Monday, December 20, 2010

Atlanta's Station of the Year: 94-9 The Bull

This year's decision was a difficult one.  Radio One's Praise 102.5 (WPZE-FM), guided by Derek Harper, continues to amaze.  Its little 3,000-watt signal from Ben Hill notwithstanding, Praise lands near the ratings tip-top every month.  It defies the PPM's law of gravity by taking a time-spent-listening route to big ratings despite a low cume.

Praise is a state-of-the-art Gospel station in its formatics, imaging and promotion.  In fact, its on-air vocabulary no longer includes the word Gospel; Praise defines itself as Inspirational.  Led by evening personality CoCo Brother, it connects the dots between Gospel and Hip-Hop.

Praise 102.5 was a feisty contender for Station of the Year and certainly merits honorable mention.  When all was said and done, however, we selected 94-9 The Bull (WUBL-FM).  Going against one mighty tough competitor, Kicks 101-5, The Bull has strut impressively to the top of the Country hill among the key demographics of 18-49 and 25-54.

What really tipped the scale was how The Bull got the job done.  When ratings adversity struck at the end of last year and continued into 2010, management had the fortitude to stay the course, a characteristic not often associated with owner Clear Channel.  Management's aplomb paid off handsomely.

Early this year, I named The Bull as one of 2010's questions, saying it had dinged Kicks to the best of its ability but needed a strategy to get to the next level.  In another column, I declared The Bull had hit a wall, and Kicks had won the battle.  But I was wrong, as the station picked itself up and resumed its onward march.  By Fall, The Bull was beating Kicks in the money demos though Kicks still won in Total Persons and older listeners.

Although The Bull signed on around Christmas 2006, the station as we know it was re-launched under Clear Channel/Atlanta President Melissa Forrest and Regional VP Clay Hunnicutt in November 2008, and then molded to perfection by PD Scott Lindy.  Lindy is credited with bringing in Jason Pullman to host mornings with Kristen Gates, who was already in place.

In a move that surprised even the jaded radio community, Lindy was released in August.  Rumor was he said something that angered a higher-up.  Many thought the termination was a knee-jerk reaction, but I don't have the facts and therefore cannot comment.  Happily for Atlanta listeners, Lindy quickly landed at Star 94, where his presence is being felt on the air.

As the 2011 chapter opens, Clear Channel has turned to a programming chief with a stellar background and reputation, Dan Persigehl.  His missions at The Bull are to keep the station on course and make it even better.  The heavy lifting has already been done.

So to the management and staff of 94-9 The Bull, congratulations on being named Atlanta's Station of the Year.

Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah and happy New Year to all.  This is our last column for 2010.  I'm sure we'll have a lot to talk about in 2011.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

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

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Season of Hope for Rock 100.5

Rock 100.5 (WNNX-FM) signed on with a world of promise.  After all, it seemed to fill the void left by the legendary 96 Rock.  And it had a proven marquee morning show, The Regular Guys.  Yet that promise has never been fulfilled.

Braves baseball gave the station a nice kiss, but ratings have fallen since the season ended.  Some attribute the decline to Rock 100.5's schizophrenia.  Since its inception in 2008, the outlet has toyed with Active Rock, Triple A, 80's Rock and Classic Rock.  These days, the 100.5 airwaves are filled with older Rock, including some heavy stuff.  The station is playing AC/DC, Guns N' Roses and Red Rider along with the more dulcet tones of Boston and Journey.

Some say owner Cumulus Media Partners should give WNNX some time to establish itself with one musical style before moving to another.  In any case, Rock 100.5 had its head handed to it by Triple A Dave-FM (WZGC-FM), though a hot Falcons team could have something to do with that.  Project 9-6-1 (WKLS-FM) is in command with young white males.

Rock radio's growth over the years was one reason why CHR evolved from a mass-appeal format to a niche one.  Recently, however, CHR has taken charge in markets across the U.S. while Rock shares have withered.  Three Rock stations in Atlanta appear to be one too many.  What are the choices for WNNX?

Adult Contemporary has been the most mentioned alternative for 100.5.  However, Cumulus would not dare cannibalize Q100, which plays a fair amount of Hot AC.  Moreover, Star 94 and B98.5, though quite different, are both in the Hot AC space.  The only hole in the AC genre would be Soft AC.  That's a possibility, but it's not especially compatible with baseball, a significant part of 100.5 for at least 6 months.

Speaking of baseball, what about using 100.5 as a simulcast of 680 The Fan (WCNN-AM)?  Dickey Broadcasting would have to go into a telephone booth, change into its Cumulus cape and write itself a sweetheart lease.  Yes, The Fan already has an FM simulcast with the 93.7 translator.  But 100.5 would give the station marketwide coverage on FM.  However, the value of 93.7 is more commensurate with The Fan's billings than the bigger 100.5 signal.  If the Fan AM/FM simulcast was the final nail in the coffin for 790 The Zone, resulting in more dollars going to The Fan, perhaps a 680/100.5 simulcast would be the way to go.

An option that I like and feel could work for WNNX is the "Jack" (or "Charlie") format; in other words, "we play what we want."  It leans to the male side, and its playlist ranges from George Michael to Depeche Mode to Prince to Stevie Wonder.  Atlanta's Greatest Hits 106.7 (WYAY-FM) and 97-1 The River (WSRV-FM) would be the closest competitors, but neither has the musical breadth of Jack.  And the fact that no jocks are needed lands Jack in Cumulus' wheelhouse.

But wait.  There's another possibility.  Rock 100.5 can sit tight and enjoy this magical season, sitting by the fire with some eggnog and Black Sabbath; and hope for a blessing in the new year.  As 2010 comes to an end, WGST has added live and local shows in both drivetimes.  Several weeks ago, I wrote a column wondering why, since the new talent will cost the station money but not increase ratings due to signal limitations.  And a big ad campaign is slated for January according to sources.  Clear Channel is spending a boatload to bring WGST back from the dead.

The investment in WGST has prodded the logical speculation.  Does WGST plan to simulcast on FM?  I have heard rumors that Clear Channel corporate has mandated this; and that Premiere Radio, CC's syndication arm, has blocked stations near Atlanta from talk programming not currently aired in Atlanta.  Everyone at or anywhere near Clear Channel, including the bartender at Uncle Julio's, is vehemently denying this.  If someone within Clear Channel made a decision to invest sizable dollar amounts in the 640 AM signal, that someone has made a big mistake; especially since WSB recently pulled numerous talk listeners away from the AM band entirely.

Back to the eggnog and the fire.  If WGST did add an FM, it would have to be one of the big ones, namely 96.1, in order to compete with WSB.  And if that happened, Rock 100.5 could expand its musical horizons and really become "Atlanta's Rock Station."  Reality hits in January.  Until then, it's the time of year when dreams can come true.

Thanks for reading.  Join us next week for our Station of the Year.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

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

Monday, December 6, 2010

It Was Cold Turkey For 106.7

The warning signs were there.  True Oldies 106.7 (WYAY-FM) had dropped the moniker during its local hours and replaced it with "Atlanta's Greatest Hits."  Then the station hired Tripp West as afternoon driver in place of Freddie Brooks.

Being identified as Atlanta's Greatest Hits in the drivetimes and True Oldies during the rest of the hours was a little disconcerting.  And the station had to be aware of that.  More importantly, the dichotomy suggested the station wanted to distance itself from the "O" word, which connotes older folks to advertisers.  And Tripp West gave 106.7 a younger voice in afternoons.

These signals suggested change was afoot at the Citadel station.  Just 3 weeks ago, I predicted several moves, including local midday and evening voices as well as a shift to more 70's and 80's in the local hours.  The predictions proved correct except for the evening voice, which still could very well happen.

I was not expecting what happened next.  But during Thanksgiving week, Scott Shannon and his True Oldies syndication were ditched in one fell swoop.  In fact, Shannon expressed his dissatisfaction on the air nationwide, pushing Citadel/Atlanta to pull the plug immediately.  I thought Shannon and his heavily-60's format would be downsized little by little.  I'm guessing 106.7 still clears the spots from the syndication.

Was this a good move?  The original True Oldies 106.7 was parked there to save money on programming and talent; and to provide an outlet for the syndicated commercials and Imus.  That a big Atlanta signal was being propped up this way did not thrill me.  So I'm glad Citadel is spending some money on a real station.

The PPM numbers among Persons 6+ were down the past 3 months after being pretty good.  But the real problem was the demographic that real oldies attract, 50+.  Ad agencies, right or wrong, rarely target the demo.  Most major market Oldies stations have evolved into Classic Hits, emphasizing 70's and 80's songs along with limited iconic 60's.

The change puts WYAY in direct competition with far more players for ratings and billings.  Whether Oldies fans stay, given the absence of an alternative, remains to be seen.  The station has shifted from the path of least resistance to one with plenty of ratings obstacles.  At the same time, the product is more saleable and will compete for dollars in a much bigger arena.  So the jury is out.

Other Atlanta stations are not likely overjoyed by the change.  97-1 The River (WSRV-FM) is probably the most vulnerable because of its emphasis on the 70's.  However, The River's music is kind of a soft version of Classic Rock while 106.7 plays a broad array of Top-40 from the era.  Both WSRV and WYAY have about a 55%/45% male/female composition.  Other stations that could see some effect include B98.5, Kiss 104.1 and Majic 107.5/97.5.

Classic Hits stations (which 106.7 will not be called because of The River) have had success in a number of other markets.  This gives us one more station to watch as we sail into the first year of the new decade.

The Fan's New Companion:  A closely-knit family is one of life's greatest pleasures.  The Dickey family obviously believes this as Cumulus Media, largely owned by the Dickeys, and Dickey Broadcasting are cuddling up closer than ever.  In October, 680 The Fan (WCNN-AM), owned by Dickey Broadcasting, moved from Piedmont Center to the Cumulus/Atlanta facility on Johnson Ferry Road.  And now, a new Cumulus translator at 93.7 is simulcasting 680 and in the process of being sold to Dickey Broadcasting.

This had been expected for some time and is a terrific enhancement to the AM.  The signal is close to being a full Class A FM (lowest full FM classification) and covers most of the market nicely.  It will bring The Fan to areas such as Marietta that 680 misses at night.  Unless a major FM signal flips to Sports, which I doubt is in the cards any time soon, 680 The Fan should do nicely.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

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

Monday, November 29, 2010

Star 94 Dances The Lindy

Don't you love reading about people who find treasures in items discarded by others?  Well, Lincoln Financial Media CEO Don Benson and VP/Programming John Dimick have proven themselves masters at this.

When longtime General Manager Mark Kanov retired in 2008, Benson did not have to look far.  Rick Mack, one of the most qualified candidates in the business, was passed over for the GM job at Citadel/Atlanta, where he had been General Sales Manager.  My guess is the company wanted a Citadel, rather than ABC, veteran in the slot.  Citadel tapped Paul O'Malley.  But lucky for Star.

Star 94 needed a Program Director, one who would step up in a big way.  Rumors flew that John Dimick was willing to wait out the contract of Alice 105.9/Denver and former Q100/Atlanta PD Dylan Sprague.  But in August, Clear Channel/Atlanta released super programmer Scott Lindy; so Dimick saved on moving expenses while getting one of the best.  Mystery shrouded Lindy's departure from CC, but word swirled that he had made an unkind remark to a higher-up.  Clear Channel's loss was Star's gain.

Now that Scott Lindy has guided Star 94 for several weeks, I can discern his philosophies and like them.  For one thing, he's a big believer in personality and apparently effective at bringing it out.  Heather Branch, who sounded good from day one, has leaped into the ranks of the market's best over the past month.  Even the already lively Darik Kristofer in evenings has revved it up a notch.

Lindy also believes radio should be entertaining and that humor is a means to that end.  I'm a fan of the clean, quick imaging that Star has been deploying.  Lindy has sprinkled in a number of longer, unplugged sweepers that apparently reflect his dry wit.  "What can you say about a perfect Star song that keeps you from throwing a stapler at the boss?" is one example.  They slow down the pace slightly but add some depth.  The just-added Hot AC positioner "Your life and your music are on Star 94" should help Star establish a stronger identity.  Finally, coming out of weather with "In Atlanta, it's always Star 94" is not original but is the radio geek's rapture.

Lindy also believes in the power of social media as station tie-ins on Facebook, Twitter and My Space are receiving increased mentions.  And the jocks seem to have taken a liking to the new boss, as indicated by their enhanced energy.  Finally, Star 94 continues to use its promotions to maximum benefit, such as creating appointment listening for giveaways.

So is all this good stuff enough to move the ratings needle?  Star 94 lives in crowded territory with B98.5 and Q100 hugging it.  Mornings have been the crux of Star's problem.  Lindy has some morning cred after pairing Jason Pullman with Kristen Gates on 94-9 The Bull.  That show features lots of music and listener interaction, both already characteristics of Cindy & Ray on Star 94.

B98.5 (WSB-FM) gets a fair amount of criticism for its short playlist of focus group-driven songs.  But the Cox AC has managed to forge a distinctive sound musically that jumps out.  I mean surprises such as "Tubthumping" by Chumbawamba and "Come On Eileen" by Dexy's Midnight Runners give B98.5 several degrees of separation.

I have expressed in this column that Star needs to compensate for its morning woes by doing more to break out via music.  But I wonder if adjusting the playlist is next on Lindy's agenda.  On the ride home from the airport on Saturday after a week away, I heard Eve 6, a pleasant diversion from the usual Matchbox 20 and Counting Crows.  (I also heard some new sweepers intended create a lifestyle and emotional tie to the new positioning.)

Whether Scott Lindy's work so far will take Star 94 to the next level remains to be seen.  But the station has a skillful pilot in the cockpit.

New Station Hits the Air: The area's newest station, WWGA in Carroll County, west of Atlanta, launched on November 22.  The Class A FM station (equivalent to 6,000 watts) was made possible by Gradick Communications winning the allocation at last year's FCC auction.  WWGA signed on as "Christmas 98.9."  Its real format will be revealed on December 26.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

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

Monday, November 15, 2010

WGST Has People Talking

Radio is full of surprises, and the latest was sprung on us by a most unlikely source.  WGST (640 AM) has brought in nationally-syndicated host Rusty Humphries for a live-and-local Atlanta show in afternoons.  The Clear Channel talker also hired Rob Johnson from KMPH-AM in Modesto for mornings.  Humphries will continue his national program from 9PM to midnight as Johnson makes the big move from market #113 to market #7.

When I came to Atlanta in 1994, WGST was neck and neck with WSB-AM, and each station was going for the other's jugular.  The following year, however, saw the start of the WSB resurgence and WGST decline.  The factors contributing to WGST's eventual collapse were: 1) the tremendous improvement in WSB, 2) WGST's loss of the Braves to WSB, 3) WGST's introduction of Planet Radio, 4) Clear Channel's decision to strip WGST of its FM (105.7), 5) the decimation of the WGST news department, 6) the move to syndication in morning drive and 7) the continued growth of the market's outlying areas.

WGST has not been a ratings factor for several years and pulled in at #22 among total persons in October.  A long time has passed since the visionary Eric Seidel was leading the station to greatness.

A basic business tenet is that money spent should result in more money made.  That adding Johnson and Humphries will make WGST a better station is without question.  And it's not impossible that ego combined with this year's upswing in revenue prompted the improvements.  But I doubt it.  CC/Atlanta President/Market Manager Melissa Forrest is a savvy business person.

Let's think about this.  WGST's 50,000-watt daytime signal covers the metro well, but the station powers down to 1,000 watts at sunset, limiting clear reception to about a 10-mile radius around downtown.  We are headed into the months with the least amount of daylight, meaning WGST will miss most of the market for half of morning drive and half of afternoon drive.  To add to the dismal prospects, the addition of WSB's FM signal has removed a significant number of talk listeners from the AM dial.  The reality is the new local talent will add absolutely nothing to WGST's audience and presumably its revenue while costing Clear Channel money.

Why did WGST add Rob Johnson and Rusty Humphries if the new hosts will only hurt the bottom line?  That's a great question that has understandably sparked speculation.  Does Clear Channel plan to flip one of its Atlanta FM's to a WGST simulcast?

I recently was told by a well-connected and credible senior executive in Atlanta radio that Clear Channel has mandated that 94.9 be turned into a talk station.  Moreover, someone involved in radio about 30 miles outside the Perimeter informed me that Premiere Radio Networks, Clear Channel's syndication arm, has blocked access by stations near Atlanta to certain talk programming though the shows are not currently on an Atlanta outlet.

While I believe these people, I do not for a minute think that Clear Channel will mess with 94-9 The Bull.  After all these years of pain and suffering, the company finally has a winner in Atlanta, its achilles heel.  But what about one of the other FM's?

WSB's addition of the 95.5 signal was a game changer.  WGST once did well with 105.7, but along with WGST's inadequate AM, the 105.7 signal would work no more.  To compete against WSB, Clear Channel would have no choice but to pair WGST-AM with 96.1 (WKLS-FM).  I have a hard time imagining this happening, but it's far from impossible.  The station now riding the signal, Project 9-6-1, has done well in its target young-male demos, making it a natural buy for beers, razors and other categories.  Nevertheless, it probably bills nowhere near what a high-ranking talker would.

Given Clear Channel's success with CHR in other markets, I once thought 96.1 could take the hits to the top of the Atlanta ratings charts.  However, the company's investment in The Groove, a Rhythmic CHR, has made that extremely unlikely.

We will keep close watch on the Building of Death in early 2011.

Correction - In the column about Rome Radio Partners 2 weeks ago, I stated the stations were built by Mike McDougald.  I received an email from Steve Gradick, President of Gradick Communications, informing me that his dad, Les Gradick, built 107.1 FM, 1220 AM and 1360 AM in the Rome area.  Steve added that his father also owned the 93.5 frequency.  All of these stations are now owned or leased by Rome Radio Partners.  Mike McDougald did built WRGA-AM and WQTU-FM, also owned by RRP.  Thanks for the correction, Steve.

Happy Thanksgiving.  We will be back in 2 weeks.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

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

Monday, November 8, 2010

106.7 Sounds Like A Plan

The low point in True Oldies 106.7's life was probably its launch.  It was born out of a need to help save its sinking parent Citadel some dough, and provide an Atlanta affiliate for Scott Shannon's True Oldies Channel and Imus.  However, local Citadel management has slowly been building something on the powerful move-in signal, which city grades all of Atlanta.

The station has two identities, however.  From 6-9AM and 4-7PM, its moniker is "Atlanta's Greatest Hits, 106.7."  The other 18 hours, it's the True Oldies Channel.  This makes me wonder whether the Atlanta folks want to distance the station from the "O" word and will eventually do so.  Recent actions point in that direction.

Like he does with 106.7's (WYAY-FM's) country sister Kicks 101-5, Operations Director Mark Richards has put out the best product with what he had to work with, which at the start wasn't much.  Providing an Atlanta affiliate for Imus was a Citadel directive.  Not that Imus' target audience of older men was that inconsistent with the Oldies listener, but the show impeded the station's ability to establish the format in the morning and carry listeners through the day.

The rest of the day--and nights and weekends--starred Scott Shannon, who created the True Oldies format in his home studio.  Shannon was frustrated by the extremely tight, focus-group-driven playlists used by Oldies stations.  It was just the ticket that Citadel CEO Farid Suleman was looking for, a format that his stations could run on the cheap.  I have followed Scott Shannon's work for years.  He's a genius programmer and loaded with creativity.  But a disc jockey he is not.

The slow building process started when Richards held on-air auditions for the afternoon drive slot.  Budget limitations restricted the tryouts to Kicks and former Eagle part-timers Freddie Brooks, Rob Lee and Steve Boomer Sutton.  Brooks prevailed, and at least the station had a live and local PM driver.  After a while, True Oldies 106.7 added Spiff Carner, the out-of-work half of the Randy & Spiff duo, to what became the Fred & Spiff Show.  Fred & Spiff; darn that sounded strange.

Next, the station edited the Imus show and inserted music, still clearing the national spots.  The custom Atlanta version sounded incoherent, but Citadel needed an Imus affiliate in market #7.  Citadel/Atlanta management's prayers were answered when WCFO-AM, a talk station, decided Imus would make the perfect morning show.  No longer hamstrung in mornings, True Oldies 106.7 moved Fred & Spiff to the wake-up shift.

The other shoe dropped about a year later, when Randy Cook joined Spiff in morning drive.  When Randy departed WGST, the pairing became a no-brainer provided the money was in the till, and apparently enough was there for Randy to choose the job over unemployment.  The station was now anchored by the guys synonymous with Oldies in Atlanta.  Fred Brooks jumped back to afternoons, and some semblance of a real radio station was in place.  Scott Shannon's True Oldies syndication remained in middays, evenings, overnights and weekends.

Rumors persisted that Scott Shannon, who is reputed to have considerable input, did not care for Fred Brooks' sound, and that he wanted Atlanta veteran JJ Jackson in the slot.  Several weeks ago, Brooks was indeed relieved of his duties.  His replacement, however, turned out to be Tripp West, who spent 10 years at Star 94 and about 6 months at The Groove.

Tripp West is a talented personality with a sound that cuts across demos.  He was perfect for both Star 94 and The Groove, and is just as perfect for True Oldies 106.7.  Tripp was not around when the songs he's playing were popular, but is into music and will quickly come up to speed.

The question remains, however, as to why Mark Richards chose to overlook JJ Jackson, someone who, like Randy & Spiff, is associated with Oldies in Atlanta.  Couple that with the dichotomy to which I alluded above, "Atlanta's Greatest Hits" in the drivetimes and "True Oldies" the rest of the hours.  That combination of thoughts sets the mind aflutter.

Will 106.7 continue to have 2 identities?  Will the music stay the same with a much younger personality in afternoons?  Or will 106.7 manage to grab a little of Farid Suleman's post-bankruptcy cash stash and break away from the True Oldies syndication?  Citadel's WLS-FM in Chicago has managed to separate itself from Shannon except in middays.

True Oldies 106.7 has been getting good Persons 6+ numbers, but the demographics have been old.  Demos too old for most advertising buys has pushed many Oldies stations away from the 50's and to some extent the 60's, and much more into the 70's and 80's.  And most have fled from the Oldies positioner to Classic Hits (which will not be used by 106.7 because of 97-1 The River).

So here are my short-term predictions for 106.7: 1) Middays and possibly evenings will be filled with new voices, perhaps voicetracked. 2) During these hours, the station will be called "Atlanta's Greatest Hits," with "True Oldies" relegated to overnights and weekends. 3) Music in the "Greatest Hits" hours will shift more into the 70's and 80's.

I suspect we'll know whether my prophecy becomes reality in the very near future.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.
Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV Blog:

Monday, November 1, 2010

When In Rome . . .

As a reader of this column, you've probably noticed that I'm a real radio junkie.  So I could not have imagined that I would have been unaware of a prominent figure in Atlanta-area radio.  But I was.

Several months ago, my longtime business acquaintance and friend, Tony Conti, emailed to say his boss, Howard Toole, wanted to show me his 6 transmitter sites.  Tony works for Rome (GA) Radio Partners and knows just how deeply my interest in radio runs.  I thought Tony's offer would make for a good opportunity when tower hunter king Scott Fybush next came to town, which he does every so often.  I informed Scott and let Tony know.  But Tony was persistent; he continued to email that his boss wanted to show me the sites.  So on a Thursday morning 2 weeks ago, I was somewhat reluctantly on my way to Rome.

Before leaving, I did some homework on this Toole fellow and was slightly taken aback.  Howard had been a Top-40 disc jockey of the nighttime variety on some legendary stations, including WBBQ in Augusta, WAKY in Louisville and WNOE in New Orleans.  He then was General Sales Manager at Atlanta's V-103 and subsequently a General Manager in Dallas.  He later ran the Dallas Metro Networks office for 5 years.  Pretty impressive, I must say.

Rome Radio Partners is a nifty operation.  It's comprised of 3 FM's and 3 AM's, including South 107 (WTSH), Q102 (WQTU) and 93.5 Life FM (WSRM) on the FM side; and WRGA, WZOT and WGJK on AM.  South 107 is an LMA (leased from Woman's World Broadcasting); Life FM is an LMA but will soon be fully owned by Rome Radio Partners.  Next year, RRP will sign on a new class A (smallest full FM signal) on 104.9 in Plainville, northeast of Rome.

Toole heads the company and owns the largest share; his main partners are Randy Quick and Cheryl Scott.  The stations for the most part serve Rome and Rockmart, but South 107 is the big stick and has FCC approval to increase to 100,000 watts once (and if) Radio One moves Atlanta's 107.5 to its new site.  WTSH would then throw a city-grade signal into Marietta.

Rome Radio Partners definitely has some air talent.  Country-formatted South 107 carries the syndicated Moby in the Morning followed by the exceptional Sandy Weaver, who does her show from Moby's studio.  Kevin Daniels, Operations Manager of the entire cluster and the firm's newest partner, takes over in afternoons.  AC Q102 has Craig Ross along with Maddox in mornings  The duo worked together in Atlanta at Y106.7, where Ross performed under the name Craig Powers.  He also worked at Atlanta's Kicks 101-5 using the name J.R. Butler, the moniker he goes by on his voicetracked evening slot on South 107.  And 93.5 Life FM has Pete (Michaels) and Brenda (Bissett) in the Morning, a married couple with oodles of major market experience.

As I approached Rome and checked out the stations, I immediately noticed the processing, which was exceptional, even on the AM's.  And the programming sounded good also.  I realized that I would be visiting a sophisticated operation.

Our tour started in the studio/office complex near downtown Rome, which also doubles as the transmitter site for "Magik 1360" (WGJK-AM).  The transmitter is tucked away on the second floor.  As we made our way through the nicely designed space, Howard informed us that we would be going to all of the transmitter sites except WRGA, which has snakes.  That was a good enough reason for me.

As Howard Toole, Tony Conti and I piled into the station truck, my reluctance was turning to joy.  I had a great time and tremendously enjoyed speaking with Howard.  It didn't take long to notice that he is a very talented man and relishes what he is doing.  He is the voice of Magik 1360 and sounds great.  He told me, "If I was good enough to be the voice of V-103 (from 1976-1983), I figured I was good enough for Magik."  Howard left no doubt of his obsession with radio when he enthusiastically mentioned he already has created the stunting for his new 104.9, whose sign-on is almost a year away.

Along our journey through the rolling hills of northwest Georgia, I noticed that Howard has several other favorable attributes.  He knows programming and sales from doing those jobs but picked up engineering from managing stations.  He also has excellent business sense and appreciates his employees.  We know a number of people in common, and when I brought up Howard to a few of them, they instantly echoed my sentiments.

Toole has been upgrading an already successful operation since taking over several years ago, and bringing in people like Conti is an example.  As South 107 prepares to build its new signal that will encroach on the Atlanta market, Howard made clear that South will always be a northwest Georgia station and super serve that area's population.  He does feel the new signal will help attract business from merchants in Cobb County.

Like all radio stations almost in the shadow of a major market, Rome Radio Partners has a challenge.  The company's story is that a significant amount of DMA population is being missed by advertisers who limit themselves to Atlanta stations; that for a very small percentage of the budget, they could add a substantial customer base.  With many stations, that pitch is without merit, but for the RRP FM's, given their quality and quantifiable audiences, it's a story that Atlanta advertisers should be listening to.  Toole wisely subscribes to Arbitron's DMA ratings and has encoded for the People Meter (although the home county remains diary based).

The environs to the northeast and northwest of Atlanta are home to some mighty significant radio; built by Mike McDougald, nurtured by Paul Stone, and now owned by Cox and Rome Radio Partners, respectively.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

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

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Bull Awakens

Melissa Forrest had been a star on the rise for some time.  Early in the decade, she was Director of Sales for Clear Channel/Detroit.  She then joined Entercom, first as a VP/General Manager in Seattle and then as VP/Market Manager in Austin.  Even from her early days in Texas, she was known to have exceptional radio acumen, both in sales and programming.  In 2008, Clear Channel named her to guide the company's troubled Atlanta cluster as President/Market Manager.

The Bull was the most logical place to start.  One of Clear Channel's two full-power Atlanta signals, it had gone through several modifications in its young life.  Something needed to happen, and many predicted a format change.  At least 96.1, the company's other big signal, was doing the job in its young male target demos.  Not long into Forrest's tenure, Cledus T. Judd was fired from mornings.  But, The Bull continued to put out a listless product.

The first hint that something was up surfaced during Thanksgiving week of 2008.  The Bull announced it was giving its listeners a gift starting on the holiday eve.  Of course, the announcement sent rumors flying.  From Clear Channel's perspective, the gift was 4 days of uninterrupted Country music; from mine, it was relief from a really bad radio station.

The Monday following Thanksgiving, a new and much improved version of The Bull was launched with zero fanfare.  Kristen Gates, who had been Cledus' co-host, reappeared in mornings.  Madison Reeves, who someday may get into the Guinness Book of Records for voicetracking the most stations, was the new midday personality, and she was excellent.  At 2 came Music Director and afternoon driver Lance Houston, also a holdover from the previous rendition.  New in evenings was Ty Bentli, then of Chicago's 103.5 Kiss FM and now of 104.3 My FM in Los Angeles.  Bentli is another of Clear Channel's master voicetrackers.  Though Reeves and Bentli were based at CHR stations, both were proficient at doing Country.

New imaging was in place.  Veteran Country programmer Scott Lindy was hired as PD.  This was indeed a different--and much more focused--Bull.  The station was to be tweaked and would get better.  Little by little, The Bull started gaining audience share.  While Kicks' losses would be minimal, The Bull's share was growing in small increments.

In 2009, Jason Pullman was added to the morning show with Kristen Gates.  The station continued its slow ratings progress as the Country format's share grew.  At year's end, Kicks reversed what had been a small loss while The Bull fell backwards.  But Clear Channel management stayed the course, and after a few months, The Bull dusted itself off and resumed its climb.  PD Scott Lindy was surprisingly released in August 2010, but the station's momentum pushed it forward.  In August, The Bull beat Kicks in Adults 18-49.  Then in September, it defeated Kicks in Adults 25-54 for the first time ever.  Kicks won the total (Person's 6+) audience because of its lead in older demographics.

The Bull has become a winner with talent, formatics and humor.  With the November 2008 relaunch, The Bull identified its enemy as Kicks and starting declaring the number of songs that it played versus the number on the enemy; and announced during music sweeps (i.e. Bull Rides) when Kicks was playing commercials.  The Bull's imaging voice is the very talented and versatile Cousin Deke.  The Bull's imaging sounds nothing like the Cousin Deke imaging on WLW-AM in Cincinnati.  It's just plain funny and very effective.

Both Kicks and The Bull stick pretty much to today's hot artists.  I compared recent logs, and just over 50% of The Bull's songs were currently charting compared to just under 50% on Kicks.

Cadillac Jack of Kicks 101-5 is arguably the most naturally talented Country personality in the market, with Dallas McCade, his co-host in mornings, possibly coming in second.  However, I'm finding Caffeinated Radio on The Bull about as compelling.  I named Jason and Kristen among the market's best shows but have also commented about Pullman's non-radio conversation style.  But, he sounds like he's super nice and having a great time, traits that I love.  And the show is loaded with creative and fun interactive features.  Pullman and partner Kristen Gates don't always see eye to eye, and that adds fun to the show as well.

The 2008 Citadel bloodbath left Kicks with a second-tier staff outside of morning drive.  At this point, except possibly against Cadillac & Dallas, The Bull has superior talent in every daypart.  I've touched on Madison Reeves and Ty Bentli, and yes, they're voicetracked.  But I doubt listeners give that a thought.  Lance Houston joined in 2006 as a young jock out of Montgomery's "Bama Country" (WBAM-FM) and has steadily grown.

Kicks has excellent imaging and formatics, but we wonder whether the station's talent limitations have come home to roost.  Atlanta has a legitimate Country battle for the first time in many years.  Where it goes from here will be interesting.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

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

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bullish On Country

A male bovine has been quietly on a tear.  And what's miraculous is that the animal was in intensive care just 2 years ago.  Moreover, its owner is not known for saving dying herds.  The days of wondering whether the owner would go back to growing fruit are over.

Ladies and Gentlemen, 94-9 The Bull (WUBL-FM) is one of Atlanta's leading radio stations.  It's here to stay, and it's even found the morning show that will carry it into the future.

The story has been told here several times.  In December 2006, people enjoying their Christmas favorites were jolted out of their chairs by Country music and aggressive imaging as The Bull was born prematurely.  "The biggest stars, the biggest hits" was the positioner.  A little humor was interjected: "From our trailer to yours, Merry Christmas."  The baby station showed some promise.  Owner Clear Channel's seriousness was evident when Clay Hunnicutt, head Country programmer at the company, was dispatched to Atlanta to steer The Bull.

Unlike most format changes, The Bull was not born because of a hole in the market.  After all, Atlanta had heritage Country Kicks 101-5 (WKHX-FM) and its flanker sister Eagle 106.7 (WYAY-FM).  And the market was surrounded by South 107 (WTSH-FM), 106.3 WNGC and others.  It likely came into being because Clear Channel was desperate to grow its Atlanta billings and saw the revenue that Kicks was raking in.

The early promise fizzled out as The Bull's sound and positioning inexplicably changed after a few months.  A voicetracked version of Nashville's Big D & Bubba was placed in mornings on the now laid-back Bull.  Paul Koffy, a mediocre jock, was hired for middays.  A not too tantalizing used car giveaway was shared with other Clear Channel stations.  The Bull was getting clobbered by Kicks and beaten by Eagle.  If "The Bull" were an answer on Jeopardy, the question would have been, "What were they thinking?"

Realizing Big D & Bubba were not gaining traction, The Bull hired Country comedian Cledus T. Judd in early 2008 from Tampa's WQYK-FM for mornings.  But Cledus was not a host; in Florida, he was a sidekick who chimed in with funny lines.  And his hillbilly tenor as the main host did not behoove The Bull in this cosmopolitan market.  Now well into its second year, The Bull plodded along as a humdrum product with ratings to match.  Meanwhile, Clay Hunnicutt was rewarded for this disaster by being promoted to Senior VP and relinquishing day-to-day responsibility for The Bull.

The Bull caught a break on Leap Year Day, 2008, thanks to Citadel CEO Farid Suleman.  The Citadel chief did not understand flanking and questioned why the company had competing stations in Kicks and Eagle.  He also wanted an Atlanta affiliate for Citadel's nationally syndicated True Oldies Channel and Imus, and needed an operation that would run on the cheap.  The upshot of all this was the death of Eagle 106.7 and the release of its quality but costly air staff of Rhubarb Jones, Sandy Weaver and Steve Mitchell.  Only morning co-host Dallas McCade was spared and moved over to Kicks.  Suddenly, the format hole that was never there for The Bull started to take shape.

Suleman was not quite finished, however.  He also slashed the budget of Atlanta Country leader Kicks 101-5, resulting in the loss of most of its on-air staff.  Still standing were morning host Cadillac Jack and Kicks veteran Bill Celler, who slid from middays back into his former afternoon drive slot.  Dallas McCade, the sole survivor of the Eagle demolition, was paired with Cadillac Jack, actually improving the morning show.  Celler remained on the air for a while and then was taken off in an additional budget cut.  The stellar morning show of Cadillac Jack and Dallas McCade remained intact, but all other dayparts on Kicks were filled with part-timers and journeymen personalities.  Program Director Mark Richards stayed in place and continued to make the station sound as good as possible with formatics and music.

Kicks 101-5's quality had been severely compromised.  Yet 94-9 The Bull, anchored by Cledus Judd, sounded worse and was unable to take advantage of the gift from Mr. Suleman.  Before long, Clear Channel Market Manager Chuck Deskins was replaced by Melissa Forrest, and things at The Bull were finally about to change.

Join us next week for the story of The Bull's turnaround.  Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

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

Monday, October 11, 2010

No Secrets On The Radio

Competition is a good thing in any industry.  In radio when there's competition, the listener wins, and many epic on-air battles have taken place.  Unfortunately, radio wars are not as bloody as they once were for a couple of reasons.  First, consolidation has dramatically reduced the number of competitors.  Second, the niche nature of radio has resulted in less stations in a market doing the exact same format.  Competition does exist though, especially among consolidators, and I love seeing it.

Stations sometimes forget one fact of competition, however.  Once something goes out over the air, it's public knowledge.  If a competing station decides to fight back by copying it, that's fair play.  And while copying might show lack of originality, it's also indicative of being at full alert and determined to win.

One summer Sunday afternoon in the mid-80's, I was in New York's Central Park with my Walkman tuned to Power 95 (WPLJ-FM), then in a heated CHR battle with Z100 (WHTZ-FM).  At the time, Michael Jackson was the world's most popular entertainer.  Over the prior week, Power 95 heavily promoted that on Sunday, it would broadcast the details of Jackson's upcoming tour dates; and that it would have the information exclusively, due to its relationship with Ticketmaster.

Well, it didn't take long.  Mere minutes after WPLJ started releasing the tour dates, air personality Pat St. John announced that Program Director Larry Berger was about to take to the air with an important announcement.  Berger complained that Z100 was getting the information from Power 95 and then broadcasting it.  The rest of the afternoon, St. John frequently repeated the accusation.

What had Berger been thinking?  How can you have an exclusive when you're broadcasting the information out to everyone?  In a sense, what Z100 did might have been tacky, but it was also smart and indicated a motivated competitor.  By the way, the silliness continued into Monday morning, when Power 95 played the voice of the Ticketmaster representative saying that she had given the information only to WPLJ.  Over at Z100, in response to a listener complaining about an inaccuracy, PD and morning man Scott Shannon suggested the person call the Ticketmaster rep.  In typical Shannon fashion, he said, "That's who we were getting it from."

Around the year 2000, B98.5 FM and Peach 94-9 were still in a tussle over Atlanta's AC crown.  Peach PD Vance Dillard decided to introduce "The 8AM All-Music Hour."  Exactly one week later, "The 9AM All-Music Hour" debuted on B98.5.  The only thing that surprised me was that B98.5 did not attempt to make the title even slightly different.

At the time, I was writing another radio column and spoke with Dillard by phone.  He told me that the 8 o'clock hour was the bigger one in terms of listeners.  He also asserted that most of the liners on B98.5 had been written by him (read: copied).  He was not especially elated that B98.5 had taken his ideas.  But again, once it's out there, it's out there.

Early this year, Star 94 started its "Commercial-Free Ride."  Eliminating the first of 2 stop sets in the 5PM hour resulted in no spots between 4:50 and 5:45.  How long did it take for Q100, Star 94's closest competitor, to react?  In seemingly no time, Q100 was promoting its own "Commercial-Free Ride."  Ironically, Q100 had not eliminated any commercials but was touting the illusion during its music sweeps.  I heard from an outside source that Star was none too pleased, and I certainly understand the frustration.  But Q100 did what a competitor on high alert should have done.

Once something leaves the antenna, there are no secrets in radio.

GRHOF Induction is Coming
I'm becoming excited, as I do this time every year, about the annual Georgia Radio Hall of Fame Induction Dinner.  It's a perfect place to hobnob with Atlanta radio people, past and present; and to see some of the greats recognized.  GRHOF President John Long tells me that a few tickets are still available at  One special thing slated for the event is getting the induction certificate and medallion of late Quixie (WQXI-AM) personality Pat Hughes into the hands of his sons, whom John was able to find on Facebook.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

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

Monday, October 4, 2010

Atlanta's Got Talent

Billy Currington is pretty good at drinking beer, but some Program Directors in Atlanta are pretty excellent at doing radio.  In fact, as much as we all moan and groan about the state of radio, some of Atlanta's programmers are among the best in the business.

I started thinking about this 2 weeks ago when Clear Channel announced it had hired Dan Persigehl as Atlanta Operations Manager and PD of The Bull.  Persigehl brings years of programming experience at Clear Channel/Phoenix, and Entercom in Portland and Kansas City, and has an excellent reputation.  While Market Manager Melissa Forrest and Senior VP/Programming Clay Hunnicutt are known to have their fingers in the pie, I doubt the company has hired Michelangelo to paint the bathroom.

CBS Radio/Atlanta Market Manager Rick Caffey, a believer in personality radio, told an audience of clients that he searched long and hard for the best programmer for 92-9 Dave FM (WZGC); and that he got that person in Scott Jameson.  Who would be more qualified on paper than a man who spent years successfully programming the leading Classic Rock and Alternative stations in the Indianapolis market?  As I've said before, Dave-FM is a little too pop as an AAA station for my taste, but I must say that Jameson has impressed with his attention to detail and to his audience.  He has a top-10 station in the money demo, Adults 25-54.

Jameson's counterpart at sister station V-103 (WVEE-FM), Reggie Rouse, also has a place in the ranks of programming heavyweights.  Having started at the bottom of the food chain at WPGC in Washington, Rouse has risen to VP, Urban Programming at CBS Radio.  Even without his programming credentials, Reggie is hard to miss when he walks into a room.

Speaking of Urban programmers, try mentioning Jay Dixon among Urban radio people; he's achieved legendary status.  These days, Dixon programs Urban AC station Kiss 104.1 (WALR-FM).  After starting out in the music business, Dixon spent 11 years as a producer at New York's 98.7 Kiss FM, part of that time working on Isaac Hayes' morning show.  He has an uncanny ability to know what sounds just right and what does not.  I met with Jay recently, and he told me something that blew my mind.   I complimented the Kiss jingles and the unusual way in which they are used.  Coming out of a stop set, the personality speaks over the ramp, and then the voices chime in.  Jay informed me that the jingles were purchased as acapellas, and that he searched the music library for a bed to go with them.  He certainly found the right one.

When Cumulus Media Partners acquired Susquehanna's Atlanta stations, the company brought in veteran programmer Rob Roberts to be its eyes and ears.  Rob spent 11 years programming Clear Channel's Y100 (WHYI-FM) in Miami to success and knows the format like the back of his hand.  And while it's hard to know how many decisions are made at the station level, a close listen to Q100 reveals that Roberts plays close attention to market developments and adjusts accordingly, keeping the station at the top of its game.

Chris Williams and Mark Richards might not come up in a conversation about heavy hitters outside the Atlanta market.  But both have demonstrated smarts and expertise.  Williams gained notice when as Music Director of the original 99X, he was charged with retooling the playlist after the Alternative station's audience had matured.  He executed the assignment flawlessly.  He went on to program The Buzz and competed against his former station while creating a unique product.  Chris then turned The Buzz and many of its elements into Project 9-6-1 (WKLS-FM), a still different station with an active rock emphasis.  He has presided over Project 9-6-1 as it scored ratings victories in its young male target audiences.

In radio as in life, you have to play the hand you're dealt, and Kicks 101-5's Mark Richards has done just that.  On February 29, 2008, most of his high-powered jocks were let go in a nationwide Citadel bloodbath.  The wreckage actually resulted in a better morning show, as Dallas McCade, who had been paired with morning star Rhubarb Jones on the now-defunct Eagle 106.7, joined Cadillac Jack.  Aside from mornings, Bill Celler was the only remaining veteran, and he was later taken off the air in a money-saving move.  That left minor leaguers behind the mic in all other dayparts.  Mark Richards, however, carried on, deploying formatic magic to compensate for the dearth of talent, and keeping Kicks on top.

In addition to the standouts above, Atlanta radio has excellent programmers up and down the dials.  I'm not going to mention the remaining names because I'd undoubtedly leave people out.  Suffice it to say that Atlanta can stand up to any market when it comes to program chiefs.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

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

Monday, September 27, 2010

Star 94 Finishes What It Started

Toward the end of 2009, Star 94 (WSTR-FM) made a decision to transition to Hot AC.  The decision came after a couple of years of decline following the departure of the Steve & Vikki morning show.  With Star 94 just on the CHR side of the CHR/Hot AC border, a shift to Hot AC would not be a dramatic move.

The decision made sense.  Star's morning team of Cindy & Ray had hit a wall called The Bert Show, which launched Q100 into the ratings lead for the rest of the day.  Star 94 had to differentiate itself by going in a path of less resistance.  Its staff was as well suited to Hot AC as it was to CHR.  And Star could keep its moniker and most of its equity in the marketplace.

WSTR never made it quite to Hot AC, stopping just a little short.  The music was pretty much the Billboard Adult Pop Songs chart plus a liberal use of recurrents.  The "Atlanta's Hit Music Station" positioning remained.  To my ears, Star 94 was kind of the same station except the music had become somewhat boring.

The station's ratings over its almost-Hot AC days were not what Star 94 needed to grow its billings back to one of the market leaders.  In June, Star's "iPods All Day + $5K" contest helped enormously.  The promotion not only increased time spent listening but manifested itself in a team sound; the station's personalities sounded like they were energized and all pulling in one direction.  That made the station a better listen.  And it all paid off in the June PPM numbers.

When PD JR Ammons left last month, Lincoln Financial Media VP/Programming John Dimick took the reins and quickly completed the move to Hot AC.  The air staff, including Cindy & Ray, stayed in place.  Dimick's programming instincts quickly became evident.

Jingles were added back to complement Star 94's blue-chip imaging, and they sound incredible.  (For jingle fanatics, I believe they're the package often referred to as the Kiss 108 jingles.)  The weather jingle, along with the forecast, also returned.  These elements alone brightened the product considerably.  The "Hit Music" positioning was eliminated and thus far replaced with only "Atlanta's Star 94."  Some 90's songs were dropped in, and Star started jumping on new Hot AC product quickly; Home by the Goo Goo Dolls is an example.  (Of course, songs on Star are "new" for an awfully long time.  I mean how long can The Truth by Kris Allen and Train's Pat Monahan be new?)

Star 94 exudes a different personality from the country's other major Hot AC stations.  It has CHR pacing and in that respect sounds the same as it has for quite some time.  Since the original move toward Hot AC in 2009, Chase Daniels has been added to the full-time staff in afternoon drive.  Daniels is the station's most talented and fits in just fine with the CHR pacing.  I'm not sure how I would feel about him if Star 94 had the same tempo as other Hot AC's.  Other stations with Top-40 pacing and (what is now referred to as) Hot AC music exist in the annals of radio history, but the ones that I can think of were on the AM band.  (WJDX in Jackson, Mississippi under Bill Tanner quickly comes to mind.)

Now the music, and I'll preface this by saying that John Dimick probably has good reasons for what he's doing, and I'm commenting without knowing those reasons.  And I recognize that Star's playlist is similar to Washington, DC's Mix 107.3 (WRQX-FM), a successful station.  But I feel the music, while better than 2 months ago, is just too safe and needs more work.  In general, I feel the envelope needs to be pushed a bit more for Star to really stand out.  The station is in a crowded space; B98.5 FM could be defined as Hot AC without current product, and Q100 plays a fair amount of Hot AC.

Star's current and recurrent music could have just a little more depth.  It's the year 2010, and artists such as Jason Derulo and Jay Sean are accepted by adult audiences.  Star 94 did go as far as playing B.o.B.'s monster hit "Nothing On You" but edited out the rap.  In my opinion, the chorus framing the rap makes the song as a whole fine for Hot AC and more compelling than without the rap.  Chicago's "The Mix" (WTMX-FM) and San Francisco's Star 101.3 (KIOI-FM) apparently agree because they leave in the rap.

I like the addition of 90's product to Star 94 and recognize that familiarity is important.  But after awhile, Third Eye Blind, Counting Crows and Matchbox 20 become a little repetitive.  And what about 80's?  New York's WPLJ-FM stays away from anything approaching Urban, but groups including Duran Duran, ZZ Top, Guns N' Roses and Bon Jovi are staples.

The Mix in Chicago reflects my personal vision of how a Hot AC should sound musically.  The station has excellent balance, with current Adult Pop Hits infused with the likes of Timbaland, Eminem and B.o.B. on one hand, and Pearl Jam, Prince and Soft Cell on the other.  The Mix's music propels the station through the clutter.

I'll keep an ear on Star 94 and watch its ratings.  The return of "iPads All Day + $5K" should help, but ultimately the format needs to sustain the audience.  Star 94's imaging, jingles, clock and air staff sound excellent, and the CHR pacing is interesting.  I feel, however, that the music is not as compelling as it needs to be for the station to take serious share from its competitors.  The upcoming months and their PPM reports will provide the answers.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

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

Monday, September 20, 2010

Clear Channel Plays It Cool

Fantasizing is part of life.  I admit I sometimes daydream about rolling down the highway in a BMW 7 Series or relaxing poolside with a drink somewhere in Fiji.  Here in Atlanta, we have one continuous pity party over our lack of a true CHR station.  So 105.7 The Groove's announcement that it would get "bigger, better and louder" on Labor Day set off the fantasizing big time.  Hey, why not?

Posters on rearranged the entire Clear Channel Atlanta cluster.  Even WGST was back on FM.  And 94-9 The Bull was to be replaced with a new and better Groove.  When reality set in on Labor Day, however, Clear Channel had made one of the two moves that would have made sense; it added the small 96.7 signal south of town to create a 105.7/96.7 simulcast of The Groove.  It was a reasonable and conservative way to go.

Moving The Groove to 94.9 or 96.1 would not have made good business sense.  At last listen, The Groove had just about completed its post-Beat journey to Rhythmic CHR, a format that's not one of the more mass, bigger-billing ones.  The Groove's revenue potential might be in the $7 or $8 million-dollar range.  The 94.9 and 96.1 signals, both 99,000 watts from in town, are worth too much for that kind of revenue; those signals need billings commensurate with their value.  Mainstream CHR, on the other hand, is a mass-appeal format that can bill big.

Has anyone noticed that Clear Channel's CHR's are racking up big ratings across the U.S.?  Stations like Z107.7 in St. Louis, Hot 99.5 in Washington, Wild 95.5 in West Palm Beach and 96.5 Kiss FM in Cleveland are just some examples of CC CHR's that have soared to new ratings heights.  The company has learned how to do CHR.  Would doing it in Atlanta on 94.9 or 96.1 make sense?

In its first 2 years, 94-9 The Bull was a poorly-programmed Country station filling a format hole that wasn't there.  Its ratings reflected that and had people wondering why Clear Channel had destroyed the market's second AC station.  The Bull was thought to be a failure, and format flip rumors ran rampant.  Then in 2008, Melissa Forrest took over as Market Manager with an eye toward making the station a success.  She relaunched it on the Monday after Thanksgiving, 2008.  The new Bull was a far better product though still up against heritage Kicks 101-5.  Little by little, The Bull inched forward though taking little from Kicks.

Early this year, with the market's Country shares stretched to the limit, something had to give, and that something was The Bull.  Ratings started declining, but Forrest stayed the course, and things began to turn.  While Kicks still holds a substantial lead, The Bull became a top-10 station in the August PPM ratings, breaking a 4% share.  Country attracts prime demos though its power ratio (share of ad dollars vs. share of audience) is lower than CHR's.  The clear message for The Bull is to stay the course and keep pinging Kicks for the long term.

Project 9-6-1's looks are deceiving, at least its Persons 6+ looks.  While the station was #17 in the beauty contest, it was #2 in Men 18-34 and tied for #2 in Men 18-49 during July.  That means beers, cars and other manly products should be easy captures for the station, translating to some decent billings.  So Clear Channel appears to be under no pressure to flip 96.1.  Nevertheless, with The Beat gone and Q100's music often straying away from current hits, Atlanta's CHR format hole seems to have gotten bigger.  With Clear Channel's CHR finesse, flipping 96.1 to CHR might give the company two top-10 stations in a market that has been CC's achilles heel, and increase revenue.

My opinion is that Clear Channel should stay pat with Project 9-6-1 at least until The Bull is firmly entrenched as a top-billing station.  After that, the risk might be worth taking (though 105.7 would have to be rethought).  The problem for Clear Channel would be that Q100 holds the cards.  Q100 has The Bert Show, which would be a huge barrier to success for any CHR newbie.  With Bert in command during mornings, Q100 could revamp its music clock in the other dayparts, making significant listener jump to 96.1 a more unlikely proposition.  Nevertheless, the young audience is a fickle one, and seeing a CC full-power CHR in Atlanta succeed big would not surprise me.

Although the addition of 96.7 to 105.7 The Groove should prove beneficial, a better move, and one that I've been touting ad nauseam, would have been to switch frequencies with El Patron at 105.3.  The 105.3 signal is competitive inside Atlanta, which both 105.7 and 96.7 are not.  While 105.7 puts a strong signal into affluent northern areas such as East Cobb, 105.3 is almost as potent.  Though coverage maps show 105.3's city-grade signal stopping at Sandy Springs, we doubt that's really the case.  Clear Channel knows how to maximize signals, and you can bet that the 105.3 signal is not really circular as shown on maps; that it's maximized toward the northeast, which can be done legally on FM without becoming officially directional.

The 105.7 signal provides good coverage of the market's high density Hispanic areas, Gwinnett County, Smryna and Austell.  More importantly, 105.7 proved it could get good ratings with a Latino format when it was Viva prior to the launch of El Patron.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

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

Monday, September 13, 2010

It's Double Talk For WSB

It's not that the idea of WSB adding an FM had not been predicted.  In recent years, the concept had popped up from time to time on  And as WSB-AM's audience decline became a legitimate issue this year, posts on the subject increased.

When WSB-AM added 95.5 on August 16, however, it still generated some surprise.  The sudden demise of 95-5 The Beat, a successful station, topped off the move with an element of shock.

As to why the action was taken, I can only speculate.  Below are the probable reasons:
  • WSB's declining ratings spiked worries about revenue and status.  Cox Media Group's Bob Neil's favorite station might be B98.5 FM, but he knows WSB-AM is the flagship of the empire.  During the past 15 years, WSB's advertising rates had been far higher than the market's cost-per-rating-point merited, and advertisers still flocked to the station given its #1 ratings, prestige and mystique.  And, high ratings and status have a direct correlation.
  • Young people never listen to AM.  Cox executives Dan Kearney and Tony Kidd were quoted as saying FM was added because people under 40 never visit the AM band.  Younger folks are much more sought after by advertisers than persons over 50.
  • WABE has been soaring.  WABE-FM, Atlanta's NPR affiliate, has been grabbing audience share concurrent with WSB's decline.  Over the past several months, WABE has been just under or at a 5% share in Persons 6+.  The public station's newfound ratings glory coincided with the hiring of popular Atlanta radio veterans Steve Goss, to provide local content in morning drive, and Dennis O'Hayer in afternoons, and with beefing up its news department.
  • Precedence for success exists within Cox and elsewhere.  In the Jacksonville market, Cox added an FM simulcast to news/talk WOKV, and the station has been #1 among persons 12+ in most ratings periods since.  The company did the same with its WHIO in Dayton and KRMG in Tulsa.  In all three cases, Cox used either a Class A (lowest-power FM classification) or a "rimshot" signal, as it did in Atlanta.
Was the addition of the 95.5 signal for WSB and the sacrificial killing of The Beat a prudent decision for Cox?  I would say that on balance and looking at the long term, it probably was.  How much will the change help WSB in the short term?  That's hard to say.

WSB had been losing audience since the start of the year, but the more dramatic erosion happened in the past 4 months.  Was it because WSB's longtime audience suddenly decided it did not like AM?  The answer is yes and no.  WABE's enhancements made the station an acceptable news alternative in the drive times, and the fact that it's on FM probably added to its attractiveness.  On the other hand, with WSB's losses occurring more during talk shows, most of the decrease might be attributed to listener weariness, a problem that FM will not solve.

Just being on the FM band will attract some new audience.  And some AM listeners probably will move to the FM simulcast.  All told, the Persons 6+ numbers are likely to increase.  But what about WSB's stated reason for the move, attracting younger people?

As the Cox execs asserted, younger people listen to FM only.  Nevertheless, News/Talk is an older-skewing format, and being on FM is not going to change that.  WABE is on FM only, and 66% of its audience is at least 55; 48% at least 65.  But as younger people reach the news/talk age demos, WSB will be more likely to pick them up as listeners, so the move augers well for the long haul.

Revenue is influenced heavily by ratings but is also closely tied to supply and demand.  It's hard to imagine that WSB's revenue will grow enough in the immediate future to compensate for the loss of The Beat.

The Groove at 105.7 has smartly taken advantage of the hole in the market left by The Beat's exit by adding a number of current Rhythmic songs.  But The Groove has been staying away from the more Urban-oriented product and still airs some older Rhythmic AC.  (Where else does B.o.B. meet Madonna?)

Clear Channel also has added a Groove simulcast outside the south-side Perimeter on the little 96.7 signal.  With 105.7 strong outside the north-side Perimeter, that leaves just one area not getting an effective signal, and it's called Atlanta.  The Beat's audience was 26% Hispanic and 33% African-American.  The 105.7 signal is powerful in Gwinnett, a high-density Latino area.

Based on The Beat's high black audience composition and The Groove's weak signal in town as well as absence of hard-core Hip-Hop, the biggest beneficiary of The Beat's untimely death might be Urban Hot 107-9.  The Radio One property been wooing former Beat listeners by proclaiming itself "Atlanta's only hip-hop station," and its age target of 12-34 matches The Beat's.  Even Q100 could snag some listeners.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

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

Monday, August 30, 2010

Cox Clones A Legend

I learned about WSB-AM as a young teenager in Baltimore.  When my radio fever took hold and I started tuning across the nighttime dial, WSB was always there with a reliable, clear signal.  When I made my first trip to Atlanta in 1975, three things were on my agenda, a Braves game, Underground Atlanta and a drive to White Columns on Peachtree, WSB's home.

To many living here in Atlanta, WSB was Atlanta radio.  In this land of poor ground conductivity and low-power signals, WSB was the one station that could be heard everywhere day and night.  In the 60's and 70's, the kids had Quixie (WQXI-AM), and their parents had WSB.  And former WSB General Manager Elmo Ellis was as much a legend as his station.

All of this created kind of a mystique to WSB, an allure above and beyond what it sent out over its signal.

As FM music stations took center stage in the 80's and 90's, WSB started losing its way.  The decline might have culminated in 1990, when the station let the Braves go to WGST just in time for the unanticipated championship season of 1991; and helped create a formidable competitor in the process.

Former WSB General Manager Marc Morgan, now a top executive at Cox Media Group, raided the kitty to pull Neal Boortz and Clark Howard, both proven talents, away from WGST in 1992.  With most of the key pieces in place, new Program Director Greg Moceri's immediate concern was bringing WSB's formatics into the 1990's, which he accomplished in resounding fashion.

In fall 1995, WSB rebounded to #1 in persons 12+, a position that it was to trade back and forth with V-103 over the next 15 years.  The station had gotten there with still more money, a lot of it, and a little luck.  As for the money, WSB had outbid WGST to reclaim the Braves, which had become one of baseball's best teams, effective with the 1995 season.  As for the luck, WSB tested reruns of Dr. Laura during early afternoons in 1996 and dethroned Rush Limbaugh on WGST.

WSB's market-leading position was the result of a number of things--premier talent, the Braves, super imaging and formatics, the market's top news department, its 50,000-watt signal--and that mystique surrounding the station.

WGST owner Clear Channel eventually did the inevitable, stealing Dr. Laura for its own Atlanta station.  After all, her show was syndicated by a Clear Channel subsidiary.  Laura was dragged kicking and screaming up Peachtree Street.  But the move neither hurt WSB, given its momentum, nor helped WGST.

When Arbitron brought its Portable People Meter to town in 2009, predictions were widespread that WSB's halcyon days were numbered; that WSB's ratings were partially due to the brand's high recognition, which had been manifesting itself in bogus diary mentions.  That turned out not to be correct.

Early this year, WSB-AM started seeing some audience erosion.  The rate of loss accelerated over the past 4 months.  Though the 6+ numbers bounced back some in July, the station fell from the top 10 in the money demo, Adults 25-54.  Decisive action was taken on August 16, when 95-5 The Beat was blown up and replaced with a simulcast of WSB-AM.

In 2 weeks, we'll talk about the rationale for the move and its likely outcome for WSB as well as its implications for other stations.

Thanks for reading, and happy Labor Day.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

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

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sports Radio's Front Lines

Last week, I talked about 680 The Fan's (WCNN-AM's) dominance over its direct Sports rival, 790 The Zone (WQXI-AM).  The reason probably is a combination of factors, marginally better daytime signal, much better nighttime signal, Braves and Thrashers, consistency.  The biggest reason for The Fan's ascendancy, however, is likely the talk hosts on both stations.

As I thought about each station's staff, I wondered whether The Fan's hosts are superior, or whether The Zone is doing things to drive listeners to the competition.  I mentioned last week that sports knowledge and broadcast talent do not seem to go together on Atlanta's Sports stations for the most part.

In morning drive, The Fan has Christopher Rude with Perry Laurentino and Leo Mazzone at his side.  I have always been a big Chris Rude fan back to his stellar run at 96 Rock.  He anchors the show with talent and professionalism, and keeps things on an even keel.  His background is not sports, but he's learned enough to conduct an effective show with the sports-minded Laurentino as co-host.  I am not a Laurentino fan; I find him a bit on the irritating side, and some of his opinions seem a little out there.  Mazzone is an Atlanta favorite, and his being there adds comfort, especially during baseball season.  But his tangible contributions to the dialogue are not exactly profound.

Mornings at 790 The Zone feature co-owner Steak Shapiro (when he's there), Chris Dimino and Nick Cellini.  All three have at least a modicum of broadcast talent.  I enjoy Dimino and Cellini very much.  They're the best baseball guys in town and do about as well with the other sports.  Shapiro is the lightning rod, thought to come across as obnoxious, and just as likely to talk booze, strip clubs and where he ate last night as he is to discuss sports.  Steak is actually good when talking sports although his sound does carry a tinge of obnoxiousness.  Mornings of course set the table for the rest of the day, and my feeling is that Shapiro has driven listeners over to The Fan's Rude Awakening.  I don't know how Program Director Matt Edgar tells an owner that he should be replaced with a new third voice, but such a move seems imperative for The Zone to get back into the fray.

In late mornings, The Fan carries ESPN Radio's Colin Cowherd.  The Zone has Jeff Woolverton, up until recently paired with the much-maligned Brandon Adams.  While we have awaited word of Adams' replacement, Woolverton has been partnered with Sam Radin, John Michaels and Hans Heiserer.  Woolverton has a decent knowledge of sports, especially the NBA, but has an overbearing delivery that borders on abrasive.  I find him a difficult listen.

In early afternoon, 680 The Fan airs Chuck (Oliver) & (Matt) Chernoff.  Many consider these hosts, both formerly on 790 The Zone, as the market's best.  The show is intelligent, interesting and substantive.  But here's my question:  Where is the broadcast talent?  Chuck & Chernoff seem to do pretty well without a whole lot of radio aptitude, and I guess knowledge and intelligence override talent when you're talking sports.

The 1-4PM slot at The Zone is filled by The 2 Live Stews, brothers Doug and Ryan Stewart.  The Stews and their Doghouse originate from the 790 The Zone studios and are syndicated by Sporting News Radio.  Doug and Ryan are talented and know sports, but they're not for everyone.  The typical adult University of Georgia fan in Atlanta might not prefer the style of these young African-American hosts.  This is a case where the benefit of creating and originating the show probably pays bigger dividends to The Zone than a local show that attracted more listeners.

Buck (Belue) & (John) Kincade handle afternoon drive on 680 The Fan.  Belue is in the air chair by virtue of leading the Georgia Bulldogs to the 1980 national championship; and for his 93-yard touchdown pass that season to Lindsay Scott that led to beating Florida.  The Fan is fortunate that Belue found time to do the show while writing his best-selling book, How I Developed a Philadelphia Accent in Valdosta.  John Kincade worked at 790 The Zone and joined The Fan when it resurfaced in 2000.  He also hosts a Sunday morning show on ESPN Radio.

College football is king in Atlanta, and Buck & Kincaide accordingly did a college football-centric show.  Yet as their station has started airing the Thrashers and the Braves, they have done a nice job of increasing coverage of those teams.  That a show hosted by Georgia legend Belue would lure Atlanta sports fans, especially with its first hour competing against The 2 Live Stews, is no surprise.  Nevertheless, we get back to the issue of broadcast talent, and Buck & Kincade have little.  Moreover, the chemistry between Buck and John does not seem copacetic; you get the impression that they dislike each other.

Opposite Buck & Kincade from 4-7PM on 790 The Zone is (David) Pollack & (Mike) Bell.  In my opinion, this is Atlanta sports radio's best show.  This is a different Mike Bell from the comedian on Mayhem in the AM who talked about his sexual conquests and boozy adventures.  Bell has broadcast talent and keeps the show moving.  Pollack, a former All-American at UGA, has less radio ability but shows intelligence and is knowledgeable about several sports, especially football.  My only complaint is that Bell tends to dominate and often steps on Pollack.

Overall, 680 The Fan is more laid-back while 790 The Zone is more upbeat and flashy.  The Fan has been steadfast in its pursuit of local play-by-play rights.  After Clear Channel treated the Braves as an FM programming interruption, 680 The Fan embraces the team.  The Braves have also been leading 680 The Fan to record billings and its Cumulus FM cousin, Rock 100.5 (WNNX-FM), to record ratings.  And, Cumulus has stolen The Hawks from 790 The Zone for the Cumulus 97.9 FM translator signal, which is a pretty good one.  The Fan, being a blood relative of Cumulus, will carry a significant amount of Hawks coverage minus the play-by-play.

In summary, 680 The Fan is winning because of a combination of factors.  Some, such as better nighttime and pre-sunrise signal, and Braves play-by-play, provide an insurmountable advantage.  However, 790 The Zone could get back into the race by replacing Steak Shapiro on Mayhem in the AM with an effective third voice and hiring someone such as the AJC's Jeff Schultz or WXIA-TV's Fred Kalil for 11AM-1PM.

I want to thank Roger Tiberio, an avid sports fan and Sports radio listener, for his considerable contributions to this week's column.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

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

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Fan Takes Charge

In what used to be a 2-team race, 680 The Fan (WCNN-AM) has taken a commanding lead over its direct rival, 790 The Zone (WQXI-AM).  And while The Fan's solid victory leaves no doubt, I am not convinced The Zone has fallen to the point indicated in the June PPM's, based on its numbers over the several months prior.

In the June Arbitron PPM ratings, Monday through Sunday from 6AM to midnight, 680 The Fan had 2.8 times the men 18-49 as 790 the Zone.  In radio's prime hours of Monday through Friday from 6AM to 7PM, The Fan attracted 3.4 times as many men 18-49 as The Zone.

Sports radio has been one of the few successful formats created in the past 20 years.  It's helped AM signals stay viable (although it's now found on FM in some markets).  While it generally does not get big 6+ (or 12+) ratings, it's a natural for certain advertisers--beers, cars, home supply stores and other categories--because of its audience purity and listener passion.  In key male demos, such as men 18-49, some sports outlets do well.

The Zone came to Atlanta in 1997.  Armed with a marketing plan crafted by former sports host Beau Bock, Andrew Saltzman, who grew up in the radio business, and Steve "Steak" Shapiro, former Boston sports talker, negotiated a lease (officially an LMA) with Jefferson-Pilot to take over WQXI.

WCNN had been Atlanta's first all-Sports outlet and was owned then, as is the case today, by Dickey Broadcasting.  However, in 1997, Cox Radio leased the station, keeping Sports for a short time and then flipping to News/Talk.  That left The Zone as the market's sole all-Sports option.

The Zone's early signs were positive as GM Saltzman demonstrated his radio acumen in hiring a staff.  The station's ratings were relatively small, but The Zone was bringing people back to AM.

Saltzman forged relationships with such clients as Coca-Cola and The Home Depot, assuring the station would be viable.  Management also became adept at turning spot buys into sponsorships and promotions, resulting in billings far exceeding what The Zone's ratings would normally have commanded.

As revenue grew, the syndicated Imus in the Morning was replaced by local programming (Mayhem in the AM), a move that resulted in an Imus nationwide over-the-air tirade directed at Saltzman.  By every measure, 790 The Zone was a major success.

The Cox LMA of 680 ended in 2000, and control reverted to Dickey Broadcasting.  After a few months of keeping the market guessing, Dickey announced it was taking the station back to Sports.  680 The Fan President David Dickey saw his station's position as advantageous, mentioning its 50,000-watt signal and The Zone's "New York" flavor.

Signal is not much of an issue during daylight hours.  Jefferson-Pilot  boosted The Zone's daytime power from 5,000 watts to 28,000 watts in the late 1990's.  Although The Fan penetrates Atlanta with 50,000 watts, The Zone's 28,000 watts non-directional from its Cheshire Bridge Road site makes the difference in signal strength negligible, especially among sports fanatics, who will seek out the format.

Night and pre-sunrise are a different story for both stations.  The Zone's 1,000-watt directional pattern is so limited that imagining WQXI as the 60's and 70's powerhouse that it was is difficult.  The Fan, meanwhile, beams 10,000 watts into Atlanta from its Dunwoody site but totally misses Gwinnett and Cobb Counties.  We have to give a major advantage to The Fan despite the signal's shortcomings.  Of course, nighttime listening is limited.

The Zone held off The Fan in ratings for several years and reportedly way outbilled 680.  But, The Fan kept pressing, hiring former Zone hosts including Chuck Oliver and Matt Chernoff.  The Fan picked up the Thrashers and this season, The Braves, in combination with its Cumulus FM cousin, Rock 100.5 (WNNX-FM).  Eventually, The Fan edged out The Zone in ratings and reportedly started nullifying The Zone's big billings advantage.  In recent months, The Fan has held a significant and consistent ratings edge.

Why is 680 The Fan walking all over 790 The Zone?  Nighttime signal likely plays some role, but The Fan has been winning with content and consistency as well as two major sports franchises and the loyalty that they engender. In my opinion, however, neither station exactly approaches greatness.  Is it too much to expect Sports talk hosts to have both sports knowledge and broadcast talent?  With several exceptions, neither station's hosts have a huge amount of broadcast aptitude.

In part 2 next week, we'll look at the hosts and programs aired by each station, and delve further into why 680 The Fan is winning.

Let's Help Boomer
Our friend Steve Boomer Sutton, a longtime member of Atlanta's radio community, needs our help, and it's truly a matter of life and death.  Boomer is in need of a kidney transplant and is planning a charity golf tournament to raise funds.  The tournament will take place on October 4 at Callahan Golf Links in Waleska, Georgia.  The price of $500 per foursome includes 18 holes of golf, riding cart, range balls, a Subway snack and various awards.

Boomer needs 144 golfers to make the event a success.  He is also looking for sponsors as well as gifts from businesses for the first 25 foursomes who register.  A number of Atlanta radio notables will be in attendance, including Cadillac Jack, Dallas McCade, Randy & Spiff, Moby, Captain Herb Emory, Greg Talmadge and Dan Blankowski.

Visit for the details.  Let's help Boomer get the word out.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

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

Monday, August 9, 2010

Q100's Music: Train Wreck or Stroke of Brilliance?

Q100 (WWWQ-FM) is categorized by virtually everyone as a CHR station.  Yet an hour's song log will reveal differences between Q100 and most other major market CHR's.

When Susquehanna Radio turned the keys over to Cumulus, Q100 was a state-of-the-art CHR.  Under Program Director Dylan Sprague, the station boasted of playing major hits that Star 94 ignored.  And Q100's music consisted of "all the hits," pure and simple.

Cumulus SVP/Programming Jan Jeffries is famous in the industry for programming recurrents.  It's a strategy that Jeffries deployed at stations long before coming to Cumulus.  In a now-famous 2009 interview, radio columnist Sean Ross posed the recurrent question to Jeffries early on.  Jeffries called recurrents "the backbone."  He said that while radio people think of the music as recurrents, to listeners they are good songs that have little burn.

Over the several months that followed the Cumulus acquisition, things at Q100 did indeed change.  Talk was tightened, and music became the undisputed star except in mornings.  As mentioned last week, evening personality Geller did not appreciate the gag order imposed on him and checked out.  Q100 got "10 times better" as the Cumulus 10-In-A-Row was installed.  And over the next several months, recurrents and recent gold became major parts of the music clock.

January 25, 2008 was a historic day in Atlanta radio.  99X, a station that blazed the trail for the Alternative format during the 1990's, breathed its last breath.  Q100 then moved from 100.5 to the 100,000-watt former 99X signal at 99.7.

Star 94 had made some big mistakes over the past year and a half.  The longtime Adult CHR ratings and billings winner had canceled Steve & Vikki.  Opinion on whether that was a prudent decision is to this day a mixed bag.  Star replaced its 17-year morning show with The Morning Mess, a successful morning drive team from Indianapolis.  The Mess had a mainstream CHR--some would say younger than mainstream--and not Adult CHR tenor and drove legions of Steve & Vikki listeners away.  That only strengthened The Bert Show.

With a less adult-friendly morning show, Star 94 made a decision to shed most of its Adult CHR stance and become more of a straight-ahead CHR product.  In doing so after being an Adult CHR for 19 years, the station had thrown away the baby with the bathwater.  Suddenly, Star 94 had a different sound, with a new music policy and new imaging.  To complicate things, Cindy & Ray in afternoon drive was almost a talk show, better suited for morning drive and not exactly consistent with Star's now-younger sound.

Q100's powerful new signal and Star's injured status gave Q the perfect opportunity to best its long-time rival, and it quickly won the first PPM monthly after the frequency switch.  The marketplace had chosen boring recurrents over the confusion of Star 94.

During 2008, Star 94 replaced 10-year Program Director Dan Bowen with JR Ammons.  Ammons had a few years earlier been Music Director/Assistant Program Director of Star and had since gone on to program Mix 93.3 (KMXV-FM) in Kansas City and The Big Ape (WAPE-FM) in Jacksonville.  He was well-liked, smart and a CHR expert.

Ammons quickly did what he could, firing The Morning Mess, restoring Star to its heritage Adult CHR position, improving the imaging and moving Cindy & Ray to morning drive.  If the Cindy & Ray move had been made immediately after Steve & Vikki left, Star probably would have held on to its audience, and things would have been a lot different.

JR Ammons and Music Director Michael Chase got the music back on track and in fact became a little adventurous regarding songs added.  By Spring, 2009, Atlanta had a choice of current CHR without Rhythmic on Star 94, or current CHR and Hot AC recurrents weighted about equally with Rhythmic added at night on Q100.  Star 94 won fairly handily for a couple of months.  The Bert Show dominated mornings, but Star's ratings increased as the day wore on.  Star beat Q100 in the evening and on weekends.

The Atlanta CHR marketplace was not all that happy with Star 94, just more unhappy with Q100.  Armed with a fully-competitive signal, Q100 made some music modifications, mainly decreasing the number of recurrents, which probably caused Jan Jeffries to have convulsions.  That's all it took for Q100 to bounce back on top, where it has remained since.  In the past 2 PPM's, Q100 had the highest ratings in its history.

Over time, Q100's music has evolved.  Recurrents are frequent in middays and afternoons, and Rhythmic of both a general market and Urban flavor is played all day long.  I took a look at Q100's music log in an hour of midday, afternoon drive and evening.  Current product, including Rhythmic songs, is pretty consistent across all three dayparts.  Q100 is as likely to play Drake and Taio Cruz in midday as in the evening.

In the midday hour, 5 of the 12 songs played were not current, a definite difference from the great majority of major market CHR stations.  The recurrents/gold included Dani California (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Her Diamonds (Rob Thomas), Two is Better Than One (Boys Like Girls), Bad Romance (Lady Gaga) and You Found Me (The Fray).  All of these would fit just fine on a Hot AC station though all had hit big on the CHR charts.

During the PM drive hour, again 5 of the 12 songs were recurrents/gold, consisting of The Sweet Escape (Gwen Stefani), Watcha Say (Jason DeRulo), Fallin' For You (Colbie Caillat), Down (Jay Sean) and Second Chance (Shinedown).  In the evening (8PM) hour, 4 of the 12 songs were recurrents/gold, including Love Game (Lady Gaga), Big Girls Don't Cry (Fergie), Boom Boom Pow (Black Eyed Peas) and Sweet Dreams (Beyonce).  (Love Game has the most intense Urban flavor of any recurrent on the above list.)

Back to our question: Train wreck or stroke of brilliance?  Overall, Q100's music is not a train wreck for the simple reason that all of the gold/recurrents charted big on CHR, and Q100's audience had accepted them.  I must admit that the amount of Hot AC in the midday hour did cause a rather jumpy flow.  The gold/recurrents included more Rhythmic songs during the afternoon and still more in the evening.

Does that mean the heavy use of recurrents and gold is brilliant?  I doubt it.  For one thing, the strategy is probably a manifestation of Jan Jeffries' way of putting together a CHR clock and not the result of analyzing the Atlanta competitive landscape.

The philosophy might make some sense in Atlanta because Q100 is the only station playing all the current CHR hits.  If that's what listeners are looking for, Q100 has a captive audience and might as well try to extend its reach to the format's high-end demos.  Then again, some former Q100 listeners might favor The Beat's policy of excluding some general-market tunes to sitting through a bunch of recurrents.

What is Jeffries' real objective with recurrents?  CHR is based on familiarity, and recurrents are certainly familiar.  Yet CHR stations repeat current songs so frequently that familiarity is hardly an issue.  Recurrents and gold are already proven, but new CHR tunes prove their mettle pretty quickly.

Q100 is the top-rated non-Urban station in the June Arbitron PPM ratings among both women 18-49 and women 25-54.  The station's commercial spots are consistently sold out.  So saying Q100 is doing it wrong is difficult.  Those of us starved for a real CHR since the Cumulus acquisition of Susquehanna know that if such a station launched, Jan Jeffries would have to react by breaking his recurrent habit.  Or would he?

Our frustrations notwithstanding, Q100 is not a train wreck though it's speeding down an ill-maintained track.  On the other hand, the music policy does not appear the result of ingenious insight into the market.  But for Atlanta's current CHR landscape, with no other station playing all the hits and Star 94's music lacking an edge, I can't blame Q100 for playing it as broadly as possible.

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