Monday, February 16, 2009

What's Next For Dave-FM?

This past week, 92-9 Dave-FM (WZGC) named veteran Scott Jameson as its third Program Director. Jameson’s rock resume is impressive and includes the last 15 years at Classic Rock WFBQ-FM and Alternative WRZX-FM in Indianapolis.

Mr. Jameson will face some challenges, one of which is the limited and splintered rock audience in the Atlanta market. Another is what to do for a morning show. But Dave-FM’s most glaring need in my opinion is establishing its musical identity. Since the station launched in 2004, it hasn’t had consistency musically although its days under Mike Wheeler have been an improvement over those of its first PD, Michelle Engel.

Dave-FM started its life with the slogan, “Rock Without Rules.” The station’s playlist was all over the place. People were calling it AAA, and it did contain some elements of the format. But it was far from the real thing. Some observers referred to Dave-FM as Michelle Engel’s personal playlist, and they likely were right.

After 3 years in which the station’s high-water mark was about a 3 share in Persons 12+, Mike Wheeler was brought in to right the ship. Wheeler steered Dave-FM in a decidedly AAA direction, to the point where the format descriptor probably fit. But the end product was kind of an AAA format with a rock edge, and was heavy on 80’s groups such as The Police, Dire Straits and Tears for Fears. And I’m not sure whether any other AAA stations play The Killers.

I would expect that Scott Jameson knows music and is capable of bringing a consistent AAA sound to Dave-FM if that was the strategy. But, an even bigger question is whether AAA would be capable of generating big ratings in Atlanta. The format seems to do that only in heavily Caucasian liberal markets.

On the talent side of things, Dave-FM has most of the pieces, including two of the market’s most talented hosts, Mara Davis and Margot. As mentioned above, mornings have been and still are a puzzle.

When talent agent Norm Schrutt received his Lifetime Achievement A.I.R. Award, the AJC’s Rodney Ho wrote an article that quoted some of Schrutt’s clients, among them Mara Davis. Davis commented that Norm was usually right, and provided the example of Schrutt advising her against moving to mornings, which she co-hosted with Dunham at the end of Z93, Dave-FM’s predecessor station. Mara commented that after making the move, she realized Norm was right. My question is, what made him right?

The paring of Dunham and Davis did not produce the most exciting morning show. Yet Mara has proven herself a compelling performer and an audience favorite. With the difficulty that Dave-FM has had in finding a morning show in its almost 4 years on the air—in light of the low incidence of success in any station’s bringing in a successful morning show these days—why not let Mara take the lead role along with a male news reporter/second banana?

Yes, I realize Mara has a dedicated audience in midday and is associated with the Radio-Free Lunch. But I think moving Mara to mornings is by far the best bet the station could make. And when you add to that some radio-geek criticism that Mara talks too much for midday, the move makes even more sense.

Margot, currently in evenings, is the only Dave-FM personality who really has that true AAA sound. She could easily slide into midday. Rich Sully Sullivan in afternoon drive does not have the world’s best broadcast voice, but he’s a good conversationalist and has some creativity. Tim Orff could replace Margot in evenings. Orff is not a great personality in terms of delivery, but I enjoy him because he has a sense of humor, and the fun he has is contagious.

Aside from the music and morning show, the station’s position is glaringly absent from its imaging. We know Dave-FM is not “Atlanta’s #1 hit music station” or “Atlanta’s station for old school and R&B.” But, what is it? Finally, if AAA remained the station’s direction, Dave-FM might want to go with imaging that was a bit more laid back.

Even with the increased audience compression over the past 10 years, that the powerful 92.9 signal has languished with shares in the 2’s (in Persons 12+) kind of boggles the mind.

V-103’s Midday Decision
V-103 finally named its new midday personality, and she is Elle Duncan from the Ryan Cameron show. Of course, I was not privy to the reason for the decision, but I happen to think Ramona Debreaux, who had been filling in, sounds a lot better. In fact, I am not a fan of Duncan’s high-pitched voice.

V-103 has been the New York Yankees of Atlanta radio. Every fulltime personality is a star and is unique. While Elle Duncan was not a star in her own rite, she does continue the station’s tradition of sounding unique in every shift. So perhaps tapping Duncan can be rationalized that way.

I of course don’t know the internal politics at V-103, but the overall station will certainly carry Duncan to high ratings.

My email address is Thanks for reading.


  1. The Killers have been an AAA artist for quite some time, and their track "Human" is #11 this week, down from #9 last week. AAA is often splintered between stations more reliant on "classic rock" golds and stations playing more of the 80s to now "adult modern rock" that includes bands like the Bravery, Killers, Kings of Leon and Keane.

    Dan Steele

    Northland Community Media

  2. Many stations are now focused on playing new music from late seventies and eighties, calling it classic alternative. The soundtrack to the video age has become the newest movement in the adult alternative, bringing up new wave, as well as classic album tracks mixed in with today's current songs. Most of the songs seem to be aimed at a female audience, which was not played much in the last few years. But at its best, the style gained significant exposure for artists who were ambitious, intellectual, and/or idiosyncratic, yet still accessible enough to meet the requirements of mainstream radio programmers who wanted more sophisticated music that wasn't loud or overly disturbing. Modern adult alternative is a musical gumbo that works with fans of the MTV age of the eighties that are tired of classic rock radio.