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:

1 comment:

  1. Wow Roddy! I think your assessment is spot on! Having seen the Jammin' Oldies move as part of Chancellor Media's Philly cluster and having benefitted from Atlanta's alternative lifestyle community flocking to Q100 back in 2001, I can see The Groove finding itself in that 2.5 - 3 range rather quickly. The question is, will it burn out rapidly or will it have staying power?