Sunday, February 28, 2010

B98.5 Still In That Holiday Mood

When B98.5 FM's Holiday PPM share went through the roof and into the stratosphere, the Cox Radio people apparently got just about as high.  Cox's lingering holiday mood was evident on Thursday when B98.5 handed its competition a late Christmas gift, axing Steve & Vikki from mornings.  Cox has given indications of both agreement and disagreement with that summation.

It's no secret that the past year has been a difficult one for radio.  Revenues were down significantly though B98.5 was one of few Atlanta stations to keep its advertising rates pretty high.  Even the rates at V-103 and WSB-AM crashed last year.  It was this thought that prompted me to call my friend Rodney Ho at the AJC a few weeks ago.  Mindful of the Steve & Vikki contract expiration at the end of June, I asked Rodney if he'd heard anything about B98.5's decision on whether to keep the duo.  He said he had not.

On Thursday morning, Rodney called and said he heard a rumor that Steve & Vikki would not be renewed.  This hearsay sounded quite possible though I personally felt it would be a mistake.  That afternoon, I received an email from a friend who is a radio insider saying Steve & Vikki were let go.  The insider explained Thursday was the deadline for Cox to exercise an option not to renew.  I was stunned and wondered why Steve & Vikki were not staying on for the 4 months left on their contract.

While salaries probably factored into this, the dismissal apparently was tied to Cox Corporate's belief, confirmed by a minute-by-minute analysis of the ratings, that talk and PPM success do not mix.  It seems obvious this came from above Tony Kidd, the Atlanta cluster's head programmer.  Here's a hint: During the station's highly successful Christmas music, Steve & Vikki were the "face" of B98.5, appearing in frequent vignettes promoting the programming.  Would they have played that role if the station thought they were not a draw?

Later came word that Cox had offered Vikki the morning show on a solo basis for a year, in other words the Kaedy Kiley special with 50 minutes of music and token talk.  The strategy was to break up the team in order to keep it from competing against Cox.  So Cox feels Steve & Vikki are not right for B98.5 listeners but worries the duo will take listeners from B98.5.  Is oxymoron the correct word?  As bad a position as this puts Vikki in, her husband is between jobs, forcing her to consider the offer.

My feeling is that a personality morning show was giving Cox's Bob Neil more stress than he could handle.  Consider my own history regarding B98.5.  About 5 years ago, I worked with Grey Advertising on the Georgia Aquarium.  I had done a successful buy on B98.5 for selling "fish scales" to help fund the Aquarium's education program.  Kelly McCoy had been our spokesperson on the station.

Aside from the buy, several morning shows had given Aquarium philanthropist Bernie Marcus lengthy interviews.  When the next buy was to be placed, the Aquarium's Marketing Director asked that I give favorable consideration to those stations.  I informed the B98.5 salesperson, who then requested such an interview.

B98.5's response was the station would do a 2-minute interview, but all questions and answers were to be agreed upon in advance.  (To this day, I wonder if the station heard incorrectly and thought the interview was with Hugo Chavez and not Bernie Marcus.)  B98.5 would then cut the interview into 4 30-second parts.  We would purchase a 60-second spot; the first 30 seconds would contain 25% of the interview, and the other 30 seconds would be a commercial.

I was somewhat taken aback and solicited help from Dan Kearney, then GM of the station.  Dan's response was, "My Program Director has a coronary whenever music isn't playing."  Another time, I was in a meeting with Dan, and he mentioned Bob Neil had just created a new music clock.  I thought, "The CEO of Cox Radio creating a music clock for an individual station?"  Soon thereafter, I asked the late WSB-AM news anchor Mike Kavanagh whether this hands-on style at the station level was not unusual for a CEO.  Mike answered, "Yes, but Bob has Marc Morgan to handle the business side."

Chris Wegmann, former Cox/Atlanta Market Manager, once told me, "B98.5 is Bob Neil's favorite station.  I told (former Clear Channel Market Manager) Jerry Del Core, 'If Lite FM gives away $5,000, B98.5 will give away $10,000.'"  I think you're getting the idea.

When Steve & Vikki left Star 94, I posted on Radio-Info that B98.5 would not hire them; they did not fit Bob Neil's vision of mornings on a Cox AC.  A few months later, Cox welcomed them with tremendous enthusiasm.  This was shortly after Cox's WZZK-FM in Birmingham, a country station, snagged Rick & Bubba, breaking a music-intensive clock.

Morning ratings did not increase much, but that's par for the course for AC, especially with the PPM.  Office listening during working hours generates the highest shares.  I'm not privy to revenue figures but am guessing the show increased billings, reinforcing my view that the firing was mostly due to Bob Neil's duress.

I felt Steve & Vikki were perfect for B98.5 and its audience.  They instantly provided a strong foundation, high name recognition and credibility.  They also likely fostered additional benefits--increasing B98.5's likability and trust, bringing in more listeners and ad dollars in other dayparts--that are not reflected in the morning PPM numbers.

So what is the closest morning show to Steve & Vikki in terms of target audience and tenor?  That would be Cindy & Ray on Star 94.  With Star veering toward Hot AC, this is quite a gift.  If nothing else, Star should advertise on and off air, "If your favorite morning show has left you, make the switch to Cindy & Ray on Star 94."  Heck, Lily could sing the lyrics of the Steve & Vikki song.  Of course, Q100's Bert Show might also benefit.

Steve & Vikki's future depends on whether Vikki accepts the B98.5 offer.  My feeling is the team still has substantial market value in Atlanta, but given the economy and the current morning situation, landing someplace soon will not be easy.  One long-shot candidate is their former station, Star 94, with Cindy & Ray moving back to afternoons, where they enjoyed success.  Another possibility is Country 94-9 The Bull, which has stopped gaining traction against Kicks 101-5.  Steve & Vikki could do mornings and bring the station out of its malaise.  A really long shot is 94.9 returning to some form of AC and bringing in the duo.

In any case, don't expect them to jump back onto the Atlanta airwaves any time soon.  Their contract has 4 months left, and a non-compete phase will probably follow.

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

Monday, February 22, 2010

Adam Bomb Leaves Q100

Former Q100 night slammer Geller had his dream job.  Dylan Sprague, his PD under Susquehanna, had given him the run of the house.  Geller was there to entertain, and that he did.  While at times I wished I could have told him, "Come on, play some music," he developed quite a fan base.

When Cumulus Media Partners took over Q100 in 2007, the company implemented its more-music philosophy.  Geller found it difficult to perform within the limitations and bolted.  Not long after, he took his act to Raleigh's G105.

Adam Bomb followed new Cumulus/Atlanta programming chief Rob Roberts to Q100 from Y100 in Miami.  I guess the days of the super CHR voices, like JJ Kincaid, are pretty much over.  Though Adam Bomb's voice was not big, it was good and well-suited to evenings on Q100.  His delivery was fast-paced and exciting, his timing was tight, and he definitely had a feel for CHR.  He interacted well with his audience on the telephone and in person.

Adam did a quintessential CHR show, and it worked well with Q100's more liberal playlist in the evening.

So as Adam leaves for a promotion within Cumulus, rumored to be at the company's new CHR in Dallas, I want to express my opinion that he did an excellent job here in Atlanta.  And, as another quality talent is gone from Atlanta radio, I wonder who will be next to work evenings at Q100.

Cumulus' Redheaded Stepchildren
If anyone thinks the small ratings of Rock 100.5 and 99X mean those stations are not important to the cluster, forget that thought.  Cumulus has brought in super-salesman Chris Murray as General Sales Manager of those two properties.  Murray has in turn hired 3 of the market's best and most-experienced sales people.  Murray was previously a GSM at Radio One/Atlanta and owns an FM station in Macon.  Cumulus is definitely spending some bucks to compensate Murray and his staff.

This all suggests Cumulus will work hard to fix things on the programming side.  That ratings will increase is of course more uncertain than the sales part of the equation.

Heard on B98.5
Christy Henry filled in as the news person on B98.5's Steve & Vikki Show last week.  She reported Atlanta traffic for Metro Networks for years, was producer for Randy & Spiff at Fox 97 and held the morning news position at B98.5 that she temporarily filled last week.  Since leaving B98.5, she has done work for CNN Radio.

When Henry departed B98.5 previously, the market buzz was that it was not her decision.  In any case, she was an upgrade to the shift, and it was good to hear her again.  Of course, the news means nothing to the ratings of Steve & Vikki, which was a reason they could lay off Jeff Hullinger with little in the way of audience repercussions.

Thanks for reading.  If you want to comment, email me at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

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

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Atlanta & Dave FM - The Station, the Market or Both?

In my January 13th post, I wondered about the future of 92-9 Dave FM (WZGC).  I questioned whether Atlanta is just not a market for the Adult Album Alternative format.

The column attracted no-hold-barred responses from two radio observers who are AAA fans.  One remarked, "(Dave FM should) identify four core artists/groups that represent the touchstone for the music. The reason WXRT (in Chicago) has succeeded for so long is that it has a musical center – the blues - and then spreads from there. Does Dave have that?"  The person added the absence of marketing is another reason for Dave's less-than-stellar ratings.  The other commented, "I can't believe how bad Dave is.  The music is all over the place.  If you want to hear what a Triple A station should sound like, listen to (the stream of) KBCO in Denver."  Ouch.
Okay, so is it the market or the station?  Or is it both?
Where are AAA stations the most successful?  The answer is Denver, Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon, followed by Seattle and Austin.  What do these markets have in common?  One trait is minority groups comprise a very small portion of their population with the exception of Austin.  Nevertheless, as in the other markets, African-Americans make up a small percentage of Austin's residents.  Austin had the same profile as the other strong AAA markets until the influx of Latinos in recent years.
Does the Atlanta market share this trait?  The answer is no.  Atlanta is approximately 30% African-American and 8% Hispanic.

The other characteristic of the leading Triple A markets is they are all known for their liberal-leaning politics.  Progressive Rock, originally called "Underground," emerged from the liberal anti-Vietnam sentiment of the 1960's.  During the early years, drug lyrics were added to the music content by the permissive young left of those days.  Triple A as a genre tends to be on the roots side of the rock spectrum.
Atlanta as a market can be aptly described as liberal, but that's largely a function of its large African-American composition.  The market's Caucasian population probably leans more conservative as a whole.
The same January post mentioned Dave FM does not sound like the leading AAA stations.  The format has a serious while laid back tenor created by its personalities and imaging.  I find the ambiance hypnotic.  Dave FM, meanwhile, sounds like a pop station in tone although Margot has a Triple A sound.  And as the above comments noted, Dave FM's playlist seems much broader than the typical AAA outlet.
Okay, where does this lead us?  Is Atlanta being an atypical market for the format the reason that Dave FM does not adhere to AAA protocol?  Or would a true Triple A station work in this market, with its college-educated populace?  Or is Atlanta just the wrong place for any variation of AAA?
Keep in mind that Dave launched in 2005 as "Rock Without Rules," and its music reflected that slogan.  Mike Wheeler, Dave's second PD, brought the playlist over to Triple A but with some songs that were outside the genre.  Current PD Scott Jameson tweaked the station to stay inside the format's confines.  Is Dave too broad, as the people commenting suggested?
I don't pretend to know the answers.  Knowing the landscape, however, I would not have introduced Dave FM in Atlanta.  I still think the powerful 92.9 signal is capable of getting ratings, which it has not had for the past 15 years.

It's a Wrap for Joyce Littel
I was saddened by Joyce Littel's release from late nights at V-103 (WVEE-FM).  To be honest, I always felt Joyce was not in the same talent class as her on-air counterparts at the station.  Yet she was very effective in creating a niche as the market's relationship expert and friend.  And she enjoyed popularity as the Quiet Storm host for almost 20 years.

What saddened me was it seemed still another example of how radio stations put loyal talent out to pasture after reaching certain age and salary platitudes.  Joyce is certainly a pro and had the smarts to use her V-103 platform to launch other businesses.  We wish her only the best.

We do not feel Joyce's departure will hurt V-103 since the "persons using radio" percentage is low in late evenings.  A few rumors have been flying around.  One is that CBS will syndicate a show to fill those hours on both V-103 and sister station WPGC in Washington.  Another is that Joyce's salary will be used to reunite afternoon driver Ryan Cameron with his former Radio One co-host, Rashan Ali.  A third rumor is that V-103 is looking for a host to replace Joyce Littel.

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