Monday, March 30, 2009

Cox Strips Away the GM Level

Cox/Atlanta, widely considered the market’s best and most successful cluster, implemented its third layoff in 6 months last week.

When all was said and done, two of radio’s best and most respected executives were cut out of the picture, apparently victims of the struggling economy. First Chris Wegmann, Atlanta Market Manager, and then David Meszaros, GM of WSB-FM and WSRV-FM, were sadly shown the door. Wegmann has since accepted a job with Radio One as Market Manager over Dallas and St. Louis.

Marc Morgan, Cox Radio Executive VP/COO, had already been spending more time at the WSB complex recently. Now Morgan will divide his time between Corporate and overseeing the Atlanta cluster.

Dan Kearney, GM of WSB-AM, and Tony Kidd, GM of WALR-FM and WBTS-FM, received (and allow me to coin a term) a demotion-promotion. Both are no longer GM’s. Kearney is now Market Manager-Sales, and Kidd is Market Manager-Programming.

Each station still has its own General Sales Manager. WSB-AM, WALR-FM and WBTS-FM each still have their own PD; one PD continues to handle both WSB-FM and WSRV-FM.

At first glance, what happened at Cox seemed emblematic of what is happening around the U.S. Clear Channel and CBS now have Market Managers overseeing multiple markets. The same thing is starting to happen with Program Directors.

Take a closer look. This so-called cutback has added a management level. The PD’s were reporting to the GM’s; now they are reporting to Market Manager-Programming Tony Kidd.

The logical thing would have been to name Dan Kearney Market Manager and David Meszaros Director of Sales. The Cox brain trust must have felt Tony Kidd was not expendable. Kidd is Cox’s urban format mogul and considered important to the programming of urban stations across the Cox chain. Moreover, and this is just a guess, perhaps making Kearney the Market Manager could have created a political problem with Kidd. Unfortunately, Meszaros was the odd man out.

So both Kearney and Kidd find themselves a step below their former perch as a GM. Yet both now gain responsibility over more stations. Kearney has long been perceived as a fast tracker and the future leader of Cox/Atlanta. At some point, when the economy improves and advertisers start spending again, Kearney will find himself on top. Kidd had been a GM with Cox for a long time, first in Miami and then here. Nevertheless, management has always perceived him as a programming-oriented manager. I would not be surprised if being appointed Cox’s corporate head of programming was in the cards for Kidd, possibly in tandem with a future Kearney promotion.

New PD for B98.5 & The River
Jeff McHugh has been hired as the new PD at B98.5 FM and The River. McHugh has tons of experience as a PD and has done a variety of interesting things in the broadcasting business. He is the man who paired former Atlanta personality Mitch Elliott with a female longtime TV and radio legend in Portland, OR. I’ve heard their afternoon drive show, and it’s terrific.

I looked at McHugh’s website, and he’s an idea guy. So I’ll ask the obvious question: How will such a creative person fit in as PD of B98.5 and The River?

B98.5 is known to be Cox CEO Bob Neil’s favorite station. Neil of course was the architect of Cox’s AC format but also has historically been very hands on at the Atlanta flagship. The station’s PD’s executed the format based on Neil’s firm direction, down to the music clock. Was hiring Jeff McHugh akin to bringing in Michelangelo to paint the garage?

In the past couple of years, Bob Neil has wavered from his strict philosophy of music-intensive morning shows. First, he agreed to bring Rick & Bubba to WZZK-FM in Birmingham, which has paid big dividends to Cox. Second, Neil gave his nod to hiring Steve & Vikki for B98.5, a move that seems to have brought revenue to the station.

Unless The River decides its eroding ratings mean the audience is tiring of the station, Steve & Vikki are the only element in McHugh’s two stations that could possibly be in the same sentence as “creativity.” And if McHugh plans to add or subtract anything from the morning show, I would bet he has the endorsement of McCoy and Locke.

We never did find out why Paul Ciliano was fired from the B98.5/The River PD position. He apparently was well liked and worked hard. He also had the confidence of Bob Neil. Before the Steve & Vikki era, then B98.5 GM Dan Kearney was commenting to me on the differences between Kelly & Alpha and the market’s other morning shows. Kearney’s exact words were, “My PD has a coronary whenever music isn’t playing.”

This is only a wild guess; no one has suggested to me what happened to Ciliano. But old habits die hard. I wonder if something that he heard on Steve & Vikki was giving Ciliano “chest pains.” And if so, instead of heading up the street to Piedmont, did he head to McCoy and Locke?

Terrell’s Got Game
Cox’s Kiss 104.1 will certainly get competition from Radio One’s new Urban AC simulcast at 107.5 and 97.5. Steve Harvey’s morning show will really take it to Tom Joyner on Kiss. And Michael Baisden, while not having the track record of Harvey, gets ratings in a lot of markets.

I must say, however, that Art Terrell, who is against Baisden on Kiss, is sounding absolutely great. His combination of voice, delivery and attitude combine for some terrific radio. When Terrell first replaced Mitch Faulkner, I was disappointed because the difference in voice seemed drastic. Faulkner had a tremendous deep voice but little personality on the air. Terrell eventually won me over and is now sounding better than ever.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to email me at

Roddy Freeman

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

No comments:

Post a Comment