Friday, July 24, 2009

Is Playing It Safe Dangerous for Q100?

The Top-40 format has always been known for familiarity and repetition. The format has always cumed high; lots of people listen for short periods of time. In the old days, the short time spent listening and high cume were attributed to young people being “button pushers.” In those days, there were no such things as music sweeps and stop sets. (But there were “twin spins!”) However, the pattern still reflects CHR station ratings.

Throughout the years, repetition has worked. In the days of AM Top 40 in the 60’s and 70’s, WABC in New York played about 25 songs and repeated them continuously. The number one record was played once an hour. Every song aired on the station had to be a bona fide hit; new music was not part of the equation unless it was by the Beatles, Rolling Stones and the like. WABC’s ratings were huge for 20 years until FM took over.

Jan Jeffries, CHR programming chief for Cumulus, has always believed in playing it safe. The company’s CHR’s, which were in medium and small markets, did not take chances. They played the softer CHR product from a playlist replete with recurrents. And the stations did—and do—pretty well ratings-wise.

When Cumulus Media Partners, half brother of Cumulus Media, took over the Susquehanna stations in 2006, “All the Hits Q100” (WWWQ) was just that, the only Atlanta station playing straight-ahead CHR. Q100 used to promote the fact that Star 94 did not play some of the hits, but Q100 did.

Well, that all changed quickly. Q100 became a Cumulus CHR clone, and the music shifted to the softer side of CHR, with some rhythmic product in the evening. Recurrents played a starring role in every hour.

I took a look at what Q100 played in the 6-7PM hour on July 22nd:
Jason Mraz – I’m Yours
Avril Lavigne – Keep Holding On
Shinedown – Second Chance
Christina Aquilera – Come On Over
Jesse McCartney – How Do You Sleep
Pink – Please Don’t Leave Me
Lifehouse – Whatever It Takes
Katy Perry – Waking Up in Vegas
Daughtry – Feels Like Tonight
Lady Gaga – Love Game
Nickelback – If Today was Your Last Day
Kelly Clarkson – Behind These Hazel Eyes
David Cook – Time of My Life

Of the 13 songs played, 6 are on Billboard’s Hot 100. Moreover, rhythmic product was obviously left out of the mix (although some is played on Adam Bomb’s evening show).

Back to the subject of the column. The Jan Jeffries “condom formula”—always play it safe—has worked in medium and small markets. But is it a dangerous way to compete in Atlanta? My answer is probably not.

Let’s look at a few things straight out of the June PPM numbers. Q100’s listeners break out like this: 6-11 – 3%, 12-17 – 8%, 18-24 – 14%, 25-34 – 36%, 35-44 – 24%, 45-54 – 11%. Star 94’s age composition looks like this: 6-11 – 10%, 12-17 – 12%, 18-24 – 17%, 25-34 – 23%, 35-44 – 19%, 45-54 – 12%.

Now, let’s check out one more station. Here is B98.5’s demo breakdown: 6-11 – 4%, 12-17 – 3%, 18-24 – 6%, 25-34 – 16%, 35-44 – 20%, 45-54 – 19%, 55-64 – 22%.

As you can see, Q100 predictably skews older than Star 94 and younger than B98.5, but closer to Star 94 than B98.5.

Consider this: Based on weekly cume, 47% of Q100’s audience also listens to Star 94; 46% of Star 94’s audience also listens to Q100; those are comparatively high numbers. Of B98.5’s audience, 26% listen to Q100, and 28% listen to Star 94; those are moderately high numbers.

Star 94 and Q100 both use CHR formatics, but Star’s music is more current. (Star is somewhat heavily recurrent in middays.) Neither plays rhythmic product (with the exception of evenings on Q100, when the audience is smaller). B98.5 is positioned as an AC station but has a somewhat unconventional playlist, leaving out current and for the most part recurrent songs.

So who says you have to be a straight-ahead CHR to be successful? Q100 is really claiming the market’s Hot AC space and has likely taken some of the younger end from B98.5, a station with excellent personalities but a questionable music mix. Q100 is also vying for the older end of the younger end, so to speak. Of course, Star 94 is also in hot pursuit of the CHR and to some extent the Hot AC listener, and outshines Q100 in the younger demos almost by default.

In the Houston market, Cumulus Media Partners’ legendary KRBE has adopted the Jeffries condom formula and remains very strong in the Hot AC demos. Meanwhile, CBS introduced Hot Hits 95-7 to the market with a real CHR format and has stolen the very young folks.

Q100 could remain strong; it has one of the best morning shows in the U.S. and good personalities who, with the possible exception of Adam Bomb at night, are acceptable to a Hot AC audience. If Star continues to pilfer the younger end of Q100’s listeners, Q100 might be forced to adjust its music somewhat. But unless B98.5 moves to a more traditional AC playlist, Q100 just might continue to happily occupy most of the market’s Hot AC space.

Roddy Freeman

Thanks for reading. I would love to hear from you by email at

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

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Will Star 94 Replace Seacrest with Daniels?

It was announced this week that Chase Daniels will be joining Star 94, but his role has not yet been revealed.

Daniels is a 6-year veteran of Cox CHR WAPE in Jacksonville. He did afternoon drive until getting caught in a budget cut a few months ago. He has an excellent reputation as a jock.

Star 94 PD JR Ammons certainly knows what he’s getting. Ammons programmed The Big Ape until rejoining Star earlier this year.

So what duties will Chase Daniels perform at Star? If you’ve been reading AAA over the past few months, you’re aware I think Ammons has done a great job bringing Star 94 back on track; and that the one weak spot in my opinion is afternoon drive, featuring “On Air with Ryan Seacrest.”

I have always assumed a major reason for airing the syndicated Seacrest is saving money. And frankly, his ratings have not been bad. Star gets high marks for producing the show; it sounds as good as a local station has the ability to make it sound. Maybe it’s just that I’m into radio, but to me the show sounds boring and cheap.

Since my uncle used to say that to assume “is to make an ass out of you and me,” I’m going to guess that Ammons has roped off the afternoon drive spot for Daniels.

Traffic reporter AC has been let go, and station vet Chris Carter has been filling in. This has led observers to predict Daniels will take AC’s place. And with Daniels being out of a job combined with a bleak outlook for seasoned radio people, that’s not impossible. But somehow I still feel he would have held out for something more substantive, and that Ammons would have considered him too overqualified for traffic.

I don’t know the politics inside of Star 94 and therefore am not aware of why AC was axed. (He did a weekend air shift recently and was not bad.) Is it possible the money freed up in letting go AC as well as Creative Director Danny Wright will be used to fund slotting Chase Daniels in afternoon drive?

Whether or not this comes to fruition, the hiring of JR is proving to be the right decision. In addition to being a real radio guy with a terrific programming mind, he has a keen understanding of Star’s heritage.

During the Dan Bowen salad days in the late 90’s, Star had huge ratings and billings to match. The reason for its ratings success was that the station had young people by default; there was simply no place else for youthful Caucasian listeners to turn except the urban stations.

In October, 1999, 95-5 The Beat signed on and started siphoning off the lower end of Star 94. At that point, Star was in a slight bind; if it added younger, rhythmic product, it would take the chance of ceding its primary target audience to B98.5. So it wisely stayed with its Adult CHR approach and made some adjustments through the years. Although ratings eroded somewhat over time, Star 94 continued to bill huge. The station stayed on track until taking a serious wrong turn in 2008.

Now That Randy is Gone
That WGST did not renew Randy Cook’s contract for morning drive came as no surprise. After all, Clear Channel does not seem to have money to spend. David Hull, the station’s top-notch morning news voice, met the same fate months ago.

This is obviously no reflection on Randy Cook. He is a terrific person and talented radio professional.

The station says Mike Stiles is temporarily filling in until someone is hired. Stiles is a talent, and I would not be disappointed if he continued to do the shift. After all, who could CC afford as a permanent hire? Would the station “hire” a syndicated host? If so, why not just shut off the transmitter?

As many of you recall, I suggested in a recent post that Clear Channel move El Patron to 105.7, put the underperforming Viva on the shelf, and use 105.3 to simulcast WGST. While 105.3 would not be the perfect signal coverage-wise for WGST, it seems the only chance to free the station from being a waste of electricity and would give it an opportunity to rekindle ratings and billings.

Braves on Dave-FM?
Last week, I brought up the possibility of the Braves landing on a 680 The Fan/100.5 simulcast next season. Commenting on the same subject, a couple of Radio-Info posters brought up the possibility of Dave-FM picking up the team.

My feeling is that will not happen within Dave’s current Triple A format. The station places too much emphasis on its music, and baseball would be a deterrent. Yes, Dave-FM carries the Falcons, but that’s one day per week.

Some have posted about the fact that CBS has introduced FM Sports stations in Dallas, Detroit and Baltimore, and is about to do the same in Washington and Boston. The posters wondered whether Dave-FM might follow suit.

That’s not implausible, but I doubt it will happen. For the most part, CBS Radio’s new FM Sports properties are somewhat signal challenged, and the company also owns highly profitable music outlets in those markets.

Sports is a viable format for stations with signal problems for a couple of reasons. First, sports fans will seek out the stations even if the signals are weak. Second, Sports can bill well even with low ratings because of the pure audience that these stations deliver; the format is perfect for beers, cars and other male-oriented categories.

Dave-FM is a full-power signal and has the potential to bill huge with music. Of course, 92.3 has not been able to find a music format that has realized that potential since its CHR days in the 80’s.

For a long time, I felt the station should go Urban AC and be a real companion to its sister station, V-103. (Of course, that might have slightly cannibalized the upper end of V.) But that opportunity was lost when Radio One started the 107.5/97.5 Urban AC simulcast which, together with Kiss 104.1, created too formidable a competitive situation for a third Urban AC.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear from you at

Roddy Freeman

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

Friday, July 3, 2009

Rock 100.5: Great Variety or Train Wreck?

Rock 100.5 has not had a lot of time to establish its Quality Rock sound. After all, it’s had one-and-a-half PPM survey periods to show what it can do. So maybe I’m being unfair to evaluate its potential this early.

When the station tweaked its format and rolled out the Quality Rock positioning in April, I took a wait-and-see attitude. After all, top-rated AC stations play the best music spanning four decades; couldn’t a Rock station do the same?

Aside from Rock 100.5’s ratings showing no movement thus far, I’m coming to the conclusion that the various genres of rock on the station are too different, making WNNX sound incoherent and unfocused. I actually love a lot of the songs played on Rock 100.5, but some of the current stuff, such as “Champagne Supernova,” doesn’t seem to mix with ZZ Top’s “Cheap Sunglasses.” And somehow, Classic Rock bands such as the Rolling Stones and Lynyrd Skynyrd sound awkward adjacent to Coldplay and Nickelback.

I’m not sure where the answer lies. Bands like Coldplay and Nickelback are getting into Dave-FM territory. Others, such as Shinedown and Champagne, overlap with Project 9-6-1, which holds a fairly firm grasp on the market’s 18-34 Rock listeners. And, Foo Fighters and 3 Doors Down as well as Pearl Jam and others of the grunge ilk are kind of leaning toward sister translator 99X at 97.9. With such acts as the Beatles and The Who, Rock 100.5 is going up against The River and its distilled version of the Classic Rock format.

The various niches and decades of Rock and its fans seem just too different to all co-exist on one station though I do applaud Rock 100.5’s creativity.

Some people have suggested moving 99X from the low-powered translator at 97.9 over to 100.5. That’s not a move that I would make. Based on 99X’s final years on a full-power signal, I wonder if the audience and billings that it would command would be commensurate with the value of the 100.5 signal. And yes, I realize the signal is small compared to Atlanta’s 100,000 watters, but it’s still good enough to get ratings. Aside from a partial null toward Gwinnett, WNNX puts a strong signal over the geography where most of the population resides.

This makes for a nice segue into our next subject.

Where Will the Braves Head?
This week in his column, Tom Taylor wrote that 5 years ago, flagship WSB-AM declined to meet Clear Channel’s offer to carry the Braves.

That’s not how I remember it. At the time, the word on the street was WSB had been blindsided by the Clear Channel deal. I don’t know the veracity of the rumor, but the fact that former WSB GM David Meszaros had been making statements to the AJC that the station would be retaining the play-by-play suggest it was true. Then, WSB ostensibly became more profitable without the Braves.

But, WSB’s timing, intentional or not, proved impeccable. In 1993, WSB bid somewhere in the stratosphere to pull the Braves away from WGST. So except for the first 3 super seasons, WSB carried Atlanta baseball throughout the dynasty. Clear Channel emptied its pockets just in time to see the team start losing.

By all accounts, Clear Channel is done with the Braves after this season. So where will the team go next?

The Braves returning to WSB is within the realm of possibility. Keep in mind, however, that the station has seen its ratings and profitability remain intact during 5 seasons without the team. Nevertheless, the Braves would add an intangible to the station and bring it attention. So if the price is right, and my guess is it probably will be, WSB could be in the hunt.

The other possibility being tossed around by observers is a combination of 680 the Fan and Rock 100.5. The two stations are kind of cousins but owned by different entities, 680 The Fan by the Dickey family and Rock 100.5 by Cumulus Media Partners. But, I’m sure some arrangement could be worked out.

The pressing question is how Cumulus Media Partners could afford the rights; according to reports, the company is not in the best shape financially. I suppose the Dickey family could buy the rights for 680 and make a simulcast deal with Rock 100.5, but how much could the Dickeys, wealthy as they are individually, be capable of paying? Or better said, would it make sense for low-billing 680 The Fan to pay dollars for Braves rights that it would not come close to recouping?

With the Bravos not a make-it-or-break-it proposition for WSB and the other rumored partners strapped for cash, the team better be prepared to take in far less in rights fees for the upcoming several years. Even if Clear Channel has a late-season change of heart, that company has its own well-publicized money issues.

Let’s forget about money for a minute. With Cumulus Media Partners’ 100.5 possibly facing a rocky future, and if the station was anchored by the Braves, would All Sports make sense for its format?

CBS Radio, under the direction of sports radio guru Tom Bigby, recently put All Sports on FM’s in Baltimore, Dallas and Detroit. And, the company is rumored to be doing the same in Washington this month. The stations in Baltimore and Washington are signal-challenged and therefore appropriate for something different. So like All News, the All Sports format has been announcing its presence on the FM dial. In Baltimore and Detroit, CBS also owns AM sports stations; in Detroit, they simulcast.

In Atlanta, 100.5 going Sports would cause the obvious complication: Sports on FM would cannibalize the Dickeys’ 680 The Fan. As mentioned previously, the stations are owned by two different entities. Yet CBS apparently believes the sum of an AM and an FM Sports station is desirable, meaning combined ratings leading to getting on more ad buys at higher rates.

Could there be a way to work out a simulcast, such as Cumulus Media Partners doing an LMA with 680? My guess is yes because you usually do well when you negotiate with yourself.

With 100.5 on a somewhat uncertain course and sports a means of becoming a destination when you have some (although minor) signal limitations, doing an All-Sports simulcast with 680 just might be the ticket. By the way, The Regulars Guys would still work great as a morning show on a Sports station.

At this point, however, all we know is that Clear Channel and the Braves will likely part ways.

Thanks to super radio mind Jonathan Hirsch for his insight and significant contribution to the above column.

Be well, be safe and have a terrific July 4th weekend. And thanks for reading! Feel free to email me at

Roddy Freeman

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