Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Atlanta Radio’s Best & Brightest

Atlanta, like all other radio markets, is somewhat stripped down these days. Yet, bright spots still abound across the dial. This issue contains our selections for the top on-air talent in town. The picks are strictly my opinion, and you probably will not agree with all of them, and you might feel some folks are missing.

The criterion for being eligible for selection is broadcasting from an Atlanta radio station. No personalities voicetracked from another market were considered. Syndicated shows are eligible if they originate from an Atlanta station.

So here we go, starting with the low end of the FM dial. After the FM choices, we’ll move to AM.

Steve Goss – WABE-FM – Steve worked at WPCH/WLTM for over 25 years, going back to the Beautiful Music format, with dead air programmed in and #1 12+ ratings. His professional and easy-going style makes him sound even better as the local host of Morning Edition than in his AC days.

Lois Reitzes – WABE-FM – Lois has been on the air at WABE for 30 years. She has a flair for hosting a classical show and sounds both major market and distinctive. After serving as PD for 15 years, Lois is now Director of Arts & Cultural Programming.

Dennis O’Hayer – WABE-FM – Dennis established his authoritative as well as affable presentation as the longtime host of WGST’s “60 at 6.” He has also been the moderator of a show on WABE’s sister station, WPBA-TV, and a reporter on WXIA-TV’s news. He now brings his considerable skills to his job as local host on WABE from 3 to 7PM.

Mara Davis – 92-9Dave FM – Mara has been at the station for 15 years and under two of its incarnations, Z93 and Dave-FM. She is engaging, interesting, opinionated and fun, and is one of Atlanta’s most talked-about radio people. While Mara’s overall talk time has been scaled back somewhat, she’s at her most creative on Radio-Free Lunch in the noon hour.

Margot – 92-9 Dave FM – Margot’s smooth delivery creates an ambience like that of KINK-FM and other successful AAA stations. She is so into the music, a definite plus for a format whose listeners are all about musical discovery. Her knowledge of music really comes across on “Dave After Tomorrow,” a program showing how songs from all eras and genres have connections. Margot is Dave-FM’s music director and the visionary behind WZGC-HD2, Dave Roots.

Cindy & Ray – Star 94 – Ray Mariner is so smooth while Cindy Simmons is kind of valley-girlish with a slightly goofy edge. But, it all works, as it has from day one. Content is topical and fun, with lots of audience interaction. After getting stellar ratings in afternoons, Cindy & Ray moved to morning drive this past spring, where they reestablished Star 94 as an Adult CHR station. In mornings, C&R have come up against a juggernaut called The Bert Show, and while Star’s AM drive ratings are up, they are not among the top stations. Getting there will require time and patience.

Darik at Night – Star 94 – When a personality loves what he is doing, it comes right through the speakers. And, that’s one reason why I enjoy listening to Darik Kristofer so much. He sounds like he’s having a great time doing the show and interacting with listeners. Darik has also shown growth as an air personality since he joined Star 94 about 2 years ago. Finally, he has appeal to his young evening audience, but his sound is also adult friendly.

Jason Pullman & Kristen Gates – 94-9 The Bull – Including The Bull’s morning show took a little debating. Jason Pullman was not selected because of his broadcast delivery because he really has none; he speaks as if he were talking to you across the kitchen table. (I’m not saying he’s not capable of an excellent broadcast delivery because he proves he is, on the many national commercials that he has done.) However, Jason is very quick and funny, as well as friendly. And, Kristen is the perfect foil for his humor. She enjoys a more prominent role than she had as morning co-host on Kicks. The chemistry between the two appears to be copacetic.

Maverick – 95-5 The Beat – Maverick is The Beat’s elder statesman so to speak; he was brought in during the colorful Sean Phillips days. He actually has been in Atlanta radio longer than that, having worked weekends on Q100 when it was just a baby. Frankly, I always felt Maverick was a utility player. But, he apparently purchased the Beat edition of Rosetta Stone and now has a “Beat accent.” He’s definitely with the program at Atlanta’s #1 for Hip Hop.

Knox – Project 9-6-1 – Knox provides real entertainment in the evening hours and relishes his job as a personality. He and his drop-ins are simply fun to listen to.

Kaedy Kiley – 97-1 The River – I know what you’re probably thinking. She used to be great, but she’s on The River. She can no longer use her considerable talents. That’s true, but Kaedy is still the consummate professional with a mastery of music. At least she does her quiz. Hiring Kaedy was a win-win for her and the station.

Steve McCoy & Vikki Locke – B98.5FM – This is the show that broke the mold, the music-intensive, liner-reading mode at Cox’s Atlanta AC station. In truth, it was the second time that Cox’s Bob Neil tossed aside his playbook and hired a personality morning show. He had seen what grabbing Rick & Bubba had accomplished for Cox’s Birmingham country station, WZZK. With the Steve & Vikki package, B98.5 instantly got a well-oiled, well-established, family-friendly morning show hosted by two of the market’s best. The station also picked up a ton of potential in endorsements by McCoy and Locke.

Jordan Graye – B98.5FM – Jordan is another Atlanta personality who is a real broadcaster, meaning she thoroughly enjoys what she does; what comes out of the radio doesn’t lie. Her voice bubbles with personality, much more so than the stereotypical female AC midday jock. Jordan is a nice person, and that comes across too.

Kelly McCoy – B98.5FM – I’ve heard it said that Kelly McCoy has read basically the same liners for the past 20 years. Yes, the station is highly scripted. But, Kelly’s rich voice and broadcast talent still come through loud and clear.

The Bert Show: Bert Weiss, Jeff Dauler, Melissa Carter & Jenn Hobby – Q100 – On his way to becoming President of CMT, Brian Phillips stopped to launch Q100 and tapped the co-host of the Mix 107.3/Washington morning show, Bert Weiss. Of course, the rest is history. Weiss’s ability to talk to and relate to listeners, and the blend of relationships, celebrity interviews/news and current issues have made The Bert Show the gold standard for morning radio. Dauler, Carter and Hobby add intelligent insight and perspective.

Adam Bomb – Q100 – He might not have the big voice of a JJ Kinkaid or Robert W. Walker, FM CHR stars from the seventies and eighties. But, Adam sounds good and delivers a quintessential CHR presentation full of energy. His fast pace is just right for evenings, when the audience and the Q100 playlist become younger.

Cadillac Jack & Dallas McCade – Kicks 101-5 – They say every cloud has a silver lining, and the Citadel Leap Year Day Massacre in 2008 paved the way for two of Atlanta’s best morning hosts to get together. I’ve always thought Cadillac had a unique sound that made him a great country jock. Dallas is also a true talent, always up and sounding happy. I’ve heard it said the show is not funny. Well, the show doesn’t try to be funny. The audience loves the hosts, and that’s what matters.

Frank Ski & Wanda Smith – V-103 – I never felt Frank Ski was a great personality based on his broadcast skills. But I guess I was forgetting about several things, like community involvement, charity, working hard and showing up everywhere. Oh, did I mention being a lightening rod? And, broadcasting on a station that perennially goes to the Super Bowl doesn’t hurt. How could I not include a personality who earned a share of 20.6% among the 18-34 demo in the latest Arbitron PPM’s? Is that not slightly amazing? And the pundits said PPM would put a serious hurt on V. Wanda Smith and Ms. Sophia complement Ski by keeping us laughing.

Ryan Cameron – V-103 – Ryan Cameron is a master storyteller. Consequently, V-103 in afternoon drive sits at the opposite end of the spectrum from the typical Urban station. Ryan has a captivating style all his own and intelligently discusses issues with his listeners. He also can be very funny.

Greg Street – V-103 – In 1995, former V-103 PD Tony Brown recognized that Hip-Hop, not yet a genre of critical mass, was the future of Urban music. He hired Greg Street to do a Hip-Hop show in the evening. It worked, and Street’s show was Atlanta’s ratings leader in his daypart. He left to go to Dallas and returned a few years ago. Smooth and Hip-Hop do not often go together, but somehow Street manages to be the smoothest Hip-Hop jock in the universe.

Art Terrell – Kiss 104.1 – Art’s predecessor, Mitch Faulkner, has one of radio’s golden voices. When he left and Art took over, the voice contrast was pretty dramatic. But, it soon became obvious that Art Terrell has a terrific booming voice of his own, is friendlier sounding, and has more on-air personality than Faulkner. Mitch might be the better voiceover guy, but Art makes Kiss sound great as he accomplishes a lot within the formatic limitations.

George Mason Dixon – 106.1 WNGC – His station sits on the cusp of the Atlanta market, but George Mason Dixon has perfected the sound of a major market country personality, always having the perfect inflection. He makes this well-programmed station sound as good as it should.

Silas “SiMan” Alexander – Majic 107-5/97-5 – A true Atlanta radio veteran, SiMan has plied his craft in prominent dayparts on V-103, Kiss and 102.5 before moving over to the new Majic 107-5/97-5 this past spring. He has a great voice and substantial talent, and skillfully brings his listeners through the evening hours. That SiMan is a super-nice person in real life is evident when you hear him on the radio.

Maria More – Hot 107-9 – Maria exudes both street and class when she speaks into the mic during middays. Hot is a well-programmed machine, and Maria is a big contributor to keeping it running at full efficiency.

Emperor Searcy – Hot 107-9 – Emperor Searcy takes over after Maria More and continues the superb execution of the format. He sounds at ease and confident, and his delivery contains an element of excitement. Searcy is a high achiever, also working successfully in the music business and voicing commercials yet finding time to give to the community through various outreach programs.

The Durty Boyz – Hot 107-9 – The Boyz (J. Nicks and ET) take listeners to the wild side of Atlanta radio every evening. Their show is a party on the air as well as one of the market’s most interactive programs. Call and ask them to let you go.

Scott Slade – News/Talk 750-WSB – The host of Atlanta’s Morning News comes across as a natural. He has the voice, poise and experience to be the ultimate professional. Waking up with Scott is a pleasure as he skillfully tosses the ball to his cohorts and then catches it back. Scott has been honored with just about every radio award there is.

Neal Boortz – News/Talk 750-WSB – I’ve heard it espoused that Neal now “phones it in,” that he no longer puts himself into it. As a listener, I have to disagree. Boortz is smart and creative, and understands it’s about entertainment. He still delivers the ratings to prove that.

Clark Howard – News/Talk 750-WSB – A sharp businessman as well as broadcaster, Clark Howard walks on water in this market. He’s highly trusted and respected. He may not have the best radio voice but manages to overcome that with high-quality advice that commands attention.

Herman Cain – News/Talk 750-WSB – Yes, he does not have perfect diction. But, he does conduct an intelligent talk show and exercises some reason, which is often not the case in Talk radio. Herman is someone worth listening to based on the incredible heights to which he rose in the business world. As the promo says, “You just might learn something.”

Chris Dimino & Nick Cellini – 790 The Zone – Chris and Nick are sports guys first and radio people second. Yet their broadcast talent is good enough to make it all work. In my opinion, these guys paired together are the best sports talkers in Atlanta and show superb knowledge. Their appeal is demonstrated by their moonlighting activities, Chris with Falcons Radio and Nick with CBS 46 (WGCL-TV). By the way, they make up two-thirds of “Mayhem in the AM” on The Zone.

The 2 Live Stews – 790 The Zone – Who says Sports radio can’t provide your daily entertainment fix? Brothers Ryan and Doug Stewart do sports talk that sometimes veers onto other subjects. Their Hip-Hop sports program is the most different show on Atlanta Sports radio. Zone PD Matt Edgar showed his ingenuity with these hires. Originating from The Zone studios, The Stews are syndicated by Sporting News Radio.

Atlanta Radio’s Best Newscasters:
Rob Stadler – Star 94, Pete Combs – WSB-AM

Thanks for reading. As always, your comments are welcome. Email me at roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net.

Roddy Freeman

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Will Atlanta Get Into The Groove?

A change had been rumored for a couple of years, but when it finally happened yesterday, it evoked some mild surprise. For anyone who does not know, Clear Channel flipped 105.7 from Viva, a Latino Hits station, to The Groove, a Rhythmic AC format.

On at least some levels, the move made consummate sense. Will 105.7 The Groove (or The Groove at 105.7, depending on when you’re listening) bear fruit for Clear Channel? My answer is an emphatic maybe.

The original frequency for Viva was 105.3. It got some good ratings straight out of the gate and soon replaced Oldies purveyor Cool 105.7 on the higher frequency. The reason? The 105.7 signal booms into Gwinnett County, a hotbed of Hispanic growth, while 105.3 lacks oomph in that northeastern county.

Although Viva, as the only full-market Hispanic FM, attracted a sizeable audience, Clear Channel had made a strategic error. Approximately 75% of Atlanta’s Hispanic market is of Mexican origin. Viva’s programming appealed mostly to Latinos of Central/South American descent. Most of its ratings were by default.

Clear Channel made a second strategic error when it launched El Patron on 105.3. El Patron, a Regional Mexican station, should have been launched instead of Viva. As predicted, El Patron cannibalized Viva’s audience; in fact, it quickly grabbed about two-thirds of Viva’s listeners despite being on the signal that stopped short of Gwinnett. Two Hispanic stations was simply an idea far ahead of its time.

Has Clear Channel made another strategic error by placing The Groove on 105.7 instead of moving El Patron there and giving the vacated 105.3 frequency to The Groove? Not necessarily.

Moving El Patron to 105.7 would have enabled it to serve Gwinnett. Clear Channel has in effect abdicated Gwinnett County to Davis Broadcasting’s La Raza (WLKQ-FM), which is already #1 there. A shift to 105.7 would have made El Patron the more important station in the cluster as opposed to 105.3. It would have positioned El Patron to be the bigger biller as the Hispanic population grows over the next several years.

The Arbitron PPM, however, has not been a friend to Hispanic stations. Moreover, while probably not deserved, Latinos have a reputation of not being good prospects for advertisers. Thus, Hispanic formats tend to underbill compared to their audience share. With all of the progress African-Americans made over the years, bringing Urban radio billings commensurate with audience share has been a slow uphill climb. How many years will it take before Hispanic radio bills in line with its share of audience?

Clear Channel may feel a general market station has the potential to bill far more than a Hispanic outlet for years to come. Atlanta’s most affluent population is in the northern environs, and that’s an audience that many advertisers seek. So keeping El Patron at 105.3 and launching The Groove on 105.7 does make some sense.

What about the format? Will The Groove dance its way to ratings glory?

A talk simulcast of WGST-AM would have been a way to rejuvenate those historic call letters. And News/Talk stations have been enjoying success on the FM band elsewhere in the U.S. Nevertheless, adding an FM to WGST would have required some serious bucks. The station would have needed a local morning show and a rebuilt news department for starters. An FM simulcast would have required an investment that’s not in the cards for Clear Channel.

That left two choices, straight-ahead AC and Rhythmic AC. I liked the idea of mainstream AC. B98.5 doesn’t play any current product, unlike most AC stations, and its music sometimes leans toward Modern Rock. AC’s target audience is women 25-54, and AC stations have always been the darlings of media buyers. I would never have expected 105.3 to come close to B98.5 in ratings, given the difference in signals, but an AC run inexpensively (read: voicetracked) could have made some decent money for Clear Channel.

Rhythmic AC makes sense for several reasons. First, the market had a hole; no one else was doing the format. Second, The Groove should do a lot better in cume than time spent listening, which is conducive to getting ratings with the PPM. Third, the target audience, women 25-54, is a lucrative one. Fourth, The Groove will be inexpensive to run.

My feeling—and I’m going to coin a term—is The Groove will be a skimmer. It will skim audience from several stations but be limited in its P1 appeal. The Groove might be a refuge for certain B98.5 listeners, a place where they can let it all hang out for a few. It might provide a temporary haven for Star 94 and Q100 devotees when they feel like releasing their frustrations. Also, The Groove will likely attract the gay community, which tends to like dance formats (and was a major reason for Cardio Radio on Q100 back in the day).

Whether all of this will result in decent ratings is the question. Several years ago, CBS Radio installed a Rhythmic AC format called Movin’ on a number of stations. Movin’ went the same way as Jammin’ Oldies and the Ford Edsel.

Clear Channel has done a little better with Rhythmic AC. The two CC stations with the most success in the format are WKTU-FM in New York and WMIA-FM in Miami. But Atlanta is not New York or Miami. Both markets have a very high Cuban population that provides a “plug and play” P1 audience for Rhythmic AC.

The format has enjoyed some success in Philadelphia and Seattle, and has flopped in Los Angeles, Dallas, Jacksonville and Denver. While I’ve been having a blast listening to The Groove today, I predict its 6+ PPM share, once things settle down, will be no higher than 2.2%.

The Groove, as a quintessential music-intensive choice, will be inexpensive to run. You already know to expect voicetracking. And don’t be surprised if Clear Channel Rhythmic AC star voicetrackers Paul “Cubby” Bryant and Jagger of WKTU show up inside a pair of speakers near you.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Jonathan Hirsch for his help with this issue.

Join us next issue for the Best of Atlanta Radio. (The BOARY Awards? I don’t think so.)

Roddy Freeman

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Is Cume the Road to Riches?

Whether you love or hate Arbitron’s Portable People Meter, you have to admit it’s having an effect on the radio landscape. Like the diary, the PPM has prodded programmers to go for their masters in ratings maximization. A larger effect, however, is the change in formats that the PPM hath wrought.

The PPM has sounded the death knell for Smooth Jazz and Hot Talk. And lately, every time you turn around, Clear Channel, CBS or Cumulus is flipping a station to CHR.

The CHR format is providing some nice music these days, with acts such as Jordin Sparks, Kings of Leon, Kelly Clarkson and The Fray. Is this the reason that CHR stations have been popping up all over the map? Not really. The reason is the huge cumes that stations in the format have been racking up from the PPM methodology; and big cumes also boost quarter-hour numbers.

Will the giant cumes shown by the PPM lead to big billings increases among the leaders? My best guess is to some extent but not dramatically.

The greatly increased overall cumes might lift radio as a medium. For years, the Radio Advertising Audience has attempted to sell radio as a reach vehicle. After all, 92% of U.S. consumers still listen to radio every week.

As a buyer of radio, I have always felt insulted by the RAB’s reach story. The 92% is attainable if you buy every station. Unlike TV, where viewers watch more for programs than stations, radio listeners have music and information preferences and never listen to stations with other formats. Therefore, achieving a reach higher than 60% with most buys was almost impossible. Having said that, I want to stress radio does have favorable attributes, frequency among them, that the RAB would be better off touting.

The PPM methodology has increased the reach of radio. In light of that, radio might make its way onto media plans sooner. Countering that, however, is the fact that the same dollars now buy approximately 70% of the rating points reported by the diary.

Average quarter-hour ratings are the currency used by agency buyers. The buying goals provided by the planning group are expressed in rating points, and there is good reason for this. Average quarter-hour ratings are a combination of cume and time-spent listening; in other words, cume is already factored in. A tremendous cume can be a dual-edged sword. Together with a small quarter-hour rating, a high cume means very low time spent listening.

For years, I have heard radio salespeople complain that buyers ignore cume. I predate the PPM by many years and have always considered cume though not usually to select stations. I have used cume more to decide how many spots to purchase on a station. For example, I tend to put more commercials on stations with high turnover rates, i.e. high cumes and not-so-high quarter-hour ratings. For mass-appeal ad campaigns, I sometimes use high-cuming stations as a base and add stations having high duplication with these base stations, in order to achieve both reach and frequency.

My experience at big ad agencies has been in the planning, not the buying, area. The buying group implemented media plans that I wrote. What I saw at these agencies was this: Buyers were typically very young people earning low salaries. These folks were under incredible pressure; having to knock out 8 markets in a morning was not unusual. It’s no wonder that radio buying had turned into a mechanical process: Contact the top stations in average quarter-hour share, calculate the costs-per-point and place the buy.

There are exceptions to this. Some buyers at large agencies do request qualitative data on consumers of the products being advertised, and some do consider cumes.

Arbitron’s PPM ratings have shown greater compression among stations, meaning lots of stations very close or tied in some demos and dayparts. Radio salespeople tell me that the better buyers are using cume to break ties. I don’t totally agree with doing that because a large cume compared to average quarter-hour indicates short time spent listening. But cume should be part of the equation.

One thing that I have learned over the years is very few marketers know what they are doing although most believe they do. Therefore, selling high reach should benefit stations pitching their wares to small agencies and direct clients. And since small agencies and direct clients make up most of a station’s business, the high-cuming formats—CHR, AC, News—stand to gain from the PPM’s.

Whether the cume-leading formats’ share of billing will change significantly remains to be seen. But, some of the big radio conglomerates have been betting the ranch on it.

The Fan Soars, Relatively Speaking
You might remember the old saying about ratings, “Those who have them like them.”

WUVG-TV, Channel 34, is Atlanta’s Univision affiliate. Though the station subscribed to Nielsen, it would not give the ratings to clients. WUVG argued the numbers were flawed because Hispanics were grossly underrepresented in the sample. Unlike in radio, where the Atlanta metro is defined as a high-density Hispanic market, the TV market (a larger area) is not yet defined that way. Thus, Nielsen employs no special weighting procedures.

The above points are all valid, and WUVG’s audience is likely understated. By the way, did I mention Channel 34’s ratings were very small?

A funny thing happened. A few months ago, WUVG won a night in Nielsen. It didn’t take long before a message appeared in my inbox with words to the effect of, “We still don’t endorse Nielsen at this point, but we just want to make you aware we were #1 last night.” This was repeated several times over the next few months.

I recently requested a proposal for a client from 680 The Fan. The salesperson informed me, “I’ll get you the rates, but we no longer subscribe to Arbitron. (GM) David Dickey feels it’s flawed.” Yesterday, I received an email from the salesperson saying, “The station’s ratings are at an all-time high!”

When WCNN brought back its sports format, beating the entrenched 790 The Zone (WQXI-AM) took a few years. But 680’s advantage has been growing. The Fan’s September 2.2% share among persons 6+ is the highest in its history, up from 2.0% for August and 1.6% in July. The Zone’s 6+ share was 1.3%.

As a listener, I prefer sports talk hosts who are both talented broadcasters and knowledgeable about sports. In this regard, I have to give the edge to 790 The Zone.

The Fan has perhaps the market’s best sports host as far as broadcast ability in morning man Christopher Rude. But I find the show somewhat lacking in depth as far as sports analysis. Conversely, Chuck & Chernoff provide possibly the best content in the market. But they are somewhat less impressive as broadcasters.

Nick Cellini and Chris Dimino have a good combination of sports expertise first and broadcast talent. (Mayhem in the AM would be a better show without Steak in my opinion.) The 2 Live Stews are not for everyone, but they also are capable broadcasters and knowledgeable about sports. Even David Pollack, with strictly a football-playing background, has what it takes as a broadcaster.

The Fan has a signal advantage, a small one during the day and a big one at night. In this market, the 680 spot is easier to find although sports aficionados likely also have a preset for 790, nullifying The Fan’s slight edge. And The Zone’s 28,000 watts get out as well as The Fan’s 50,000 watts to the locations that matter.

At night, however, The Zone loses a good signal over a large portion of its daytime coverage area, with its power reduced to 1,000 watts directional. The Fan falls back to 10,000 watts at night and loses the areas north of its Peachtree Corners transmitter site, including Gwinnett County. The station also cannot be heard in parts of Cobb County. But it throws a strong signal over Atlanta and most of the suburbs.

Country Picks Up Steam
Clear Channel/Atlanta President/Market Manager Melissa Forrest started remolding 94-9 The Bull about 10 months ago, and the station is now a legitimate contender for advertising dollars and not just leftovers. The Bull owned 3.8% of persons 6+ in the September PPM report, pushing into the top ten. At the same time, heritage Kicks 101-5 moved up from 5.1% in August to 5.3%. Since June, the two stations combined have gained 1.4 share points.

Where did the increases come from? The semi-local country stations, The Legend 96.7, WNGC and South 107, lost a total of .5 points from June to September. That’s a net gain of .9 points for the format. Over the same period, CHR lost 1.4 share points.

Country is at least very strong if not growing virtually everywhere. In Dallas/Ft. Worth, KPLX is #1 although its total share decreased somewhat from August to September. In the Motor City, second-place WYCD-FM moved from 5.1% to 6% in the past month. In Birmingham, the two country stations increased their share by 39% since June. The format was stable and strong in the other markets that we checked.

Maybe it’s the Taylor Swift effect. Perhaps her popularity has attracted people to country music.

In the Atlanta race, while Kicks is still 39% ahead of The Bull in 6+ share, Kicks is only 13% ahead in the demo that many consider the most lucrative, persons 25-54.

Roddy Freeman

Thanks for reading. Feel free to email your comments or questions to roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net.

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

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Has WKLS Made a Giant Mistake?

Last Friday’s news that the Giant Show’s Brian Carothers had left Project 9-6-1 brought yawns for the most part. Co-hosts Shafee and Jefe will stay on with a “music intensive show.”

No one outside the Building of Death knows definitively the reason for Giant Brian’s departure. Chris Williams, the station’s Program Director, told the AJC’s Rodney Ho, “Brian’s contract expired in July, and we were unable to agree on terms for an extension. Williams added, “A big part of this post-baseball era is a recommitment to being Atlanta’s rock station 24/7. As we get back to our core value of playing music, Shaffee and Jefe are staying aboard to host a music-driven morning drive program.”

The Giant Show was not exactly headed for the National Radio Hall of Fame. Nevertheless, I thought it was pretty good and fit Project well. And though it was edged out by Rock 100.5’s The Regular Guys, its demo ratings were decent.

The consensus outside the building is that budget was the driving force; that Clear Channel did not offer the big guy a respectable salary to renew. It that’s true, it’s just another example of the sad stripping down of radio.

Will the new Music Mornings—oh wait; that’s already been taken—will the new music-intensive show adversely affect Project’s ratings? Possibly, but in the whole scheme of things, the effect will probably be negligible.

Since its inception, I have somehow thought of Project 9-6-1 as one of Atlanta’s underachieving giant signals, with Dave FM (or whatever the 92.9 signal has carried in the past 15 years) being the other prominent member of that club. I admit that WKLS’s long and legendary history as 96 Rock played into my thinking.

Active Rock stations are a rarity these days. In the top 10 markets, only Atlanta and Dallas have the format. In the August PPM results, Project 9-6-1 ranks #16 while Dallas’s KEGL-FM comes in at #21. The Detroit market is an exception with the historic WRIF-FM tied for second place.

Project 9-6-1 does have something going for it. It’s the market’s #1 station for Caucasian men 18-34. That puts it in the thick of things for advertising dollars from certain beers, cars, clubs and other categories. But stations targeting the 18-34 demographic typically do not bill anywhere near what the top 25-54 stations bring in.

The Atlanta landscape is full of stations going after persons 25-54 or 18-49. While their billing potential is huge, not everyone is going to win. The original full-signal Atlanta stations, of which WKLS is one, have the edge. Of course, signal is not everything; pulling down top ratings requires tremendous effort and significant dollar investment. Maybe Clear Channel has made a prudent decision to take WKLS down the path of least resistance.

I do not mean to imply that Clear Channel does not expend dollars or effort on Project 9-6-1. Aly, Chris and Knox are all very substantive personalities, and the station sounds very good for what it is. PPM shares among persons 6+ have hovered around 3%, which is noteworthy for a niche station.

Project’s sister station The Bull has been making a consistent climb without the benefit of much promotion. Like Project 9-6-1, The Bull has one of the market’s best signals, and it has the potential to be among the ratings and billings elite. Project probably sits where it always will in terms of ratings. Billings will likely grow when the economy heals but rank about where they do now.

If Clear Channel’s Atlanta cluster is truly CC CEO John Hogan’s Achilles heel, as it is reputed to be, WKLS’s current direction will not move Clear Channel any closer to Cox in terms of market dominance.

Clear Channel/Atlanta President/Market Manager Melissa Forrest has a reputation as a motivated leader who knows what she wants and how to get it. For the past year, she has focused her attention on The Bull. But I would bet she wants her two big signals, 94.9 and 96.1, to be market leaders.

We’ll see what happens in the years ahead. If Clear Channel accepts WKLS’s current success as all it needs, my guess is that decision is a function of dollars available to invest. Although it would encounter 25-54 beasts at every turn, its signal certainly qualifies WKLS as a candidate for the gold.

Jeff McHugh Out at Cox Radio
When Jeff McHugh joined Cox as PD at B98.5 and The River only months ago, we questioned what he could accomplish there. His resume was filled with creativity, about the furthest thing from those two stations. The only whiff of creativity was Steve & Vikki on B98.5, who probably had more say over their show than McHugh.

Since then, a new ingredient has been added to the mix. Tony Kidd was named VP/Market Manager, Programming, meaning McHugh now reported to him.

Let’s look at the organization chart. Cox Media Group’s Bob Neil is the architect and creates the format clock and its restrictions. Then Tony Kidd hones the station with his considerable amount of expertise. Kidd knows exactly how he wants every facet of his stations to sound. Next in the hierarchy is the PD.

That does not sound like a situation conducive to someone such as Jeff McHugh, nor does it sound like a comfortable spot for any seasoned programmer, the job market’s tightness notwithstanding. We wish Jeff luck in his future endeavors.

Former Atlantans Shine
I spent some time in Orlando a couple of weeks ago. Driving in during the afternoon, I listened to “Stick on the Radio” on XL106.7 (WXXL-FM). Stick was the first personality on 95-5 The Beat in early 2000.

Wow, how far he has come. Stick did a personality-based show and sounded excellent. Surprisingly, given it’s a Clear Channel station, XL106.7 has to be one of the best CHR’s in the U.S. It’s not as repetitive as WAPE-FM in Jacksonville (which sounded almost identical to Atlanta’s Star 94), and is formatted in an interesting way with less imaging and more jock freedom.

Downtown Billy Brown is another former Atlanta radio guy who is now in Orlando. He does the morning show on Sunny 105.9 (WOCL-FM), a classic hits station.

I first heard DBB in 1989 when I lived in Baltimore. He did nights on then-CHR B104. I thought he was horrendous and could not even listen. After leaving Baltimore, he worked at Atlanta’s Power 99 among other stations. He returned to Atlanta in 1995 to take over evenings at Star 94. I could not believe the difference. He had grown tremendously; his delivery was so much more mature and controlled.

Brown left Star 94 in 1999 for Nashville and eventually took over the morning show on Miami’s country station, WKIS-FM. Then it was on to Orlando.

As much of a transformation as he made from B104 to Star 94, Downtown Billy Brown amazingly improved just as much from Star to his current home at Sunny 105.9. He sounds incredible and has realized his considerable potential.

Glenn Beck as a CHR Man
All the attention that Glenn Beck has attracted in recent weeks got me thinking about his days as the morning man at B104 in Baltimore. He worked there around 1989-1991.

Glenn Beck & the Morning Guys was one of the better CHR morning shows that I’ve heard. Beck was not outrageous, as is his image these days, and the talent was quite evident.

Roddy Freeman

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your comments. Just email me at roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net.

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