Tuesday, December 15, 2009

V-103 – Atlanta’s Station of the Year

If Time Magazine can have a Person of the Year, it’s only appropriate we have a Station of the Year.

We all know V-103 (WVEE-FM) has been the market’s ratings champion seemingly forever; except when WSB-AM has managed to temporarily claim the top spot. So why is V-103 the 2009 Station of the Year?

This was the year when V-103 was to be knocked off its perch, right? Prior to the PPM’s Atlanta introduction, I had a conversation with former Cox/Atlanta Market Manager Chris Wegmann, whom I respect. “I’ve done (Arbitron) diary reviews, and people write in V-103 in the morning and draw a line down through the rest of the day,” he told me. I agreed with Chris and others that the PPM’s intro would dovetail with a V-103 swoon.

The first few PPM reports appeared to confirm expectations. Atlanta had a new #1, Urban AC Kiss 104.1 (WALR-FM). The Kiss sales force hit the street with the story that the People Meter reported actual listening and not remembered listening.

Four months later, V-103 was back on top. As the year progressed, V scored some of the highest audience shares in its history, PPM be damned.

V-103 is an anomaly in today’s pared-down, consolidated environment. It has a live and local morning show, and features personalities—not just jocks—in all dayparts. In fact, V-103 places emphasis on personality and reaps listener loyalty in return. But, V-103 is more than that.

V-103 is the New York Yankees of Atlanta radio. Every fulltime personality is unique and loaded with star power. Earlier in the year, when V was looking for a midday host, my money was on Ramona Debreaux, who was filling in. Ramona personified the V-103 demo and handled the format flawlessly.

Surprise, surprise. Program Director Reggie Rouse tapped Ryan Cameron sidekick Elle Duncan for the slot. What? How could he have bypassed Ramona Debreaux for the young, inexperienced and quiet-voiced Duncan?

Think about it…the New York Yankees of Atlanta radio; every personality is unique. The move made consummate sense, and Elle has really grown on me. Happily, Ramona Debreax remains at V-103 for weekends and traffic reports.

The final ingredient in the V-103 success recipe is the station’s massive 100,000-watt signal at 1,000 feet from New Street, a perfect location for penetrating an Urban audience.

Why is V-103 able to do what it does? Why don’t other stations emulate V’s formula? I guess it’s the old chicken-and-egg thing. V-103 makes tons of money so it can afford great personalities. But the personalities, and the audience they attract, enable the station to make that money.

General Manager Rick Caffey’s stewardship of 92-9 Dave FM and WAOK-AM as well as V-103 suggests he is a personality radio believer.

So, congratulations to the people of the People’s Station, V-103, for being Atlanta’s 2009 Station of the Year.

That’s it for Atlanta Airwave Action in 2009. Thank you for reading. I hope you have a happy holiday and the best New Year ever. We will see you in January.

Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/atlantaairwaves, and we’ll follow you back. Email your comments to roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net.

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

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

12 Months of Radio Towers

I continue to be amazed at how boring wall calendars are. How long can someone stand to look at U.S. tourist destinations, flowers of the month, racing cars or dogs? Wouldn’t you much rather be looking at radio towers?

If radio geekdom were a society, I’d be among its royalty. My radio interest extends beyond programming to signals and transmitter sites. I had never known quite what to make of my odd hobby except to assume most people would think it was slightly unusual. In fact, my transmitter passion turned me into a devious little kid. I’d suggest to my parents taking a pleasant Sunday drive, and then guide them unsuspectingly down roads to places where I had seen towers in the past.

I had attempted to find a therapist but was unable to locate anyone specializing in Tower-Site Syndrome or Radio OCD. Nevertheless, I eventually met others with the same affliction, one of whom is Scott Fybush; more on Scott later.

My good friend Chris Murray, now a radio station owner in Macon, is interested in and very knowledgeable about FM antennas. But when Chris looks at towers, he sees dollar signs. One day about 10 years ago, Chris told me that official aviation maps identify and illustrate all significant towers. That sent me off to DeKalb Peachtree Airport in search of one of those precious maps.

As I approached the PDK entrance, I was thinking, “I hope they don’t ask why I want this.” When I requested the map, the man behind the counter asked, “Going flying today?” “Not today” was my sheepish reply. “Well, it’s a beautiful day to fly,” he added. Whew!

When I first came online in the late 90’s, I discovered a treasure trove of radio stuff. One day, I came across a site at http://www.fybush.com/ that consisted of a newsletter, Northeast Radio Watch. The next time I returned, the site had grown exponentially in sophistication and content, and now featured a “Tower Site of the Week.” That week, the tower was the one shared by WCBS-AM and WFAN-AM on High Island in New York.

As I continued to follow Tower Site of the Week, I started communicating with its creator, Scott Fybush; and thought just how cool giving Scott a radio tour of Atlanta would be. That wish has come to fruition 4 times. In fact, the towers themselves are no longer enough for Scott’s insatiable signal-radiation appetite; he now must go inside to see the equipment.

Scott took things a step further, creating the world's most unusual calendar nine years ago.  Each month offers a mesmerizing view—well at least I think so—of an interesting and scenic broadcast site.  That's 12 months of transmitter bliss plus the cover photo, for 13 views in all.

The Tower Site Calendar 2010 contains some of the most unique and famous sites, including a few of my favorites. One is the former and endangered WTBS-TV site, part of virtually every shot of the Atlanta skyline. Next is a landmark visible around the south end of Charlotte, WBT-AM, with its unusual diamond towers. Another is the 7-tower array of 690 AM at Rosarito Beach in Mexico, which pumps out 77,500 watts by day and 50,000 at night.

Some other notable scenes for 2010 include the legendary KDKA in Pittsburgh, New York’s newest AM site (for WEPN/1050) and KTAR-AM in Phoenix, whose towers straddle two sides of a shopping center.

If you are still reading at this point, you probably agree that adorning your home with the Tower Site Calendar would be a slice of radio heaven. The price is $18 including postage, payable by check to Scott Fybush; 92 Bonnie Brae Avenue; Rochester, NY 14618. You can also pay by credit card at http://www.fybush.com/.

Bouncy November PPM
When Arbitron brought its PPM technology to the Atlanta market, we thought a more stable sample would arrive with it. As discussed in a prior issue, that has not seemed to be the case.

When I reviewed the results for November 2009, I knew one of two things had most likely happened. Atlanta’s 18-34 community got religion big time, or the 18-34 PPM sample was woefully small. I suspect it’s the latter, and maybe we're not getting as many Cell-Phone-Only homes as promised.

Kevin & Taylor do a quality morning show on 104.7 The Fish. But what did they do from October to November to cause their 18-34 numbers to triple? Why have the 18-34 numbers for Praise 102.5, a station that has skewed older than most gospel FM’s, taken an Olympic jump from October to November? Conversely, why did CHR/Rhythmic 95-5 The Beat get, well, beaten by The Fish and Praise in the November PPM’s?

Arbitron of course weights the demographics in line with the market’s population. In other words, if 10% of the population was 18-34, the 18-34 results gleaned from the PPM were weighted to equal 10%. If the 18-34 sample was small but represented by a couple of religious folks who listen heavily, the sample would have been weighted up to 10% based on their listening.

Star 94, The Beat and V-103 all got skewered by the fluky 18-34 numbers. The Bull, which lost Persons 6+ share for the first time in months, actually increased in the key 25-54 demo, but saw a tremendous amount of 18-34 year olds vanish into thin air, or into Gospel or Christian Contemporary listeners.

Personally, I would not base a radio buy on the November PPM report. The next monthly will not be much better; it’s December, heavily skewed by Christmas music.

Thank you for reading. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/atlantaairwaves, and we’ll follow you back. Email your comments to roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net.

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

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Bert Show’s Invincibility

Will anyone ever beat The Bert Show? Well yes, actually. V-103 and Kiss 104.1 do in the 25-54 demo, and V-103 does among 18-34’s. But of course those stations are not trying to beat The Bert Show; they’re trying to beat each other.

Okay, take 2. Will anyone who wants to beat The Bert Show ever accomplish that feat? Let’s peek at the October PPM. In morning drive, Q100 (WWWQ-FM) had 140% more 25-54 audience than Star 94 and 29% more than B98.5. Among 18-34 year olds, Q100 had 178% more than both competitors.

The obvious answer is no in the current competitive scenario. Bert, Jeff, Melissa and Jen are sitting pretty, and deservedly so.

Now I’m going to ask a slightly different question. Is there a show in another market that could come to Atlanta and defeat Bert and company? My answer to that is maybe not, but I’ve found a show that could compete well with Bert. In fact, it sounds a lot like The Bert Show, and its host started his radio career as an intern for Q100.

The show is “That Guy” Kramer on Panama City’s Island 106 (WILN-FM). The show’s anchor is a young, sharp, talented radio guy raised in Atlanta, Steve Kramer. You can tell he’s listened to The Bert Show. But, this no cheap imitation.

Kramer’s co-hosts are Holly O’Connor and Miguel Fuller. Both Holly and Miguel earn their keep. Holly handles middays on sister AC station Wave 100.1, and Miguel does afternoon drive on Wave.

The owner is Magic Broadcasting, which has had enough drama in the past several years to start a more spellbinding soap opera than Dallas. But Magic’s Panama City cluster has been relatively stable (as opposed to Dothan). Island 106 has been a good-sounding CHR station over the past several years. I’m glad to see that now that Spoon has moved to midday, Cupcake has replaced him in evenings.

I’ll Miss Dene Hallam
I am still a little shell-shocked about the sudden illness and subsequent passing of Dene Hallam.

When I lived in New York during the 1980’s, I constantly saw Dene’s name in trade publications, such as Billboard and R&R. He was the successful young Program Director of 50,000-watt Country station WHN-AM. After New York’s first country FM, WKHK, became established, Dene crossed the street to program it. Although WKHK eventually beat WHN, the ratings of both stations were low, and owner Viacom flipped WKHK to Soft AC, where it remains today as Lite FM (WLTW).

One day on my then favorite morning show, Z100’s Morning Zoo, “zoo master” Scott Shannon mentioned the WKHK format change and Dene Hallam. I continued to see Dene’s name through the years as a blue-chip programmer. He had perhaps his greatest success in Houston at 93Q (KKBQ-FM), where he created a Country station with Top-40 formatics. 93Q pushed longtime Country outlet KIKK-FM out of the format and beat powerhouse KILT-FM.

Dene was one of only two programmers to win Billboard’s PD of the Year award in two formats, the other being the legendary Scott Shannon. Dene won the award in the Top 40 and Country categories.

I first met Dene in person at the Kicks/Eagle offices. I had spoken with him by telephone and knew he was a reader of a radio column that I used to write. Shortly after he left ABC, Dene emailed me through the Radio-Info website to comment on a thread in which I was involved. We continued communicating, and he eventually suggested we meet for lunch.

Dene was a bit rough at the edges, not exactly a corporate type. I could see he probably was too strong-willed for some people. He admitted that he had both disciples and detractors at Kicks and Eagle. I could tell despite the gruff exterior, that he was good-hearted and cared about people.

Dene was definitely a guy who breathed radio waves and was very smart. His radio acumen was certainly intact. He shared his opinions of the on-air talent at Kicks and Eagle with excellent perception and objectivity. (I agreed with him on everyone except Garry Kinsey.)

The lunch, however, was a somewhat sad one. The combination of his recent separation from his wife and release from ABC seemed to have broken him. He had gone into a tailspin from which I wonder whether he ever fully recovered.

Approximately 9 months later, Dene got a plum job in Kansas City, where he had been so successful years earlier. WDAF-AM was still near the top of the ratings, ahead of its two FM Country competitors. Yet Entercom management had made a decision to move the station to one of the cluster's FM signals and replace the AM with Sports. Dene Hallam was tapped to handle the transition and turn the new station into a winner.

Dene unfortunately left for Kansas City in the wrong frame of mind. Before departing, he sent an email saying that being forced to move was going to separate him from his 3-year old daughter, who was the love of his life. I was not surprised that job did not last long.

About 2 years ago, Moby hired Dene to program his syndicated morning show. When I started writing this blog, Dene began emailing me again. He was grateful to Moby and his wife, and certainly helped make Moby’s show much better. Yet his email left the impression that Dene was still not the happiest man in the world. But, his love of radio was still evident in his continuing correspondence.

With the Moby in the Morning Network expanding to other dayparts, my hope was that Dene would earn more and eventually get fully back on his feet. And then came the very sad announcement that he had passed.

On to happier things…

A Cadillac at Every House
WKHX’s Cadillac Jack, named in our recent Atlanta’s Best issue, will host the afternoon show on Citadel Media’s Today’s Best Country network. The talented Kicks morning host will be heard on 108 stations for starters.

Caddy will voice track the program, and recycle interviews and phoners from the Kicks morning show. He estimates the ratio of new to recycled material will be around 70/30.

Kicks Morning Show Manager Matt Hoffberg, Cadillac Jack’s right-hand man, will be coordinating and producing the tracks. A producer in Dallas will plug the breaks into the satellite.

This of course is the Citadel version of Clear Channel’s Premium Choice. So we all know what adding marquee talent to Today’s Best Country is really about, saving bucks through job elimination. That said, no one deserves TBC’s afternoon show more than Cadillac Jack.

Thank you for reading. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/atlantaairwaves, and we’ll follow you back. Email your comments to roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net.

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