratings to clients. WUVG argued the numbers were flawed because Hispanics were grossly underrepresented in the sample. Unlike in radio, where the Atlanta metro is defined as a high-density Hispanic market, the TV market (a larger area) is not yet defined that way. Thus, Nielsen employs no special weighting procedures.

The above points are all valid, and WUVG’s audience is likely understated. By the way, did I mention Channel 34’s ratings were very small?

A funny thing happened. A few months ago, WUVG won a night in Nielsen. It didn’t take long before a message appeared in my inbox with words to the effect of, “We still don’t endorse Nielsen at this point, but we just want to make you aware we were #1 last night.” This was repeated several times over the next few months.

I recently requested a proposal for a client from 680 The Fan. The salesperson informed me, “I’ll get you the rates, but we no longer subscribe to Arbitron. (GM) David Dickey feels it’s flawed.” Yesterday, I received an email from the salesperson saying, “The station’s ratings are at an all-time high!”

When WCNN brought back its sports format, beating the entrenched 790 The Zone (WQXI-AM) took a few years. But 680’s advantage has been growing. The Fan’s September 2.2% share among persons 6+ is the highest in its history, up from 2.0% for August and 1.6% in July. The Zone’s 6+ share was 1.3%.

As a listener, I prefer sports talk hosts who are both talented broadcasters and knowledgeable about sports. In this regard, I have to give the edge to 790 The Zone.

The Fan has perhaps the market’s best sports host as far as broadcast ability in morning man Christopher Rude. But I find the show somewhat lacking in depth as far as sports analysis. Conversely, Chuck & Chernoff provide possibly the best content in the market. But they are somewhat less impressive as broadcasters.

Nick Cellini and Chris Dimino have a good combination of sports expertise first and broadcast talent. (Mayhem in the AM would be a better show without Steak in my opinion.) The 2 Live Stews are not for everyone, but they also are capable broadcasters and knowledgeable about sports. Even David Pollack, with strictly a football-playing background, has what it takes as a broadcaster.

The Fan has a signal advantage, a small one during the day and a big one at night. In this market, the 680 spot is easier to find although sports aficionados likely also have a preset for 790, nullifying The Fan’s slight edge. And The Zone’s 28,000 watts get out as well as The Fan’s 50,000 watts to the locations that matter.

At night, however, The Zone loses a good signal over a large portion of its daytime coverage area, with its power reduced to 1,000 watts directional. The Fan falls back to 10,000 watts at night and loses the areas north of its Peachtree Corners transmitter site, including Gwinnett County. The station also cannot be heard in parts of Cobb County. But it throws a strong signal over Atlanta and most of the suburbs.

Country Picks Up Steam
Clear Channel/Atlanta President/Market Manager Melissa Forrest started remolding 94-9 The Bull about 10 months ago, and the station is now a legitimate contender for advertising dollars and not just leftovers. The Bull owned 3.8% of persons 6+ in the September PPM report, pushing into the top ten. At the same time, heritage Kicks 101-5 moved up from 5.1% in August to 5.3%. Since June, the two stations combined have gained 1.4 share points.

Where did the increases come from? The semi-local country stations, The Legend 96.7, WNGC and South 107, lost a total of .5 points from June to September. That’s a net gain of .9 points for the format. Over the same period, CHR lost 1.4 share points.

Country is at least very strong if not growing virtually everywhere. In Dallas/Ft. Worth, KPLX is #1 although its total share decreased somewhat from August to September. In the Motor City, second-place WYCD-FM moved from 5.1% to 6% in the past month. In Birmingham, the two country stations increased their share by 39% since June. The format was stable and strong in the other markets that we checked.

Maybe it’s the Taylor Swift effect. Perhaps her popularity has attracted people to country music.

In the Atlanta race, while Kicks is still 39% ahead of The Bull in 6+ share, Kicks is only 13% ahead in the demo that many consider the most lucrative, persons 25-54.

Roddy Freeman

Thanks for reading. Feel free to email your comments or questions to roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net.

Link to Rodney Ho’s AJC Radio & TV Blog:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Has WKLS Made a Giant Mistake?

Last Friday’s news that the Giant Show’s Brian Carothers had left Project 9-6-1 brought yawns for the most part. Co-hosts Shafee and Jefe will stay on with a “music intensive show.”

No one outside the Building of Death knows definitively the reason for Giant Brian’s departure. Chris Williams, the station’s Program Director, told the AJC’s Rodney Ho, “Brian’s contract expired in July, and we were unable to agree on terms for an extension. Williams added, “A big part of this post-baseball era is a recommitment to being Atlanta’s rock station 24/7. As we get back to our core value of playing music, Shaffee and Jefe are staying aboard to host a music-driven morning drive program.”

The Giant Show was not exactly headed for the National Radio Hall of Fame. Nevertheless, I thought it was pretty good and fit Project well. And though it was edged out by Rock 100.5’s The Regular Guys, its demo ratings were decent.

The consensus outside the building is that budget was the driving force; that Clear Channel did not offer the big guy a respectable salary to renew. It that’s true, it’s just another example of the sad stripping down of radio.

Will the new Music Mornings—oh wait; that’s already been taken—will the new music-intensive show adversely affect Project’s ratings? Possibly, but in the whole scheme of things, the effect will probably be negligible.

Since its inception, I have somehow thought of Project 9-6-1 as one of Atlanta’s underachieving giant signals, with Dave FM (or whatever the 92.9 signal has carried in the past 15 years) being the other prominent member of that club. I admit that WKLS’s long and legendary history as 96 Rock played into my thinking.

Active Rock stations are a rarity these days. In the top 10 markets, only Atlanta and Dallas have the format. In the August PPM results, Project 9-6-1 ranks #16 while Dallas’s KEGL-FM comes in at #21. The Detroit market is an exception with the historic WRIF-FM tied for second place.

Project 9-6-1 does have something going for it. It’s the market’s #1 station for Caucasian men 18-34. That puts it in the thick of things for advertising dollars from certain beers, cars, clubs and other categories. But stations targeting the 18-34 demographic typically do not bill anywhere near what the top 25-54 stations bring in.

The Atlanta landscape is full of stations going after persons 25-54 or 18-49. While their billing potential is huge, not everyone is going to win. The original full-signal Atlanta stations, of which WKLS is one, have the edge. Of course, signal is not everything; pulling down top ratings requires tremendous effort and significant dollar investment. Maybe Clear Channel has made a prudent decision to take WKLS down the path of least resistance.

I do not mean to imply that Clear Channel does not expend dollars or effort on Project 9-6-1. Aly, Chris and Knox are all very substantive personalities, and the station sounds very good for what it is. PPM shares among persons 6+ have hovered around 3%, which is noteworthy for a niche station.

Project’s sister station The Bull has been making a consistent climb without the benefit of much promotion. Like Project 9-6-1, The Bull has one of the market’s best signals, and it has the potential to be among the ratings and billings elite. Project probably sits where it always will in terms of ratings. Billings will likely grow when the economy heals but rank about where they do now.

If Clear Channel’s Atlanta cluster is truly CC CEO John Hogan’s Achilles heel, as it is reputed to be, WKLS’s current direction will not move Clear Channel any closer to Cox in terms of market dominance.

Clear Channel/Atlanta President/Market Manager Melissa Forrest has a reputation as a motivated leader who knows what she wants and how to get it. For the past year, she has focused her attention on The Bull. But I would bet she wants her two big signals, 94.9 and 96.1, to be market leaders.

We’ll see what happens in the years ahead. If Clear Channel accepts WKLS’s current success as all it needs, my guess is that decision is a function of dollars available to invest. Although it would encounter 25-54 beasts at every turn, its signal certainly qualifies WKLS as a candidate for the gold.

Jeff McHugh Out at Cox Radio
When Jeff McHugh joined Cox as PD at B98.5 and The River only months ago, we questioned what he could accomplish there. His resume was filled with creativity, about the furthest thing from those two stations. The only whiff of creativity was Steve & Vikki on B98.5, who probably had more say over their show than McHugh.

Since then, a new ingredient has been added to the mix. Tony Kidd was named VP/Market Manager, Programming, meaning McHugh now reported to him.

Let’s look at the organization chart. Cox Media Group’s Bob Neil is the architect and creates the format clock and its restrictions. Then Tony Kidd hones the station with his considerable amount of expertise. Kidd knows exactly how he wants every facet of his stations to sound. Next in the hierarchy is the PD.

That does not sound like a situation conducive to someone such as Jeff McHugh, nor does it sound like a comfortable spot for any seasoned programmer, the job market’s tightness notwithstanding. We wish Jeff luck in his future endeavors.

Former Atlantans Shine
I spent some time in Orlando a couple of weeks ago. Driving in during the afternoon, I listened to “Stick on the Radio” on XL106.7 (WXXL-FM). Stick was the first personality on 95-5 The Beat in early 2000.

Wow, how far he has come. Stick did a personality-based show and sounded excellent. Surprisingly, given it’s a Clear Channel station, XL106.7 has to be one of the best CHR’s in the U.S. It’s not as repetitive as WAPE-FM in Jacksonville (which sounded almost identical to Atlanta’s Star 94), and is formatted in an interesting way with less imaging and more jock freedom.

Downtown Billy Brown is another former Atlanta radio guy who is now in Orlando. He does the morning show on Sunny 105.9 (WOCL-FM), a classic hits station.

I first heard DBB in 1989 when I lived in Baltimore. He did nights on then-CHR B104. I thought he was horrendous and could not even listen. After leaving Baltimore, he worked at Atlanta’s Power 99 among other stations. He returned to Atlanta in 1995 to take over evenings at Star 94. I could not believe the difference. He had grown tremendously; his delivery was so much more mature and controlled.

Brown left Star 94 in 1999 for Nashville and eventually took over the morning show on Miami’s country station, WKIS-FM. Then it was on to Orlando.

As much of a transformation as he made from B104 to Star 94, Downtown Billy Brown amazingly improved just as much from Star to his current home at Sunny 105.9. He sounds incredible and has realized his considerable potential.

Glenn Beck as a CHR Man
All the attention that Glenn Beck has attracted in recent weeks got me thinking about his days as the morning man at B104 in Baltimore. He worked there around 1989-1991.

Glenn Beck & the Morning Guys was one of the better CHR morning shows that I’ve heard. Beck was not outrageous, as is his image these days, and the talent was quite evident.

Roddy Freeman

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your comments. Just email me at roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net.

Link to Rodney Ho’s AJC Radio & TV Blog:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Are The True Oldies Here To Stay?

Randy Cook is set to join his longtime radio partner, Spiff Carner, on the True Oldies 106.7 (WYAY-FM) morning show starting October 12. I heard it said that adding Cook to the show will not do anything for the station. Is that correct? More importantly, what’s the station’s future?

Will the re-pairing of Randy & Spiff lift the station’s ratings? Probably not except possibly as the result of some initial curiosity. As observers are saying, if you want oldies, 106.7 is your station no matter who is on the air. Will any staff benefit or get hurt by the change? Freddie Brooks, who has been doing the show with Spiff, should be the happiest about this because, after some initial doubt, he has been told that afternoon drive will be his alone. Spiff Carner, who has been working without a contract, might have gotten inflicted with a case of sibling rivalry; the doctor ordered a new contract and a raise. That’s an expensive prescription for Citadel, and whether they fill it is anyone’s guess.

Is True Oldies 106.7 needlessly spending money based on PD Mark Richards’ personal fondness for Cook and Carner? (He was their boss at Fox 97.) My opinion is the positives outweigh the negatives. Acquiring the Randy & Spiff brand should engender positive attitudes and loyalty among listeners, who have known the duo for years. The biggest benefit, however, should be bringing in advertisers who want to be associated with Randy & Spiff. That could make the dollars invested by Citadel pay off, especially if the guys agree to the proverbial sales calls.

From our perspective as radio junkies, airing Randy & Spiff makes True Oldies 106.7 a better station. That’s mostly because it’s created another live, local shift in afternoon drive and a break from all-Shannon-all-the-time.

True Oldies arrived at Atlanta’s 106.7 for three reasons. First, Citadel CEO Farid Suleman was a financial person whose background landed him as Mel Karmazin’s money man at CBS Radio. In 6 years at Citadel, whose stations were not in major markets, he apparently never learned what a flanker was. The fact that he didn’t, however, turned out to be academic when Clear Channel, lusting for billings like those of Kicks 101-5, ignored WYAY’s role in the ABC cluster and took 94.9 country. Second, the True Oldies format gave Imus a distribution channel in the Atlanta market, very important to Citadel when selling his show nationally. (WYAY has since been rescued by WCFO-AM.)

The biggest reason by far for flipping 106.7 to True Oldies was it would be dirt cheap to run. Citadel’s ongoing financial challenges have been well documented. True Oldies would bill less than Eagle, but operating it would cost far less.

True Oldies was created by Scott Shannon, apparently as a labor of love. Its first affiliate was on Long Island. Who knew it would be perfect for a key Citadel business objective, saving money? Citadel stations gave True Oldies mass distribution across the country in (former ABC) markets as large as the Windy City.

The radio industry has been waiting for Citadel’s other shoe to drop. Sooner or later—and later is defined as January, 2010—Citadel will need to pay down some debt. And, the consensus seems to be the company will be forced to shed stations, specifically some former ABC properties in large markets. If at all possible, Citadel would likely hold on to its legendary anchors, WABC and WLS for example. That would seem to make Atlanta’s non-legendary former ABC stations ripe for dealing.

A rumor that Bonneville will buy certain Citadel stations has persisted over the past several weeks. You can bet if Bonneville purchased WKHX and WYAY from Citadel, oldies would be a blast from the past. True Oldies has a 55+ audience and is hard to sell to advertisers. Moreover, Bonneville prides itself on its programming and would likely create a new format for 106.7.

WYAY is a move-in, but the signal is pretty good. Though not as intense as the original Atlanta FM’s, WYAY’s 60 dBu (city-grade) signal, transmitted from Loganville east of Atlanta, goes as far west as Douglasville. The station is capable of being competitive.

I am not saying Bonneville will purchase Citadel’s Atlanta stations or that they will even get sold. That Citadel would part with stations in other markets instead is quite possible. And, no one knows for certain that the company will sell stations at all.

Sooner or later, however, some owner will program a younger-skewing, not-canned format on 106.7. The signal is just too valuable. In the meantime, let’s welcome back the Randy & Spiff team and look forward to hearing folks like Gramps and Ed the Mechanic. Bill Hoger might even show up.

95-5 The Bizzeat
Every station we listen to occupies an image in our mind that’s probably molded by a combination of music, personalities, imaging, processing and everything else that goes out over the air. And, like with every other station, I have a mental image of 95-5 The Beat (WBTS-FM).

Each station is different from every other station in my mind; some are more different than others. But, my mental picture of The Beat is very different from anyone else. A big reason is the unique sound of the jocks.

Does anyone else agree with me that the fulltime jocks on The Beat are white people who are trying to sound like black people? CJ really honed that skill while at Hot 107-9, and Mami Chula, who hails from Wichita, Kansas, has become quite accomplished at it. Even afternoon driver Maverick, who was on the original Q100 staff, is mastering the art.

Okay, maybe I’m going a little too far. Maybe vaunted consultant Steve Smith, architect of the station’s current formatics, wanted to create a unique sound, and part of that was having jocks come across as novel while consistent with the music and the pace of the station; and was not trying to make them sound black. Remember it was Smith who dropped The Beat’s hit-music positioning and changed it to the unabashed “Atlanta’s new #1 for hip hop.”

The CHR/Rhythmic format was originally developed at stations such as B96 in Chicago to target young white people after hip hop burst into the mainstream. Over time, different degrees of CHR/Rhythmic stations have emerged. One of Steve Smith’s big successes was Hot 97 in New York; while defined as Rhythmic CHR, distinguishing the station from Urban was subjective. Even Big Boy’s Neighborhood, hosted by an African-American personality, has been added at a number of CHR/Rhythmic outlets that seemingly target a Caucasian audience.

Atlanta’s 95-5 The Beat shifted to CHR/Rhythmic from CHR/Pop in 2001 when Q100 signed on. Since then, the station has never attracted a mostly-white audience. In the July Arbitron PPM, 46% of its audience was African-American, 15% was Hispanic and 40% was “other,” meaning whites and Asians.

I certainly do not mean any disrespezzy to Smith. The Beat is considered a success though Smith has had some much bigger winners in other markets.

Roddy Freeman

Thanks for reading. Feel free to email any comments to roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net. I would love to hear from you.

Link to Rodney Ho’s AJC Radio & TV Blog:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Arbitron’s PPM: Wobbly As She Goes?

We all knew the Arbitron diary was far from perfect. As a buyer of radio time, I was pretty excited the new Portable People Meter was coming to Atlanta. Soon we would find out what the ratings really were. However, after reviewing the PPM numbers for the better part of a year, I’ve been finding some inexplicable swings in individual station ratings from one report to the next.

Over the years, I’ve looked through countless Arbitron books in numerous markets based on the diary methodology. Overall I found the numbers very reasonable and logical. And I say that based not only on consistency but also on my knowledge of radio in those markets. Occasionally something looking fluky would be there. But, the mantra was to look at the past few books and not just the latest.

Ad agencies adhered to a policy of basing buys on a 2-book or 4-book average. Buyers probably would have told you that combining multiple books was done to nullify any unexplainable bounces, and they would have been correct. The reason that multiple books accomplished that was they doubled or quadrupled the small sample size of one survey.

In the Atlanta market, the monthly diary sample was 1,347, which came to 4,040 over the 3-month survey. Each participant kept a diary for one week. Atlanta’s PPM sample over 3 months is 1,335, about the same as one month of the diary. Nevertheless, Arbitron claimed a method to its madness; each PPM panelist would record his or her listening for 84 days per survey compared to 7 with the diary. The result would be 112,140 “days of observation” from PPM panelists compared to 28,280 from diary keepers.

Arbitron told us that we should shift our focus from sample size to days of observation. The fourfold increase in days would make the PPM methodology more reliable. Charlie Sislen of Research Director, Inc. told a group of CBS Radio/Atlanta clients that he saw no need to base buys on multiple PPM reports. Moreover, using only the latest data would factor in any changes in the market over the past 45 days; no more waiting 4 months. I was sold; my buys would be based just on the latest PPM report.

When I looked at the Persons 6+ shares for August, I saw that Star 94 (WSTR-FM) lost approximately 25% of its average quarter-hour audience in one month. And that was after trending at about the same share for the past 3 months. Star 94 had not changed anything in August, so was suddenly losing a quarter of its audience logical?

Star 94’s most direct competitor, Q100 (WWWQ-FM), had been correcting its music in recent weeks, so did Star listeners react to the change and go to back to Q100? Well, no. Q100 went from a 3.4% share to 3.6%, where it had been in June. And the third station in the CHR genre, 95-5 The Beat, went from 3.6% to 3.4%. Star’s audience apparently left the format yet Q100’s and The Beat’s listeners did not.

Since early this year, Dave-FM (WZGC) had been on an upswing. In the May PPM, the station slid from 3.2% in April to 2.7% but then bounced way up to 3.6% in June. We all thought April was a fluke. In fact, Market Manager Rick Caffey talked about Dave’s steady growth. Then, Dave-FM’s 6+ shares were 2.6 in July and 2.4 for August. Now the June share rather than the May number looks like the fluke.

When Mickey Luckoff, the highly-regarded GM of San Francisco’s KGO, complained that the PPM samples were too small, I thought he needed to see the PPM presentation that explained that days of observation were paramount. However, after reading an analysis of the New York PPM panel by a company called Harker Research, I’m edging toward Mr. Luckoff’s camp.

When Arbitron recruits diary keepers and now PPM panelists, the company attempts to closely match the market’s demographics. After the diary sample or PPM panel is in place, Arbitron determines how it compares to the market’s composition and weights accordingly. For example, if people 18-34 make up 10% of the population but only 5% of the sample, each diary keeper or PPM panelist who is 18-34 counts twice. The survey is more reliable when the percent of the sample is the same or very close to the percent of the population.

Arbitron told us that the PPM panel would be very carefully recruited to mirror the market’s demographics. This would result in more stable survey-to-survey trends than with the diary, according to PPM literature. In the New York market, based on the Harker findings, Arbitron has fallen considerably short of that promise.

Harker says the problem appears to be the panel; that participants are not consistently carrying their meter. Research Director, Inc.’s Sislen expressed concern that the reason the PPM is showing far less listening for females than males is that females have a difficult time carrying their meter in a place that picks up radio signals. As a result of these compliance problems, according to Harker, Arbitron has had to employ a dynamic weighting system to compensate for participants who come and go within the active panel.

Adding this weighting system to the demographic weighting, according to Harker Research, complicates things to the extent that swings in the ratings are inevitable. In the New York PPM report analyzed, the age and sex cells were off by an average of plus or minus 18% compared to the population versus 11% with the diaries. In other words, the PPM’s range of error was almost twice as high as the diary’s. That means some demographic cells are being weighted much more severely now with the panel than they were when Arbitron used one-week diaries.

The Harker Research study looked only at age and sex cells but not at ethnic weighting. Had it looked at ethnic weighting, contends Harker, the differences would have been even greater.

In fairness to Arbitron, the overall PPM results for Atlanta have looked reasonable. In some other markets, Washington, DC for example, most urban stations that were previously near the top of the diary ratings have taken quite a tumble. Furthermore, I’m extrapolating the New York situation into Atlanta, but I think that’s reasonable. I plan to evaluate stations for buys looking at the past few months while considering the most recent month if the market was going through major changes—format flips, personalities jumping from one station to another and the like.

The PPM does not seem like the ratings panacea that I had anticipated. I applaud Arbitron for jumping into PPM and realize that any needed changes could be costly. Stations, which pay big dollars for Arbitron compared to the pennies forked over by agencies, want better measurement but are not excitedly running to the piggybank to pay for it.

With Nielsen now in the radio fray and Arbitron talking about re-entering the TV ratings game, the next year will be an interesting one. Frankly, if Nielsen had continued to partner with Arbitron as was the case in the Houston PPM test market, I wonder whether both companies as well as the radio and agency communities would be better off today.

It’s Shout-Out Time
I want to salute Rob Stearns, who has left Star 94 after over 24 years of service. He was an account executive for 9 and a half years (starting at 94Q), Local Sales Manager for 5 years and National Sales Manager for 10 more. Rob is a solid person who contributed mightily to Star 94’s billings success over the decades. We wish him the best in his future endeavors.

Jeff Hullinger, as most of you know, was released from Cox Radio last week. At Cox, he worked long hours, starting his day as newsman on B98.5 FM during morning drive, and then walking down the hall to WSB-AM after lunch to anchor the afternoon news. Jeff is one of the most versatile broadcasters around, having also done sports on WAGA-TV’s early and late evening newscasts, both radio and TV play-by-play, and a morning drive radio show. We hope Jeff lands in the kind of top-notch position for which he is so well qualified.

Best of Atlanta Radio?
If you’re wondering what I’ve been doing the past few weekends, I’ve been looking for the right flak jacket. That’s because I’m thinking about devoting an issue of AAA to the best jocks in Atlanta radio. I want to be ready for any reaction from those not on the list.

Years back, I wrote a similar column for RadioDigest.com. A local personality called Stick, who was not on the list, emailed to inform me that I knew less about radio than anyone he knew.

Roddy Freeman

Thanks for reading. Feel free to email me at roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net.

Link to Rodney Ho’s AJC Radio & TV Blog:

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

Who says there’s no longer creativity in radio? Radio still has plenty of creativity. It’s just shifted from programming to engineering.

Copywriters and graphic designers say they produce their best work when feeling inspired. In 1989, the FCC gave station owners all the motivation they needed—visions of dollar signs—to inspire their engineers. That was when the Commission relaxed the FM short-spacing rules. The ruling paved the way for outlying stations, perhaps 75 miles from major markets, to move closer and compete in those markets.

The engineers I know in Atlanta radio probably do not need inspiration since they are totally immersed in their craft. In any case, station engineers started getting very creative, plotting sophisticated ways to move their FM’s to serve major markets. And they were fortunate the FCC sometimes could not see the forest from the trees (e.g. “The city of College Park has no radio station.”). Did you know WALR-FM’s change in city-of-license from LaGrange to Greenville had to do with moving WBTS (95-5 The Beat) physically into Atlanta?

No market in America was in the dreams of station owners more than Atlanta, whose increasing population was making radio money grow on trees for the relatively small number of stations sharing in the riches.

Which are the “real” Atlanta (commercial) FM’s with solid signals across the market? They would be 92.9, 94.1, 94.9, 96.1, 98.5, 99.7, 101.5 and 103.3. I count eight. Now, which stations are the move-ins? There’s 93.3, 95.5, 97.1, 97.5, 100.5, 104.1, 104.7, 105.3, 105.7, 106.7 and 107.9. That comes to eleven, more than the real Atlanta signals in what once was an “underradioed” market. And then we have the suburban stations, 96.7, 102.5 and 107.5.

Three of the above FM’s are a different kind on move-in. WUMJ (97.5) replaced a station on 97.7 elsewhere in Georgia. WNNX (100.5) moved in from Anniston, AL, a well-publicized shift that took many years to get approved. And WHTA (107.9) had been a Macon station and moved totally away from that market. The remainder of the stations relocated partway to Atlanta from their respective cities of license, still covering their COL’s with a city-grade signal but also penetrating Atlanta.

Signal does matter, and the real Atlanta stations have had an easier time getting ratings. In recent years, the only move-in that has consistently placed in the top five is Kiss 104.1 (WALR-FM). Yet several move-ins, 95-5 The Beat, 97.1 The River, Majic 97.5 (formerly Praise), 104.7 The Fish and Hot 107-9, have achieved ratings high enough to make a very nice living. They all wished for Atlanta and got it, and in most cases were purchased from their former owners at prices that retired those owners.

Around 1998, Provident Broadcasting Christian Contemporary outlet, WVFJ-FM (then “The Joy FM”), had been doing well as a Columbus/Macon area station. GM Rick Davison saw an opportunity to become an Atlanta move-in. It was not a very-well thought-out move because WVFJ would lose most of its city-grade coverage of Columbus as well as Macon, and city grade only the southernmost smidgeon of Atlanta. The station would throw a strong signal over low-populated places such as Carrollton, Griffin, LaGrange and Thomaston.

To be fair, this was in the pre-104.7 The Fish days, and Contemporary Christian fans might seek out a weak signal to hear their music of choice. And at first, The Joy FM seemed to be doing okay in the exploding Atlanta radio market. Program Director Jerry Williams was hired in 1999 and upgraded the station’s sound. He also changed the moniker from The Joy FM to J93.3. Yet the signal, while huge in scope, was still too weak in Atlanta to bring in any meaningful ratings. In 2001, Salem’s 104.7 The Fish, also a move-in but with far greater Atlanta coverage, much more CCM experience and deeper pockets, signed on; and that pretty much crushed any Atlanta potential that J93.3 might have had.

Now, with Atlanta radio ad dollars in contraction rather than expansion mode, WVFJ reportedly is having financial problems that have put most of the staff on the street.

When WVFJ moved into the Atlanta market, or at least thought it was moving into the Atlanta market, it built a 1,555-foot tower near Greenville, GA. Don’t try to listen to Atlanta’s 92.9 anywhere near that site because you won’t be able to. Concurrent with the move, WVFJ reduced its power to 27,000 watts. When WZGC moved northeast from the roof of the Westin Peachtree Plaza to the Richland site in 2005, WVFJ was able to obtain FCC permission to bring its city-grade signal into more of Atlanta from a site just south of the current one. But, we’re not talking much more of Atlanta; it would carry just about to downtown.

If the new 1,440-foot tower is built, J93.3’s power will jump to 88,000 watts. But don’t expect ratings to grow in Atlanta. The brightest consequence of the move would be a big expansion of the city grade signal over Columbus (but not Macon). However, last year, WBOJ/103.7 took to the Columbus airwaves with a Christian Contemporary format and, its lower power notwithstanding, covers the market better than WVFJ would with its new signal.

What do you do now if you’re WVFJ? Giving up on Atlanta probably would be painful, but sooner or later, someone has to realize that “it is what it is.” Would J93.3 be able to move back to its former transmitter location? I don’t know, but that’s probably doubtful. These days, engineers are closely eyeing any move of a station on the same or an adjacent frequency; and are positioned to jump into the slightest opening.

If moving back is physically impossible, the next best thing would be to build the new site for which it has a CP. Then target Columbus and its environs. If Christian Contemporary does not work, and some say the format’s current music mix is part of the problem, at least WVFJ would have a competitive signal for a different format.

If building the new site is economically prohibitive, the only thing left would be to forget Atlanta and target J93.3’s primary coverage area, which would not be ideal by any means. For one thing, about half the coverage is in the shadow of Atlanta stations, which have a programming advantage.

An FM with a huge signal that’s a white elephant seems an anomaly, but if you take a look at the numerous move-ins in the U.S. since the short-spacing change, you’ll learn WVFJ is not alone. Seeing those dollars signs makes all of us do strange things. If J93.3 stays at its current site and hammers down the for-sale sign, some other company will be seduced by the potential riches of Atlanta radio and then fail at doing another format. Just ask P.T. Barnum.

Mickey Gets Louder
WDWD-AM/590 turned on its new 12,000-watt transmitter last week for its daytime hours; it remains 4,500 watts at night.

I first heard the 590 daytime signal in the 70’s, and it was huge. I remember it booming in just south of Greenville, SC. When I moved to Atlanta in 1994, I turned on 590 and could hardly get it. In fact, I called the station to find out if something was wrong.

I soon learned 590 had moved its transmitter from N. Druid Hills Road to Powder Springs, probably 25 miles west of the Atlanta city limit. While the daytime power was still 5,000 watts, nights had to be decreased to 4,500. I later found out that all kinds of things were wrong with the site and the construction, even before you got to Atlanta’s poor ground conductivity.

Former Disney/ABC Atlanta chief engineer Russell Smith was taking care of 590 along with WKHX and WYAY. But after Citadel took over the former ABC stations and turned a Lexus into a Yugo, Smith preferred to accept an offer from Travis Tritt to manage the singer’s estate. Although Smith was leaving Citadel, Disney/ABC hired him to continue handling Radio Disney/590, no longer a sister station to Kicks and True Oldies. Smith implemented the signal upgrade to 12,000 watts.

My home is in Northlake, on the complete opposite side of Atlanta from Radio Disney. Around here, the daytime signal is much improved. I still cannot pick up the station at night. Part of the reason might be my close proximity to WSB-AM.

WSBHistory.com is Back
After many hours of work, http://www.wsbhistory.com/, created by Mike Kavanagh, is back. Mike had requested that after his death, the site be turned over to and maintained by the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame. GRHOF President John Long reports that much more of Mike’s material still needs to be cataloged and published. Even now, the site is very worthy of being checked out.

Roddy Freeman

Thanks for reading. Feel free to email me at roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net.

Link to Rodney Ho’s AJC Radio & TV Blog:

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Q100 Faces the Music

I don’t have to tell you that Atlanta’s CHR landscape leans toward the unusual. In early 2005, the market had an Adult CHR, Star 94 (WSTR), and a straight-ahead CHR, Q100 (WWWQ). Star 94 had been the adult station for years and, even after having younger listeners taken by 95-5 The Beat and then Q100, Star enjoyed respectable ratings. Most important, Star’s billings stayed somewhere up in the stratosphere, far above where you would have expected based on the station’s ratings.

Star had been ahead in the coveted 25-54 demo while Q100 and The Beat fought over the 18-34 audience. All three stations were considered successful though Star far out-billed its direct foes.

Things started to change in April, 2005 when Susquehanna, a private company whose owners retired, sold its prized collection of stations to Cumulus Media Partners, partly owned and totally run by Cumulus Media. Susquehanna was a broadcaster; Cumulus is a company that makes its living owning stations, if you get my drift. Up until then, Cumulus’ footprint consisted almost entirely of medium and small markets.

Cumulus started putting its stamp on Q100, first evolving the station to a much-more-music sound except in mornings, probably a good thing since Arbitron’s PPM was already visible in the rear-view mirror. Speaking of mirrors, the music clock was reset to mimic virtually every other Cumulus CHR in the U.S., safe, adult and heavily tilted toward recurrents. Nights were the exception, with some rhythmic product creeping in after 7PM.

If Star 94 had not for some reason lost its mind at the end of 2005, it could have had Q100 on the ropes. Star’s first major programming decision that year was not to renew Steve & Vikki, which was a legitimate move given the audience had aged out of Star’s demo. Then, in an amazing sequence of events, Star 94 brought in a youthful morning show and seemingly changed the station’s target audience to 18-34, including major changes in music and imaging. Yet the station kept the adult-oriented Cindy & Ray in afternoon drive with what was almost a talk show.

Star 94’s missteps gave Cumulus the urge to move in for the kill; that and the obvious end of 99X as a viable property motivated the company to move Q100 to 99.7, giving Q a signal as big as Star’s from the best FM transmitter location in the Atlanta market. Initially, the frequency shift and Star’s terrible decisions helped Q100 to skip ahead of Star 94 for the first time despite Q100’s music.

Q100’s reign was temporary as GM Rick Mack and PD JR Ammons were hired to right Star 94. Restoring Star to its heritage Adult CHR position took just several months and quickly knocked back Q100 to an also-ran. Although Star 94 has added formatic brilliance since then, just restoring the overall sound was enough to expose Q100’s music.

While Cindy & Ray have taken Star 94 back to a competitive position in the morning, Q100’s Bert Show still clobbers them and will continue to do so. That notwithstanding, C&R is the right morning show for Star. Star has been winning in the other dayparts and especially on weekends.

Q100’s music has caused an interesting thing to happen. The station has been a Hot AC in CHR clothing. It still beats Star 94 in 25-54 but loses 18-34. Is Star 94 an 18-34 station? Well, yes to a degree. But Star’s Adult CHR playlist and adult morning show would tend to skew 25-54 if up against a true CHR, which should be winning in 18-34. Star’s clock, completely devoid of rhythmic, is so much more current than Q100’s, and Star has been winning the younger demos almost by default.

Perception and ego mean a lot, and even though Q100 should be happy to be winning 25-54, Star 94 is #1 in the 6+ beauty contest. Finally, Q100 has started tweaking its music to be more current, and now has 3 powers spinning more than 85 times per week; a few sub-powers in the 50-spin range, and a few power recurrents playing fairly frequently. The station now comes out of its late-in-the-hour stopset, which concludes with the top-of-the-hour jingle, with a power current more often than previously.

Q100’s 90’s gold has diminished significantly, even in midday, which is recurrent-heavy on both stations. Most of the annoying Rob Thomas and Goo Goo Dolls material has vanished (except for Her Diamonds, of course).

Q100 is still leaning too much on recurrents for my taste. With PPM numbers being released monthly, my guess is Q100 will keep an eye on what effect, if any, the adjustments made so far have before going further. Cumulus CHR Senior VP, Programming Jan Jeffries probably wants to keep the station as safe as possible. And winning in 25-54 is a good thing. Cumulus/Atlanta Operations Manager Rob Roberts is certainly well-versed in CHR programming. He served a lengthy stint as captain of Miami’s Y100 although the station got middle-of-the-pack ratings during his tenure.

Has Radio One Hit a Wall?
New Radio One/Atlanta Operations Manager Hurricane Dave Smith blew into town last week and started tweaking formatics even before finding the men’s room. Hot 107-9 is no longer the “Digital Hip-Hop Station” but is now “Atlanta’s Hottest Hip-Hop.” In fact, the station had already made a number of on-air changes ever since Regional Manager Bruce Demps decided he preferred Hot’s ratings be closer to V-103’s, starting with the dismissal of longtime PD Jerry Smokin B. Yet Hot’s Persons 6+ shares over the past 3 months have been 4.4, 4.1 and 3.9. Are formatics going to get it to the next level?

Early this year, Radio One introduced an Urban AC format under the Majic moniker and created a simulcast on 107.5 and 97.5. Praise, which had lived at 97.5, moved to the company’s weakest signal, 102.5. Cox Urban AC Kiss 104.1 had been racking up some mighty impressive PPM numbers, and Radio One wanted a bigger piece of the action.

Majic obtained what it considered the perfect weapon for countering Kiss’ Tom Joyner in mornings, the Steve Harvey Show. Ironically, Radio One owns the Tom Joyner Morning Show through its 2005 purchase of Reach Media. Harvey beats Joyner in a lot of markets, especially in the young demos. In what must have been an embarrassment to the Joyner folks, WGCI-FM in Joyner’s hometown of Chicago recently dropped the show in favor of a local host. Joyner did get picked up by Soul 106.3, a rimshot with a weak signal over much of the market.

Radio One corporate programming guru Jay Stevens spent significant time in Atlanta to get Majic off the ground and moving in the right direction. Plus, the Majic launch and Harvey in mornings were promoted heavily by billboards on what seemed like every corner.

Kiss has been able to well withstand the Majic frontal assault thus far. In fact, over the past 3 months, the 6+ PPM shares are Kiss: 7.0, 7.0, 7.2 and Majic 5.1, 4.7, 4.5. Now that Hurricane Dave Smith is about to start his work with Majic, we wonder whether the Kiss levees will hold.

So back to the question: Has Radio One hit a wall?

Hot 107-9 is performing close to its potential in my opinion. Going against V-103 will never be easy. V-103 has a huge signal while Hot is a move-in with a decent signal. V-103 has the heritage, and each host is an all-star and unique in his or her rite. That’s not to say Hot 107-9 doesn’t have some stellar personalities; Maria Moore, Emperor Searcy and the Dirty Boyz all fit that description.

Hot 107-9 is also younger in appeal than V-103, which has managed to dominate until the age of 49. One thing that Hot could do something about if not for budgets is the morning show. We question Ricky Smiley’s appeal to Hot’s young listeners. Smiley’s BET show, his claim to fame, ended years ago.

As far as Majic 107.5/97.5 versus Kiss 104.1, it’s difficult to figure out which has the signal advantage. The Radio One combo is comprised of a good signal (107.5) from the north complemented by a fair signal (97.5) from the south. Kiss has a huge signal but transmits from south of Atlanta in Newnan.

The formats are not really identical though both could best be categorized as Urban AC. Majic for the most part skews younger and features old school on Thursday. Majic broadcasts the syndicated Michael Baisden in afternoons while Kiss emphasizes its hourly music sweeps outside of morning drive.

In my opinion, Kiss is a better-programmed station during its music hours. I would describe Kiss midday host Cynthia Young as functional but effective. She executes the format to a tee. Art Terrell and his booming voice in afternoon drive combine with the formatics to make the station sound great. Meanwhile, is Majic afternoon host Michael Baisden too talkative for the PPM’s liking?

In evenings, I have to give the edge to Majic and Silas “SiMan” Alexander. Former Kiss Slow Jams host Stacy Dee got caught in a budget crunch last year, and Program Director Jay Dixon, who tries hard to whisper, is not the voice for that show.

Kiss 104.1 in my opinion has the advantage in programming and possibly in signal, covering the market in seamless fashion on one frequency.

The Praise move from 97.5 to the 3,000-watt 102.5 signal has worked out well since a lot of the station’s older audience lives within close range. Yet Radio One has significant obstacles to overcome if Hot 107-9 and Majic 107.5/97.5 are going to pose serious competition to V-103 and Kiss 104.1, respectively.

If you had any doubt that radio stations are slaves to their budgets, consider this. Early this year, when Hot 107-9 replaced The A Team with the syndicated Ricky Smiley in mornings, midday personality Maria Moore was simultaneously released. A Team member Rashan Ali was still under contract so she was placed in middays. But, Rashan Ali apparently was earning more bucks than Maria Moore. So as soon as Ali’s contract ended, she was let go, and Maria Moore was rehired.

Roddy Freeman

Thanks for reading. Feel free to write me at roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net.

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