Monday, March 16, 2009

The Bull Charges. But Is It Too Late?

Clear Channel’s 94-9 The Bull seemed mired in a deep slumber almost since its launch 27 months ago. With mediocrity in all areas, the only listener buzz the station attracted was when it hired Cledus T. Judd. The only industry buzz it attracted was when it promoted its PD, Clay Hunnicutt.

Several weeks after new President/Market Manager Melissa Forrest arrived, I asked a salesperson if she had much interaction with the new boss. The response I got was, “She’s very focused on product, and she’s been all over The Bull.”

Well, I have to guess that Forrest owns some red dresses that look an awful lot like a cape to a bull. The station has finally awoken and gone into attack mode. And it’s sounding pretty darn good.

Melissa Forrest’s programming smarts are well known to those who have worked with her. One of her former co-workers at CBS Radio in Dallas, where Forrest was once employed as a sales rep, said she always had strong feelings on programming issues, suggesting songs to be added and formatics to be adjusted.

With the addition of the new morning show with Jason Pullman and Kristen Gates, The Bull’s quiet revamp is apparently complete. And for the first time, I can say The Bull is a very good-sounding station with the possible exception of its weekend air staff. Weekends are made slightly less painful by Kristen’s recorded Sunday afternoon feature show and Lance Houston’s Saturday shift.

I am really impressed with Pullman, who was the morning fill-in from the time Q100 signed on in early 2001 until several weeks later when The Bert Show debuted. Back then, he was Jason Dean. Following his temporary stint in Atlanta, Dean took over evenings at Hot AC Mix 107.3 in Washington, D.C., where posters on universally panned him. I must admit that he sounded like a minor leaguer when he filled in on Q100. Wow, he has come a long way.

The Dunwoody High graduate replaced Ryan Seacrest in afternoon drive on Star 98.7 in Los Angeles, where he worked from 2003-2005. He has also built a huge voiceover business, doing work for some of the biggest and best TV networks and marketers in the country. Pullman is a definite high achiever.

With new Matador—excuse me, Program Director—Scott Lindy guiding The Bull, is the station now poised to lock horns with Kicks 101-5? Lindy comes highly recommended.

Pullman and Gates seem to have good chemistry, and the morning show appears to be top-tier. I liked Kristen Gates on Star 94, where she reported traffic and chatted with Cindy & Ray. I also enjoyed her as Cadillac Jack’s partner on Kicks. Nevertheless, she did not seem to fare well at all when she tried to carry the brunt of the morning show post Cledus. The new dual arrangement appears to be working for her.

As great as mornings on The Bull are going to be, Cadillac Jack & Dallas on Kicks will still be formidable. Both are beloved heritage Atlanta personalities. I’ve heard it said that Cadillac Jack is not a morning man. But not being funny should not be confused with not being good. The show is not meant to be funny. I guess the majority of morning shows try to be funny, but few succeed. Cadillac and Dallas both sound excellent.

Midday personality Madison Reeves and evening personality Ty Bentli on The Bull are voicetracked, and both have immense talent. In fact, they far outshine the jock whom they sandwich, live afternoon personality Lance Houston. I guess what Houston lacks in talent, he makes up in enthusiasm.

Middays and evenings are where Kicks is most vulnerable. Citadel cutbacks have left Kicks depleted of major market talent in those dayparts. While 94-9 The Bull is voicetracked in middays and evenings, its talent is far superior. And I doubt listeners have a clue that Madison and Ty were recorded in other markets. After all, aren’t they “live from the Hardy Automotive Group Studio?”

The Bull’s imaging, music and formatics have improved exponentially. The music is now familiar, and the all-time favorites are culled from the best country of the past couple of decades. The Bull on air has identified an enemy, Kicks 101-5, and has positioned itself as the more-music station.

Kicks has very effective John Willyard imaging, and Program Director Mark Richards makes magic out of formatics. The signals of the two competitors are comparable.

Overall, I would have to say The Bull is a slightly better station by virtue of its far more-talented people in middays and evenings, voicetracking notwithstanding. A problem for The Bull, however, could be its recurring repositioning and the mediocrity of its first 2 years. The station introduced as an in-your-face country outlet with “the biggest stars, the biggest hits,” soon followed by the laid back “real comfortable country,” followed by just plain lethargy. And there was Big D & Bubba, then Cledus and then Todd & Kristen. The Bull has been a disappointment to many who have tried it, and possibly tried it repeatedly. At what point is the boy crying wolf?

My feeling is The Bull still can succeed over time, but its strategy for marketing itself in other media is paramount. (Hopefully, The Bull can afford an ad agency.) The station’s history has made attracting listeners a more difficult proposition. Also, keep in mind the country audience is said to be among the most loyal. (By the way, I would still love to know what Clay Hunnicutt was thinking during the first 2 years.)

In any case, it’s now or never for The Bull. The station’s credibility as a product worth trying is most likely nearing its end. Will Clear Channel ride The Bull to success? This will be fun to watch. Ole!

Roddy Freeman

Thanks for reading. My email address is

Link to Rodney Ho’s AJC blog on radio and TV:

No comments:

Post a Comment