This past week, my radio obsession landed me on the roof of the Westin Peachtree Plaza (see photo), home of the 100.5 (WNNX-FM) antenna, as tower hunter Scott Fybush (http://www.fybush.com/) came to town for a visit. As we all remember, the Westin roof was previously the home of Q100’s “bigger, clearer, more powerful signal.”
Rock 100.5, which replaced Q100 when that station moved to 99.7, is now a year old. Building a station takes time; Q100 took a couple of years to gain any traction, and it was only due to the unusual patience of its former owner, privately-held Susquehanna, that Q remained in the CHR format.
As early as 2003, some observers suggested that Q100 (WWWQ-FM) move to the full-power 99.7 signal. The frequency’s occupant, alternative 99X, with a history of racking up big ratings and winning awards, had started to flounder, as the alternative genre was waning. Back then, Q100 was a 3,000-watt station at about 960 feet, equivalent to 25,000 watts at 300 feet.
When Q100 was able to increase its signal to 12,500 watts at 978 feet in 2005, with just a slight null toward Gwinnett, the frequency-switch chatter quieted down. But of course a year ago, new owner Cumulus Media Partners did kill 99X and move Q100 to 99.7, creating the opening for Rock 100.5.
Cumulus’ strategy was a sound but possibly shortsighted one. Clear Channel had made what many considered a boneheaded move by throwing away the 30-year old 96 Rock brand. The company previously had terminated what some felt was the market’s best morning show for men, The Regular Guys.
Cumulus decided to bring back “Atlanta’s Rock Station,” and making The Regular Guys its morning anchor seemed a no-brainer. TRG would put Rock 100.5 on the map immediately. Q100 at the time was on the heels of longtime CHR competitor Star 94 and growing. Cumulus sensed Star was vulnerable given the departure of Steve & Vikki and their replacement by The Morning Mess. The move to 100,000-watt 99.7 would lift Q100 to new heights and put the fork in Star 94.
Rock 100.5 was not going to be a duplicate of what 96 Rock had been. Cumulus VP/Programming Val Garris and Cumulus/Atlanta Operations Manager Rob Roberts launched a product that featured musical creativity. The new station emphasized Classic Rock, including some deeper cuts, and also played some Active product. In fact, Rock 100.5’s Classic Rock element almost immediately pushed Project 9-6-1 to concentrate on Active Rock.
While it all made sense, I would have taken a longer-term view. Q100 at 100.5, despite trailing Star 94, was a highly-profitable operation that was growing. I would have bitten my lip, endured the #2 CHR position, and left it there. Even at 100.5, Q100 might have jumped ahead of Star 94 after the morning changes; we will never know.
In the minds of many, Atlanta had room for a second AC station, an opening created by Clear Channel’s questionable flip of 94.9 to country. I would have put such a station on the powerful 99.7 signal. Keep in mind this was before B98.5 hired Steve & Vikki. AC targets a somewhat older and therefore more lucrative demographic than CHR.
AC audiences historically have taken longer than CHR to build. And competing with B98.5 would have at first been expensive. But, had Cumulus Media Partners been willing to invest the time and money, the company could have had a more profitable combo than Q100 at 99.7 and Rock 100.5. Of course, taking the long view is not exactly a mantra for Cumulus.
Regarding a diagnosis for the ailing Rock 100.5, I will first mention what is not wrong. The most frequent diagnosis I hear is the “small signal.” Well, the signal is small only when compared to the market’s 100,000-watt properties. Yes, the South does have a bevy of 100kw blasters. But, most markets do not. In my hometown of Baltimore, Rock 100.5’s signal would be considered an excellent one. Rock 100.5 throws a city-grade signal almost to Cartersville to the northwest and Griffin to the south.
The real proof of the pudding, moreover, lies in the cume of Q100 when it occupied 100.5. Subsequent to the power increase, Q100 had a huge Arbitron cume but low TSL, true evidence that its signal was not problematic.
Another thing that is not the problem is the air staff. The Regular Guys are not what they were in their first several years on 96 Rock; that is, very edgy and provocative. Larry and Eric have been tempered by their misadventures at Clear Channel and today’s more restrictive environment. Although the show is not as compelling, it probably is still the best male-oriented program on a music station.
Erin in middays is a medium market talent, but I doubt that matters. Rock 100.5 is music intensive in the daypart, and the personality just has to be passable. Axel in afternoon drive is revered by local rock listeners. While I am not a fan of his weak radio voice, he is likeable and pleasantly conversational, and has name recognition in this market. English Nick, like Axel a known quantity in Atlanta radio, was a good choice for evenings.
With imaging another strong suit, our CT scan focuses on music. While the attempt at variety and creating a different kind of station were laudable, the playlist seems too scattered. The Classic Rock rotation, Rock 100.5’s focus, features too many unfamiliar cuts and repeats the most popular classics too infrequently in my opinion. And the Active Rock songs seem inconsistent with the station’s Classic Rock selections.
Rock 100.5 is operating in a crowded space. In the December PPM, 41% of Rock 100.5’s audience was in the 45-54 demographic cell. This puts Rock 100.5 pretty much in direct competition with Dave-FM and 97-1 The River, both of which are very slightly older. With Project 9-6-1 skewing heavily 18-34, the 35-44 cell is the most underserved by Rock stations. Would Rock 100.5 be wise to replace its Active Rock songs with a limited amount of somewhat older product more compatible with Classic Rock? In any case, more music focus might help Rock 100.5 step out of its ratings malaise.
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