Monday, May 11, 2009

Taking Country Radio’s Temperature

Last week, I mentioned that an entire 12+ point has gone missing from the market’s Country share. I came to that conclusion by looking at Atlanta’s two biggest Country players, WKHX and WUBL. WKHX has lost the point that I was talking about.

The comment prompted an email from an old friend, Dene Hallam. I take Dene’s comments seriously because he has been one of radio’s best programming minds for years. He guided a number of Top 40 and Country stations, taking the reins of former New York Country blaster WHN at the age of 28. Dene is one of only two people to be named Billboard’s PD of the Year in two formats (the other being Scott Shannon).

Programmers of Dene Hallam’s caliber have limited options in today’s consolidated environment. Happily, he found a home directing the programming of Moby in the Morning, heard on 10 stations. Dene was once Moby’s boss when both worked for Atlanta’s (formerly) ABC Radio stations.

Dene pointed out that Country’s ratings have actually grown since Arbitron’s PPM measurement entered Atlanta. And he correctly noted that 3 stations carrying Moby, WNGC, WTSH and WEKS, are contributing to that growth. Of course, these stations are not competing head-on with Kicks and The Bull but are doing well in their respective corners of the market.

Dene’s email got me thinking. I recently mentioned to some Atlanta radio people how one would expect Country to be big in this southern market; but that Atlanta’s high African-American composition made scoring big ratings difficult for non-Urban stations. My impression was that AC, Rock and Country were all underperforming formats here.

I decided to take a look at the 12+ Country shares compared to those of other formats and had one of those “aha moments.” Here’s what I saw:

WKHX: Jan-5.3, Feb-4.3, March-4.4
WUBL: Jan-2.2, Feb-2.3, March-2.5
WWLG: Jan-.8, Feb-.9, March-1.1
WNGC: Jan-.5, Feb-.5, March-.4
WTSH: Jan-.4, Feb-.5, March-.3
WEKS: Jan-Not Reportable, Feb-.1, March-.2
WBTR: Jan-Not Reportable, Feb-.1, March .2

Totals: Jan-9.2, Feb-8.7, March-9.1

Conclusion? Country in Atlanta is pretty healthy; it’s just fragmented. Yes, Urban owned a whopping 31.1% of the audience in March. Outside of Urban, Country’s 9.1% share was lower than only Rock with 11.7 and News/Talk with 10.8 (8.2 of which was WSB-AM). As Jim Bakker once wrote, “I was wrong.”

Some might argue The River is not a Rock station, and some could feel the same way about Dave-FM. Eliminating just The River would decimate Rock’s share and move Country behind only News/Talk and Urban. AC, by the way, could muster up only 8.7% in its non-Christmas mode, but that’s if you include The Fish and J93.3; I consider them to be Contemporary Christian though most of their listeners would likely turn to AC in a pinch. B98.5’s share in March was 4.8%.

WNGC, Toccoa and WTSH, Rockmart (Rome) are in Polk and Floyd counties, respectively, both not in the Atlanta Metro. Yet these powerful stations attract enough audience within the Metro to appear in Arbitron. So do Kicks and The Bull have the ability to pull from WNGC and South 107? Or do listeners of these outer market stations find them more in tune with their local needs?

In any case, researching this week’s column was a revelation for me. Country passed its physical with flying colors, to my surprise. Urban radio’s dominance notwithstanding, Country overall is doing quite well in Atlanta.

WGUN Heads Toward Standards
WGUN-AM (1010) might still be “Atlanta’s Big Gun,” but it’s no longer “your station for gospel and guidance.”

Oh, it still offers plenty of guidance with its plethora of brokered shows. But the Gospel between brokered shows has been replaced with Standards. WGUN has hired Atlanta radio veteran Al Hardee to host its morning show from 7-9AM. Hardee also is a host on the syndicated Music of Your Life, does production for WKHX and WYAY, and handles an occasional weekend shift on Kicks. He’s been doing a Standards show on WGUN on Sundays from 2-6PM for the past few weeks and is sounding good.

WGUN becomes Atlanta’s only station that plays entire hours of Frank Sinatra, Nat Cole, Jerry Vale and the genre’s other stars. WMLB-AM (1690) airs some Standards, but they are surrounded by Country, Top 40, Classical and whatever else owner Joe Weber digs up from his personal collection.

Roddy Freeman

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  1. The country format is a joke. The Nashvill sound has become so fact, I was absolutely shocked when local bar favorites, the Zac Brown Band, charted last year.

    I really hope that might signal a turn to harder working acts, and away from the pre-packaged garbage of Chesney and Urban, but I doubt it.

  2. Excuse me "Eric" Keith Urban is an incredibly talented artist and if you would go see him in concert you would see that he puts on an amazing show and is packed with energy from start to finish. The Zac Brown Band actually just opened up for Keith in Charleston WV. Keith works so hard to bring anamazing show every night and I don't think that it's fair of you to say otherwise.