Sunday, August 30, 2009

Q100 Faces the Music

I don’t have to tell you that Atlanta’s CHR landscape leans toward the unusual. In early 2005, the market had an Adult CHR, Star 94 (WSTR), and a straight-ahead CHR, Q100 (WWWQ). Star 94 had been the adult station for years and, even after having younger listeners taken by 95-5 The Beat and then Q100, Star enjoyed respectable ratings. Most important, Star’s billings stayed somewhere up in the stratosphere, far above where you would have expected based on the station’s ratings.

Star had been ahead in the coveted 25-54 demo while Q100 and The Beat fought over the 18-34 audience. All three stations were considered successful though Star far out-billed its direct foes.

Things started to change in April, 2005 when Susquehanna, a private company whose owners retired, sold its prized collection of stations to Cumulus Media Partners, partly owned and totally run by Cumulus Media. Susquehanna was a broadcaster; Cumulus is a company that makes its living owning stations, if you get my drift. Up until then, Cumulus’ footprint consisted almost entirely of medium and small markets.

Cumulus started putting its stamp on Q100, first evolving the station to a much-more-music sound except in mornings, probably a good thing since Arbitron’s PPM was already visible in the rear-view mirror. Speaking of mirrors, the music clock was reset to mimic virtually every other Cumulus CHR in the U.S., safe, adult and heavily tilted toward recurrents. Nights were the exception, with some rhythmic product creeping in after 7PM.

If Star 94 had not for some reason lost its mind at the end of 2005, it could have had Q100 on the ropes. Star’s first major programming decision that year was not to renew Steve & Vikki, which was a legitimate move given the audience had aged out of Star’s demo. Then, in an amazing sequence of events, Star 94 brought in a youthful morning show and seemingly changed the station’s target audience to 18-34, including major changes in music and imaging. Yet the station kept the adult-oriented Cindy & Ray in afternoon drive with what was almost a talk show.

Star 94’s missteps gave Cumulus the urge to move in for the kill; that and the obvious end of 99X as a viable property motivated the company to move Q100 to 99.7, giving Q a signal as big as Star’s from the best FM transmitter location in the Atlanta market. Initially, the frequency shift and Star’s terrible decisions helped Q100 to skip ahead of Star 94 for the first time despite Q100’s music.

Q100’s reign was temporary as GM Rick Mack and PD JR Ammons were hired to right Star 94. Restoring Star to its heritage Adult CHR position took just several months and quickly knocked back Q100 to an also-ran. Although Star 94 has added formatic brilliance since then, just restoring the overall sound was enough to expose Q100’s music.

While Cindy & Ray have taken Star 94 back to a competitive position in the morning, Q100’s Bert Show still clobbers them and will continue to do so. That notwithstanding, C&R is the right morning show for Star. Star has been winning in the other dayparts and especially on weekends.

Q100’s music has caused an interesting thing to happen. The station has been a Hot AC in CHR clothing. It still beats Star 94 in 25-54 but loses 18-34. Is Star 94 an 18-34 station? Well, yes to a degree. But Star’s Adult CHR playlist and adult morning show would tend to skew 25-54 if up against a true CHR, which should be winning in 18-34. Star’s clock, completely devoid of rhythmic, is so much more current than Q100’s, and Star has been winning the younger demos almost by default.

Perception and ego mean a lot, and even though Q100 should be happy to be winning 25-54, Star 94 is #1 in the 6+ beauty contest. Finally, Q100 has started tweaking its music to be more current, and now has 3 powers spinning more than 85 times per week; a few sub-powers in the 50-spin range, and a few power recurrents playing fairly frequently. The station now comes out of its late-in-the-hour stopset, which concludes with the top-of-the-hour jingle, with a power current more often than previously.

Q100’s 90’s gold has diminished significantly, even in midday, which is recurrent-heavy on both stations. Most of the annoying Rob Thomas and Goo Goo Dolls material has vanished (except for Her Diamonds, of course).

Q100 is still leaning too much on recurrents for my taste. With PPM numbers being released monthly, my guess is Q100 will keep an eye on what effect, if any, the adjustments made so far have before going further. Cumulus CHR Senior VP, Programming Jan Jeffries probably wants to keep the station as safe as possible. And winning in 25-54 is a good thing. Cumulus/Atlanta Operations Manager Rob Roberts is certainly well-versed in CHR programming. He served a lengthy stint as captain of Miami’s Y100 although the station got middle-of-the-pack ratings during his tenure.

Has Radio One Hit a Wall?
New Radio One/Atlanta Operations Manager Hurricane Dave Smith blew into town last week and started tweaking formatics even before finding the men’s room. Hot 107-9 is no longer the “Digital Hip-Hop Station” but is now “Atlanta’s Hottest Hip-Hop.” In fact, the station had already made a number of on-air changes ever since Regional Manager Bruce Demps decided he preferred Hot’s ratings be closer to V-103’s, starting with the dismissal of longtime PD Jerry Smokin B. Yet Hot’s Persons 6+ shares over the past 3 months have been 4.4, 4.1 and 3.9. Are formatics going to get it to the next level?

Early this year, Radio One introduced an Urban AC format under the Majic moniker and created a simulcast on 107.5 and 97.5. Praise, which had lived at 97.5, moved to the company’s weakest signal, 102.5. Cox Urban AC Kiss 104.1 had been racking up some mighty impressive PPM numbers, and Radio One wanted a bigger piece of the action.

Majic obtained what it considered the perfect weapon for countering Kiss’ Tom Joyner in mornings, the Steve Harvey Show. Ironically, Radio One owns the Tom Joyner Morning Show through its 2005 purchase of Reach Media. Harvey beats Joyner in a lot of markets, especially in the young demos. In what must have been an embarrassment to the Joyner folks, WGCI-FM in Joyner’s hometown of Chicago recently dropped the show in favor of a local host. Joyner did get picked up by Soul 106.3, a rimshot with a weak signal over much of the market.

Radio One corporate programming guru Jay Stevens spent significant time in Atlanta to get Majic off the ground and moving in the right direction. Plus, the Majic launch and Harvey in mornings were promoted heavily by billboards on what seemed like every corner.

Kiss has been able to well withstand the Majic frontal assault thus far. In fact, over the past 3 months, the 6+ PPM shares are Kiss: 7.0, 7.0, 7.2 and Majic 5.1, 4.7, 4.5. Now that Hurricane Dave Smith is about to start his work with Majic, we wonder whether the Kiss levees will hold.

So back to the question: Has Radio One hit a wall?

Hot 107-9 is performing close to its potential in my opinion. Going against V-103 will never be easy. V-103 has a huge signal while Hot is a move-in with a decent signal. V-103 has the heritage, and each host is an all-star and unique in his or her rite. That’s not to say Hot 107-9 doesn’t have some stellar personalities; Maria Moore, Emperor Searcy and the Dirty Boyz all fit that description.

Hot 107-9 is also younger in appeal than V-103, which has managed to dominate until the age of 49. One thing that Hot could do something about if not for budgets is the morning show. We question Ricky Smiley’s appeal to Hot’s young listeners. Smiley’s BET show, his claim to fame, ended years ago.

As far as Majic 107.5/97.5 versus Kiss 104.1, it’s difficult to figure out which has the signal advantage. The Radio One combo is comprised of a good signal (107.5) from the north complemented by a fair signal (97.5) from the south. Kiss has a huge signal but transmits from south of Atlanta in Newnan.

The formats are not really identical though both could best be categorized as Urban AC. Majic for the most part skews younger and features old school on Thursday. Majic broadcasts the syndicated Michael Baisden in afternoons while Kiss emphasizes its hourly music sweeps outside of morning drive.

In my opinion, Kiss is a better-programmed station during its music hours. I would describe Kiss midday host Cynthia Young as functional but effective. She executes the format to a tee. Art Terrell and his booming voice in afternoon drive combine with the formatics to make the station sound great. Meanwhile, is Majic afternoon host Michael Baisden too talkative for the PPM’s liking?

In evenings, I have to give the edge to Majic and Silas “SiMan” Alexander. Former Kiss Slow Jams host Stacy Dee got caught in a budget crunch last year, and Program Director Jay Dixon, who tries hard to whisper, is not the voice for that show.

Kiss 104.1 in my opinion has the advantage in programming and possibly in signal, covering the market in seamless fashion on one frequency.

The Praise move from 97.5 to the 3,000-watt 102.5 signal has worked out well since a lot of the station’s older audience lives within close range. Yet Radio One has significant obstacles to overcome if Hot 107-9 and Majic 107.5/97.5 are going to pose serious competition to V-103 and Kiss 104.1, respectively.

If you had any doubt that radio stations are slaves to their budgets, consider this. Early this year, when Hot 107-9 replaced The A Team with the syndicated Ricky Smiley in mornings, midday personality Maria Moore was simultaneously released. A Team member Rashan Ali was still under contract so she was placed in middays. But, Rashan Ali apparently was earning more bucks than Maria Moore. So as soon as Ali’s contract ended, she was let go, and Maria Moore was rehired.

Roddy Freeman

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

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Moby Network Set to Expand

When life hands us a lemon, we do our best to turn that lemon into lemonade. Few people have been more successful at doing just that than James Carney, aka Moby.

Several years back, then Kicks General Manager Victor Sansone decided that Moby’s time had come and gone, and the station did not renew the contract of its longtime morning man. Moby quickly signed with Classic Rock Z93; he had done Rock radio in Texas. But his equity in Atlanta was in Country, and the Z93 audience did not accept him. Moby became a major market talent, and a good one, without a gig.

Moby, at the outset teaming up with former Kicks PD Neil McGinley, pitched his morning show to Country stations on the fringes of the Atlanta market. Bingo. Before long, two big FM signals, WNGC in Toccoa and WTSH in Rome, recognized a bargain when they saw one, and snatched the show. Instantly they had one of the best and most recognizable morning shows around.

Today the Moby in the Morning network is up to 11 affiliates; the show circles the Atlanta area and is heard on other stations in Georgia, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee.

Someone with the network apparently paused and took inventory. They had an excellent morning show. They employed one of Country radio’s best PD’s, Dene Hallam. They leased satellite space 24/7. They already had hired United Stations to expand the affiliate list. And a couple of major market-caliber personalities just happened to be hanging around Atlanta. Realizing some big revenue potential was sitting at their feet did not require consulting a brain surgeon.

If it were not for radio’s current budget crisis, I would have been amazed that Sandy Weaver has not been on the air for the past 17 months. In the late 70s, while GMs and PDs were still debating whether females should be hired for a shift, Sandy Weaver was already proving that a woman could be one of the top personalities in radio with her nightly work on DC’s Q107. When a format change at Top-40 WAVA made doing Country her next step, it was absolutely no problem. After briefly doing morning news on WMZQ in Washington, Weaver became co-host of the morning show.

I came to Atlanta in March, 1994. I remember standing in the old Oxford Books in Peachtree Battle during May of that year, and reading in Billboard that Sandy’s husband had been transferred to Atlanta, so the couple was headed our way. I told an out-of-town radio friend, and he said, “You’ll be hearing her soon in Atlanta.” Weaver’s versatility has been demonstrated by her Atlanta career stops: B98.5 (AC), Kicks 101.5 (Country), Peach/Lite 94.9 (Soft AC) and Eagle 106.7 (Classic Country).

Sandy has the kind of talent that attracts stations to her, and she will be handling middays on Moby’s expanded network. That will leave her time to continue with her voice business, Voicework on Demand. Slam Duncan, an Atlanta native who came to 94-9 The Bull from Nashville’s WSIX, will be the afternoon personality. While not a Moby or Sandy Weaver, Duncan has proven he’s up to the task of holding down a drivetime shift.

The programming will be live, and picking up the network or part of it would seem an attractive proposition to stations in medium and small markets. Of course, this type of thing is a dual-edged sword; it will provide superior programming to stations that cannot afford it but also will eliminate jobs. Voicetracking and satellite formats are as much a product of technology as consolidated ownership.

It all starts on Monday, August 31.

Cox Closes the Loop
Since the GM level was eliminated at Cox Radio/Atlanta earlier this year, the buck was kind of stopping with Marc Morgan at Cox corporate. Recently, however, Morgan became much less visible at Digital White Columns, as rumors swirled regarding an impending promotion for him.

That prompted me to ask a question of one of the Cox/Atlanta Sales Managers. How long can the cluster go on without one leader? After all, Dan Kearney is the Market Manager of Sales and Tony Kidd is the Market Manager of Programming. The Sales Manager responded that this was the new Cox Radio paradigm, one head sales manager and one cluster programming chief. Okay, I know Bob Neil has things formatted to the point where little question exists about what Sales can do and what Programming can do, and the two departments are pretty much autonomous. But there just might come a time when an overall manager is needed to resolve something.

My question was answered last week as part of the overall Cox Media Group reorganization when Atlanta became one of four markets under the purview of Rich Reis, Senior VP of Radio Operations. Supervision from afar seems right since Kearney and Kidd are both among the best in the business.

Roddy Freeman

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

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Jimmy Baron’s Audition Finally Pays Off

Okay, how long has it been since Zakk Tyler took that vacation? That’s when Jimmy Baron did his on-air audition in mornings. Mike Wheeler was still PD back then.

Current Dave-FM PD Scott Jameson apparently listened to the aircheck and liked what he heard. And Jimmy’s persistence to get back on the air in Atlanta paid off as he takes the helm of the AAA station in morning drive starting on Monday.

Making this happen took some smarts on both sides of the table. I saw Scott Jameson speak at the recent CBS Radio Book Breakout Lunch. In introducing him, Market Manager Rick Caffey commented, “I spent many months looking for the best person possible to program Dave-FM. And I got him.”

I have to agree with Rick Caffey. Jameson first straightened out the music. Then he went to work surrounding it with an environment that enlightens the AAA audience, who are the most demanding music listeners in commercial radio.

In his talk, Jameson told us about research commissioned years ago by VH-1, then still playing videos. The cable network had seen its ratings in free fall and wanted to know why. The study’s bottom line according to Jameson was “context,” influencing Scott to add short vignettes on Dave-FM embellishing upcoming cuts.

That Jameson is not a run-of-the-mill corporate PD was evident from listening to Dave-FM and hearing him speak. He has displayed expertise, creativity and vision, and has Caffey’s confidence to guide the ship. He obviously learned about Jimmy Baron’s background in this market.

Are there better-sounding broadcasters than Jimmy Baron? Certainly. But in Jimmy, Dave-FM is getting a popular personality with equity in Atlanta radio. The station also is bringing in someone who is interesting and will command the attention of Dave’s demanding audience. And Jimmy is a guy who seems universally liked by people who know him.

For his part, Jimmy Baron kept himself in front of the public during his 19-month hiatus from radio. He appeared at clubs, and filled in on TV and radio. That he never really left us finally paid dividends.

The real question for Dave-FM is what the potential is for an AAA format in the Atlanta market. The format seems to get good numbers in markets having a high white liberal concentration, of which Atlanta is not one. And one more thing: I’m going to miss Tim Orff, and I wish him the best.

So What Will Chase Really Be Doing?
Did Star 94 hire Chase Daniels to do afternoon traffic and voicetrack overnights? Was Star Program Director JR Ammons just trying to help a friend who was out of work?

Daniels is a guy who could take Star to new heights in afternoon drive, replacing the canned Ryan Seacrest. But so far Seacrest is staying put. I’d love to know the reason and wonder whether the station is contractually obligated to carry On Air for a certain length of time. Maybe Daniels was hired as a part-timer. Perhaps Ammons feels Seacrest is a better fit (although I somehow doubt that).

I hated to see Creative Director Danny Wright get laid off a few months ago, but I must say that Star 94’s imaging is sounding super great. The station has added excellent formatic elements and is executing them to perfection. I have to hand props to Doug Miller, who apparently is responsible for taking them from concept to on air. Miller was once Imaging Director at CHR Mix 93.3 in Kansas City.

What Up With Frank Ski’s Contract?
According to the AJC’s Rodney Ho, Frank Ski’s current contract with V-103 will end on September 9. Will he and the station renew?

Ski’s morning drive show with Wanda Smith is obviously a huge success, racking up double-digit Arbitron shares. Market Manager Rick Caffey has a reputation for not wanting to mess with success.

In light of the economy, however, will CBS be able to afford to renew Ski’s contract at its current level? After all, billings at even the V monster have taken quite a tumble since Ski last signed on the dotted line. I don’t know Ski personally, but his reputation leads me to wonder if he would accept a lower salary, especially since doing so might send a message that he needs the station more than the station needs him.

Unfortunately for Ski, he doesn’t have tremendous leverage since Ryan Cameron, who does afternoon drive on V-103, could probably fill Ski’s morning shoes with hardly a quiver in the ratings. I do hope Ski, who’s been a part of the Atlanta radio landscape for almost 11 years, stays on.

Roddy Freeman

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