Monday, April 27, 2009

March PPM Lifts Radio One

Radio One needed some good news, and the company got it with its Atlanta cluster’s performance in the March PPM numbers.

R1’s new Urban AC simulcast, Majic 107.5 and 97.5, jumped from 4.0% in February to 5.6% in March in the overall 12+ shares. And Gospel Praise 102.5, which moved from 97.5 to the weaker 102.5 signal in February, increased from 3.7% to 4.6%.

Until a couple of years ago, Atlanta was the first place that Radio One looked for good news. After all, the firm had created a 4-station cluster from scratch and paid pennies compared to what established signals would have commanded. The 97.5 frequency, Radio One’s first in Atlanta, involved purchasing a station at 97.7 in a small Georgia market, signing it off and building 97.5. The 107.9 signal was a move-in from the Macon market; Radio One acquired it from the now-defunct U.S. Broadcasting.

Both 107.5 and 102.5 were new signals whose licenses were initially awarded to individuals whom Radio One bought out over time. In both cases, the company employed the original license holders over a period as part of the deal. In the case of 107.5, that employee, Frank Johnson, quit his engineering job with WABE-FM to become Station Manager of Radio One’s Atlanta cluster, where he served for almost 10 years.

In our post of February 2, we predicted success for Majic based on the facts that Steve Harvey usually beats Tom Joyner and that Michael Baisden gets ratings in markets across the U.S. Radio One, however, is using two decent signals to accomplish this, each proven capable of getting ratings on its own. And that makes the billings needed to make this a sound strategy higher than they would have been with one signal.

Simulcasting 107.5 on the 97.5 signal does nullify Kiss 104.1’s signal advantage in the market’s southern environs. But Harvey and to an extent Baisden are destination shows; their fans will find them on any listenable signal. So while we still wonder whether Radio One made the correct long-term decision by using two signals for one station, the numbers would not likely be so good so quickly if Majic were on 107.5 only. And we do not blame Radio One for taking the fastest road to success in this tough economy and competitive market.

It’s interesting that while Radio One gained 2.1 share points in the March ratings versus February, Majic’s most direct competitor, Kiss 104.1, lost very little, going from 7.4% to 7.1%. And though urban contemporary giant V-103 went from 10.2 to 9.2, its March number was more representative of where it had been in the early months of PPM. In the money demo, Adults 25-54, Kiss landed in a tie for second place; Majic was fourth.

March’s higher Urban ratings could be a function of listeners sampling the new Radio One menu. Where things go from here should prove interesting and more indicative of the true picture. But Majic has made its presence known and will be a player for the foreseeable future. Subsequent PPM reports will tell us whether Praise 102.5’s ratings leap was for real.

With Harvey and Baisden the anchors of Majic 107.5/97.5, what happens from 10AM-3PM and 7PM-Midnight is not critically important. Morning and afternoon drive will lead the station to ratings glory. Carol Blackmon sounds very good in midday, but I feel Kiss, where Cynthia Young holds things down, has an edge formatically, presenting a richer sound. We’re glad SiMan has finally returned to a strong signal after performing on the weak 102.5 for years. He does an excellent job in evenings for Majic.

Gospel has historically been a tough sell to ad agencies, which envision listeners as old and poor. And while the demographics of many Gospel FM’s have dispelled this, Praise’s audience has been older than that of the typical station in the format. If Praise continues to do well on the in-town-and-west-side 102.5 signal, we wonder whether the older-and-poorer label will be more reality than perception.

Dave-FM Gets Its Act Together
It sure didn’t take long for new Dave-FM Program Director Scott Jameson to get the AAA station’s music and imaging straightened out.

Since its launch in 2004, Dave-FM’s music had been inconsistent. At first, within its “Rock Without Rules” positioning, the music was all over the place. The songs evolved into what some termed (PD) Michelle Engel’s personal playlist, and they probably were right.

Mike Wheeler, who replaced Engel, steered Dave-FM into a decidedly AAA direction, but the mix veered away too much at times.

The music now sounds great, in my opinion, and is consistently AAA. The new imaging, which I also like, is done by talent and writer Nick Michaels, who was the voice of CNN International for years.

On this past Sunday’s edition of WSB-AM’s Atlanta’s Morning News, Pete Combs interviewed AJC Editor Julia Wallace regarding the newspaper’s revamp, coming this week. When Combs broached the AJC’s new management structure, Wallace talked about a more streamlined setup. Combs said it sounded like a budget cutback to him. Wallace retorted, “I should ask you about what happened there at WSB.”

Thanks for reading. I would love to see your comments. Email me at

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

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cumulus Changes Rock Atlanta

Cumulus Media Partners delivered a double dose of new programming to the Atlanta market over the past 2 weeks. Rock 100.5 (WNNX-FM) modified its format, and 99X sort of returned to the terrestrial airwaves.

Rock 100.5 now plays “quality rock,” a positioner that’s been used at other stations and been most associated with the AAA format. In fact, Savannah’s Q105.3 makes use of it.

WNNX is playing what it considers the best rock of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and today. It encroaches on the playlists of Dave-FM, Project 9-6-1 and The River. The term “quality” is of course subjective, but I have to agree that what I’ve heard so far fits the descriptor.

What’s been eliminated is the heavy metal stuff from the 1980’s. Some active rock songs remain in the mix; the station seems to love Shinedown (is that even rock?), but the number of active titles is way down.

The consensus of the posters on Radio-Info is the station is DOA, and they usually turn out to be right. However, I’m going to take a wait-and-see attitude on this one for a couple of reasons.

Rock 100.5 had to do something. Its 12+ shares lower than 2.0 forced its hand. With sister station Q100 doing fine with a female audience and the 99X translator hitting the air with a young male target, keeping 100.5 male-oriented was a logical decision.

Atlanta’s crowded rock dial did not leave Cumulus with a ton of options. Going directly against the more powerful and established Dave, The River or Project would not have been wise. I applaud the CMP/Atlanta programming brain trust for being creative.

Throughout the history of music radio, mixing musical genres has of course not worked. When people hear a song outside their preferred niche, the finger hits the button. Nevertheless, does the way I described the new Rock 100.5—the best of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and today—sound familiar? It should, because it’s almost word for word the way many AC’s have successfully positioned themselves for years.

So is it possible that Rock 100.5 can borrow a page from the AC playbook and implement the same strategy for men as AC does for women? The obvious difference is that AC stations pick songs from the four decades that have pretty much the same tenor. Most Active Rock, AAA and Classic Rock have a markedly different sound. And rock fans tend to be somewhat polarized. Still, WNNX is playing “quality rock.” Subjective as that is, will the sound have enough of a common denominator to bridge the genre differences?

Whatever the size of its audience, I believe Rock 100.5 will skew slightly older than previously because its sound is somewhat softer. That’s probably a good thing since Cumulus will be able to sell Rock 100.5 to advertisers as a combo with the new 99X translator, which should be younger. Any ratings picked up by 99X could be neatly packaged with those of Rock 100.5.

Cumulus Media Partners struck a great deal when it traded one of its Albany FM’s for the 97.9 translator. Using the transmission line and antenna of Q100, the new W250BC has a very good signal, at least in a car. Yes, it’s only 250 watts compared to Q100’s 100,000 watts. But antenna height is as important as wattage with FM.

The new 97.9’s signal is approximately equal to the lesser category of Class A stations, which is 3,000 watts at 328 feet. Consider this: The primary (60 dBu) signal radius of such a Class A facility is 15.03 miles. Plugging 250 watts at 1,063 feet into the formula, 97.9's city-grade signal should travel about 14.6 miles. Keep in mind you cannot gauge the radius by the formula with complete accuracy because translators are not afforded the protection of regular commercial FM’s.

Bringing back the 99X format makes a bunch of sense for several reasons. First, 99X still has brand equity in the market. And my guess is was just not enough on its own to lure ad dollars. Together the translator and the online should attract small advertisers. Second, while the 99X format had waned, the station still had a loyal fan base. Though the billing potential was no longer commensurate with a 100,000-watt station, it's in line with the value of the translator. Third, the new 99X should help Rock 100.5 get on ad buys and bring in more revenue. Positioning 100.5 and 97.9 as one male buy would give Cumulus bigger ratings and higher ad rates. Finally, the predicted older skew of the new Rock 100.5 should provide the perfect opening for the younger 99X.

What I’m finding a little strange is “99X at 97.9.” Yes, I understand 99X is a brand and that John Dickey loved 99X well before he was involved in it. But how ridiculous will that positioning sound in three years? Why not say something like, “Your X is back, now at 97.9” or “Everything alternative is back, now at 97.9”? Everyone would get it.

The station is airing some amusing self-deprecating imaging. So how about adding “99X minus one, 98X” to the arsenal? Hey, maybe it’s just me.

I would love to hear your comments. Feel free to email me at Thanks for reading.

Rodney Ho’s AJC Radio & TV Blog:

Monday, April 13, 2009

102.9 – Now You Hear It, Now You Don’t

One of the more bizarre episodes in Atlanta radio history played out over the past 2 weeks. And the good news is that a second episode is coming.

Radio Assist Ministry’s new translator, W275BK, signed on and turned some heads. The new facility had rebroadcast WCLK-FM during the testing phase. Somehow, the radio community just yawned and paid scant attention. But when the station hit the air for (almost) real, the format was hip-hop, and the moniker was Streetz 102.9.

Radio Assist Ministry has carved out an interesting business model. The company has a stated objective of building FM translators and then selling them to Christian organizations that broadcast “clean, wholesome” programming. The new Atlanta facility was sold to Extreme Media Group, LLC.

Radio Assist Ministry could get an argument from some that hip-hop is not exactly good clean programming. And a fair amount of doubt has been cast about that Extreme Media is a Christian organization.

Streetz 102.9’s power is 170 watts from 531 feet up the New Street tower in Kirkland. The signal is pretty good in the close-in parts of town. As a translator, it has to repeat a broadcast facility so the station is doing an LMA with Clear Channel on one of 105.7’s HD channels.

The 102.9 signal had little if any processing. But as a translator, it cannot have its own processing. Any processing would have to be done to the 105.7 HD signal and then repeated by virtue of the simulcast.

The new translator has some market value in Atlanta. A well-informed radio person suggested that 102.9 city grades more population than 96.7 in Peachtree City. Yet that station once programmed hip-hop and had close to a 1% share 12+.

Ratings or not, 102.9 will be a club station and an alternative to Hot 107-9. Ratings are not important to clubs; cash registers ringing are. Streetz could well bill 3 million or more. And expenses will be low. In terms of talent, all Streetz needs is a capable person—not a Frank Ski, mind you—to handle mornings and make appearances. It can be a music machine outside of mornings. If the reported $235,000 is really the price that was paid to Radio Assist Ministry, Extreme Media Group—whoever they are—made out like thugs in a hip-hop song.

As Streetz 102.9 hit the air, rumors started flying about the identity of the owners and operators. Radio One immediately pointed the finger at Steve Hegwood, who recently left Radio One as its Atlanta programming chief. By the end of last week, the unofficial word on the street was that Hegwood had negotiated the deal, but that the money had come from former Radio One/Atlanta GM Wayne Brown. An additional rumor surfaced that John Matthews, corporate head of engineering for Radio One, built the facility. (Matthews handled the engineering for Hegwood’s now-defunct On Top Communications, lending some credence to the rumor.)

Steve Hegwood according to sources has a non-compete with Radio One. After his On-Top Communications went bust, Hegwood returned to Radio One to program WKYS-FM in Washington, DC and oversee Hot 107-9 in Atlanta. He expected to move into the head programming position at Radio One corporate, but R1 President Barry Mayo bypassed Hegwood and selected former WPGC PD Jay Stevens. That left no room at corporate for Hegwood, who reluctantly accepted the Operations Director position in Atlanta. By all accounts, he handled the job with consummate professionalism but eventually quit to become his own boss again.

According to a friend who’s plugged into what’s happening at Radio One, CEO Alfred Liggins was “suing everyone,” starting with Steve Hegwood. The friend also reported that Wayne Brown was “running for the hills.” I’m not sure why Brown, who departed Radio One almost a year ago and has no non-compete, would be in jeopardy. I have heard that Brown had been calling his former advertising clients, but that seems his right.

I could not find any mention of Hegwood or Brown in the FCC database. The application was signed by Keenan Heard, identified as the CEO of Extreme Media Group, LLC. But where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Hegwood and Brown have got to be in the mix.

The AJC’s Rodney Ho found an Atlanta address for Extreme Media Group. Rodney went to the location, which turned out to be an apartment building, and Steve Hegwood was listed as a tenant. Rodney buzzed Hegwood, who answered. Rodney stated the purpose of his visit was to discuss Streetz 102.9. Hegwood replied, “I have nothing to do with that” and terminated the conversation. A few hours later, Streetz was off the air and has been silent since.

One thing is for certain: W275BK will be back on the air and probably as a hip-hop station. That’s the only format that seems to make sense in light of the in-town signal and its standalone status in the market.

If Hegwood and Brown are involved, they probably have several options. They could keep the station off until Hegwood’s non-compete runs out or sell the license to someone else. Some other options might exist, such as reworking the contract so Hegwood assumes his interest after his Radio One deal is over, but that’s just conjecture. I’m no legal expert, and this thing is shrouded in secrecy. Stay tuned as this developing story unfolds.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to email me at

Roddy Freeman

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

Monday, April 6, 2009

It’s Oldies Full Force for 106.7

You have to hand it to Paul O’Malley, Mark Richards and all the other Citadel GM’s and PD’s who have had to live with the cards dealt to them by Farid Suleman. Their once proud talent rosters have been stripped to the core while Citadel hangs on for dear life.

Eagle 106.7’s (WYAY-FM’s) 2008 flip from Country to True Oldies made some sense. For one thing, the station’s reason for being, flanking Kicks 101.5, had been taken away by The Bull. (Apparently, Mr. Suleman was not familiar with the concept of flanking anyway.) But the big reason for the switch to True Oldies was that it was cheap and therefore music to the ears of the Citadel chief.

It’s been years since radio stations owned by networks were saddled with network obligations that did not fit a station’s format. However, Citadel changed all that last year, requiring its True Oldies stations in Atlanta and Washington, DC to start the day with Imus. Ad agency network radio buyers are reluctant to place their clients on syndicated shows not broadcast in the top markets. In this case, the Imus revenue potential took precedence over establishing the oldies format with a morning show.

The True Oldies outlets in Atlanta and Washington became creative after a while. They cut the Imus show into snippets, airing key segments as well as commercials but leaving out a lot. They replaced the left-out portions with…True Oldies. This seemed to upset the Imus aficionados and not really satisfy the Oldies lovers.

True Oldies 106.7 got the big break that it was looking for when WCFO-AM (1160) agreed to carry Imus starting on Monday (April 13). WCFO is unique in that it has probably the worst 50,000-watt signal in the U.S. Imus, though, will be an excellent addition to 1160, whose format is a collection of second-hand talk hosts.

Do network radio buyers care that Imus will be on a station with no ratings? Not really. After all, WCFO will give the show an Atlanta affiliate.

Starting Monday, the True Oldies afternoon show with Freddie Brooks and Spiff Carner will shift to mornings, a move that I’m sure is making them ecstatic. I just hope Citadel will be able to afford to keep a local show in PM drive. After having a local show there, just extending the shift of the overexposed and canned-sounding Scott Shannon would be a letdown to listeners though where else would they turn for their oldies fix?

If True Oldies goes with a local show in the afternoon, Steve Boomer Sutton, who wants badly to get back on the air, is a logical candidate. I doubt any True Oldies live talent is a full-time employee, including the morning guys, given Citadel’s austerity mantra.

FM Translators Hit the Market
When move-ins were happening in the 1990’s, stations were clawing each other to get onto the money-making Atlanta airwaves. Now, with move-in frequencies pretty much taken, radio companies are finding new ways to get in on the action. Last week, two new translators were heard on the air.

Streetz 102-9 is a hip-hop music machine with 170 watts from an antenna perched on the original New Street tower. The FCC’s website reports that it’s owned by Radio Assist Ministry. Somehow, Clarke Atlanta University, which owns WCLK-FM, has been involved in all this but is definitely not the owner. And another wrinkle is that Radio One is reportedly suing former R1 programmer Steve Hegwood, whom the company believes has been unofficially consulting Streetz. Still another rumor is that former Radio One/Atlanta GM Wayne Brown will become GM.

An FM translator by definition must translate, in other words duplicate another FM station. Therefore, Streetz 102-9 has leased space from Clear Channel on one of WWVA-FM’s (105.7's) HD channels.

Cumulus Media Partners’ new translator at 97.9 has been testing over the past week, carrying sister station Rock 100.5. The new facility has 250 watts from the newer Richland plant. According to sources, 97.9 will bring back Alternative Rock as 97.9X.

And what will it translate? It will duplicate the programming on one of 100.5’s HD channels.

What is Cumulus’ thinking here? I’m guessing the company will sell 100.5 and 97.9 in combo, with 97.9 contributing the younger end of a male buy. But I’m wondering whether 100.5 will be forced to modify its music so it won’t be going head-to-head with the Active Rock portion of its playlist.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to email me at

Roddy Freeman

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