Monday, March 23, 2009

Star 94 Rearranges The Pieces

Just 2 and a half weeks after firing The Morning Mess, Star 94 has mornings and afternoons set for its renewed competition against Q100. Cindy & Ray take over AM drive, and “On Air with Ryan Seacrest” shifts to the PM ride.

Both changes make some sense on a couple of levels. But I must admit some disappointment with the Seacrest move although it had been rumored.

Cindy & Ray in mornings is a logical move for reasons recounted in our March 9 post, not the least of which was taking Star 94 back to a music-intensive direction during afternoons. C&R pretty much kept the station’s ratings afloat last year although the show was sinking in recent months. The ratings decline might have been due to the new PPM measurement, which has not been kind to talk-oriented programming on music stations, with mornings a possible exception.

The original rationale for Cindy & Ray was to bring “different radio” to afternoon drive on Star, which was experiencing ratings erosion with its regular music clock. With C&R out of the daypart, the challenge became filling the slot with something compelling. And you could argue that Ryan Seacrest will bring a star quality (no pun intended) to afternoons. In fact, Star 94 could get more mileage out of Seacrest than most stations because it all started there for the multimedia personality.

The C&R and Seacrest moves also make sense from a budget perspective. Lincoln Financial Media appears to be in a cost-cutting mode, and the new Star 94 schedule appears to recognize that. And while LFM might be getting its station P&L’s propped up for a future sale, the company does not have the debt that most of its competitors do.

The reasons that the Seacrest move disappoints me—and makes me wonder whether Star 94 will catch Q100—are that I do not think the show is especially good, and I haven’t seen evidence of ratings growth in other Seacrest markets during middays.

The problem I have with Seacrest is not so much the same run-of-the-mill celebrity news that you hear on morning shows everywhere or the trite interviews with American Idol contestants and judges in season. My reason for not caring for the show is that it requires eliminating many of Star 94’s hourly formatic elements, which causes On Air to lack the depth of the station’s regular sound.

For the past 3 weeks, overnighter and production director Doug Miller has been handling the 10AM-noon shift. Ryan Seacrest going to afternoon drive opens up the midday shift to 10AM-3PM again. Star 94 has not been promoting middays, but my guess is that Miller will be handling the shift, either totally voicetracked or voicetracked from noon to 3, until the station brings in someone.

Miller is a definite decline in quality from Tripp West although I realize the jock is not critical in this music-intensive daypart. Here’s my question: Creative Director Danny Wright fills in on weekends and sounds a lot better than Miller. Why not have Wright voicetrack middays and just keep Miller on overnights? Star 94 music director Michael Chase is also a very good jock though I know his plate is full.

An additional rumor is that eventually Star 94 intends to voicetrack evenings, where Darik currently does a good job. I hope the rumor does not pan out. (Come on economy!)

Star 94 has also made a change in its imaging voice. Following a year of Dave Kampel, the station has retained Joe “The Voice Guy” Szymanski out of Columbus, OH. I don’t know whether the change was a result of cost-cutting, but Szymanski should work out fine. His sound is cross-generational, which is appropriate for Star 94, and consequently he straddles the CHR/Hot AC border.

My wondering about the move of Seacrest to afternoon drive notwithstanding, the changes will make Star 94 a better station. It will have a somewhat older-skewing morning show consistent with its target audience, a show capable of stealing listeners from both The Bert Show and Steve & Vikki; done by a duo that already has a fan base albeit in afternoon drive. Most important, Star 94 will be consistent with the successful CHR paradigm, a personality-driven morning show and a music-intensive clock for the rest of the day.

One final thing: I noticed a formatic adjustment on Star 94. I love the hooks of upcoming songs that CHR stations have used going into a stop set, and Star 94’s was no exception. Nevertheless, I heard Arbitron’s VP/Programming Gary Marince tell a group of PD’s not to announce that a stop set is imminent, which the song snippets do. The minute-by-minute PPM numbers show listeners switch stations when a stop set starts and switch back toward its end. Star’s new strategy of inserting a shorter coming-up-next song promo in the middle of a stop set is smart.

I have a strange feeling that we might not yet have seen the end of the changes at Star 94. Who knows?

Thanks for reading. Your comments are welcome at

Link to the TV/Radio Blog by the AJC’s Rodney Ho:

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