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 Radio-Info.com 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 roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net.

Roddy Freeman

Link to Rodney Ho’s AJC Radio & TV Blog:
http://blogs.ajc.com/radio-tv-talk/

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