Monday, March 29, 2010

B98.5FM's Morning Surprise

A month has passed since B98.5FM shocked Atlanta's radio community by abruptly terminating Steve & Vikki with 4 months left on their contract.  The dismissal ignited an explosion of rumors across the market, one of which was that Vikki Locke might return as a solo act.  That, I might add, seemed the most improbable of them all.

On March 8, Vikki did indeed make her way back into the control room without her longtime partner and friend, Steve McCoy.  She signed a 1-year deal that will take her through June, 2011.

My most pressing question was why Steve & Vikki were not allowed to finish the 4 months left on their contracts.  After all, word had leaked out that their termination coincided with Cox's decision deadline for its right not to renew.  So it seemed to be all about money, a veritable bundle of which was sitting in the ensuing contract.  Was Cox trying to lower the duo's value by knocking them off the air?  Did the station fear they would sputter unsavory words?

The next nugget to surface was that Cox had been analyzing the PPM ratings minute by minute, and finding talk segments were not the ticket to morning glory.  Of course, we have to consider that Cox's Bob Neil was probably predisposed to chatter not working.  But, we now had a plausible explanation for the show's premature death.

I expected Vikki's new show to be music intensive, calling it a "Kaedy Kiley special" right here in these pixels.  B98.5 would have a big name to lure listeners and would let Vikki do her proverbial "Quickies from Vikki."

That was not what played out, however.  Instead of the "Steve & Vikki Show," we got the "& Vikki Show," with plenty of talk punctuated by telephone calls.  Instead of Steve McCoy, Vikki had a supporting cast of producer Will Gara and assistant producer Jessica Forkel.

I was not liking the show and felt Steve's absence had taken its soul.  The overarching question was one that I thought had been answered.  Why was Steve not permitted to work through his contract?  What was that stuff about PPM numbers?  Did someone at Cox have a problem with Steve (who's reputed to be a great guy by the way)?

Fast forward to week 3.  The show was streamlined and coming together.  Talk and spots were surrounded by two dead-segued songs.  Talk was lengthy but had a defined limit.  I doubt the new talk segments have the bandwidth to accommodate both McCoy and Locke.

Questions still remain, however.  While talk has been cut back, it's still plentiful.  So if talk hurts the PPM numbers, is the station okay with being hurt just a little less?  Is a certain amount of talk okay before ratings take a dive?  (I've seen a study showing talk on a music FM immediately chases listeners, but whether that's true for morning shows is a question.)  Moreover, why Vikki over Steve?  Will she work for less than Steve?  Were Steve and station management doing some of that ultimate fighting, PPM style?  And from where within Cox have these decisions come?

This is all a bit too heavy for me.  Excuse me while I turn on B98.5FM, listen to Jordan Graye and ease my mind.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Atlanta Radio's Special Teams

We all know Atlanta radio's starters, who are on the front lines every day.  But Atlanta radio has special teams that put those starters in scoring position.  Their members might not be quite as famous, but they greatly enhance their stations' numbers.

This week, we want to pay tribute to the broadcasters who make up this group.  So in alphabetical order, here we go:

Jamie Dupree - WSB-AM:  How can someone calmly express his opinions to Neal Boortz, especially when said opinions do not always jive with the Talkmaster's?  And why does the theatrical Mr. Boortz not jump all over those views?  Maybe it's because Cox Radio's Washington correspondent, Jamie Dupree, has Boortz' respect.  Dupree's knowledge and steady demeanor make his added value to Atlanta's Morning News, Neal Boortz and WSB newscasts very significant.

Captain Herb Emory - WSB-AM:  He's a very key part of WSB's drivetimes.  His captain moniker, authoritative voice and sure-footed delivery reassure motorists and add to the station's credibility.  He also contributes NASCAR expertise by hosting a racing show on Saturdays.

Kirk Mellish - WSB-AM:  He predicted this would be an unusually cold winter, and he was right.  He said we would get some bad weather in early March.  Right again.  Kirk Mellish is the go-to forecaster when severe weather threatens.  He's Atlanta's weather scientist, and he's earned the market's trust.  His studious sound perfectly complements the broadcasters whose radio voices surround him.

Doug Miller - Star 94 (WSTR-FM):  A real radio guy, Doug started as a jock and at one time held down afternoon drive at Charlotte's Kiss 95.1, one of the Southeast's most respected CHR's.  But his real calling was in imaging and production, which were also his duties at Kiss.  He later became Production/Imaging Director at Mix 93.3 in his home state of Missouri.  Doug has been working his magic at Star 94, and the station now has the market's best and most creative imaging product, which adds tremendously to its overall sound.  He made the current Everyday Payday promotion come across as huge.

Ms. Sophia - V-103 (WVEE-FM):  Ms. Sophia brings something really different--hilariously different--to morning radio in Atlanta.  She--um, he--delivers the celebrity gossip twice each day on the Frank & Wanda Show.  Ms. Sophia in real life is comedian Joe Taylor and was discovered by Wanda Smith.  After guesting a couple of times, Sophia joined the team.  Since CW 69 started taping the show for broadcast at night, Sophia has been appearing around town in drag, making her act "roflmao" funny.

Rob Stadler - Star 94 (WSTR-FM):  Rob is a member of that super-rare club with more than 20 years in Atlanta radio.  When he first spoke into a 94.1 mic, the station's moniker was 94Q.  Every morning, Rob accomplishes something even more unusual than his tenure.  He delivers newscasts that add substantial value to a station playing contemporary music, a format not often associated with the old radio promise, "where news comes first."  Star 94 recognizes Rob's value, holding on to him through the bad economy and budget cuts.  And you can bet he's earning a salary commensurate to his contributions.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Cumulus Puts Q100 in the Bush League

I was weaned on Top-40 radio, and it has always been my favorite format.  Its magic and excitement helped hook me.  And speaking of hooks, as I aged out of the demo, the hooks in the songs still mesmerized me.

One trademark of Top-40 radio has been its nighttime sound, when the overall audience was small but young people were listening en mass.  Playlists were extended, and evening personalities typically were exciting--many were screamers--and interacted heavily with their audience.

Over the years, radio has matured, and format restrictions have increased.  Top 40 is now CHR, a term coined by Radio & Records.  Evening CHR jocks are more scripted, a result of both the homogenization of radio and the sophistication of programmers regarding how Arbitron works.

Q100's Adam Bomb was close to as good as today's CHR evening jocks get.  He did a quintessential evening CHR show, the only one in the market.  He executed the format well and performed his act with his young audience in mind.

After Adam's promotion to mornings at i93 in Dallas, Cumulus teased us with Q100 part-timer Carter, and then sprang the syndicated Access Hollywood host and former presidential relative, Billy Bush, on us.  Did the price of keeping Jeff Dauler on the Bert Show deplete the cash drawer?

Evening syndication is a growing fact in today's radio landscape.  And while radio's repeater business model is unfortunate, ratings for the most part have been standing up.  Look at how many Country stations air CMT Live with Cody Alan or 2nd Shift with Alan Kabel and do well.  Bringing Billy Bush to Q100 obviously was not a decision made by Rob Roberts, Q100's Program Director.  It probably was not even made by Cumulus' CHR programming honcho, Jan Jeffries, although his fingerprints are all over the music.  This was likely a financial move that came from the top of the company.

The contrast between Billy Bush, who had been on after 10PM, and Adam Bomb is tremendous.  Bush sounds like he's syndicated though whether that's detected by Q100's audience is questionable.  But Bush has no energy, no forward momentum, and contributes no meaningful content over song intros.  He lacks charisma, and his laid-back delivery is a total disconnect with nighttime CHR.  The music seems a mix of rhythmic recurrents and Jan Jeffries specials such as Clocks by Coldplay.  Might I go as far as calling the Billy Bush extravaganza a train wreck?

Q100, by expanding Billy Bush, and B98.5, by dismantling Steve & Vikki, have bestowed gifts upon Star 94, which must be feeling the love these days.  Both Star and The Beat are live and local at night and could be beneficiaries of Q100's decrease in quality.  However, despite Q100's shortcomings, the station's evening playlist is by-and-large CHR while Star 94's and The Beat's are not.  So whether Bush will affect ratings remains to be seen.

Cumulus has managed to put the Jan Jeffries touch on Q100, keeping it a great station in morning drive and a haven for lovers of recurrents and Hot AC the rest of the day.  That's not to take anything away from Brittany and Johnny O, both of whom are solid jocks.

When Cumulus Media Partners acquired Q100, the company brought in Rob Roberts as head programmer.  Roberts had programmed Clear Channel CHR Y100/Miami for years.  He knows his way around a CHR clock.  But Roberts' role in Atlanta seems different from his Y100 stint.  His job apparently has changed from programming to insuring Jeffries' vision is properly executed.  I would love for Roberts to program Q100 rather than hang out around the Selector software.  We all can dream, I guess.

Moving Billy Bush into evenings is symptomatic of radio's deterioration.  We can only hope that ratings prove Cumulus wrong.  While we wait, I sit and wonder whether Atlanta will ever again get my favorite format, CHR, in its true form.

Mason Dixon to Step Down
George Mason Dixon has announced he will leave his afternoon drive post at Country WNGC.  He's been part of Atlanta-area radio for many years and was named in our "Atlanta's Best & Brightest" column last year.  The reason for his departure is said to be the long commute to and from his house in Suches.  Suches is also the home of another former Atlanta radio icon, Willard, who worked for years at 96 Rock and then Z93.  That both live there is kind of a coincidence since the population of Suchess is 899 people.

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Monday, March 8, 2010

B98.5 To Have A Locke On Mornings

The rumors were flying last week regarding the return of Vikki Locke, sans her 19-year on-air partner, Steve McCoy, to mornings on B98.5 FM.  The common thread running through all the rumors was that she will be back.  How long she will remain is a question.

The show she will do, however, will be quite different from what it was 2 weeks ago, before many observers were stunned when Steve & Vikki were abruptly dropped with 4 months left on their contract.  The new more-music shift will enable Cox Media Group's Bob Neil to sleep with pleasant dreams of B98.5's March PPM numbers.

One rumor was that Vikki's contract would be extended for a year at reduced pay, an effort to break up the Steve & Vikki team.  Since then, there have been indications that Cox might be rethinking that strategy.  A second rumor surfaced that Vikki would be on air through June under her current contract, and was told an extension would likely be in the offing.  A third little bit of gossip--and get this--is Cox was secretly doing research on whether to hire back Kelly & Alpha.

There are better music-intensive jocks available for less than what Vikki would be earning if they extended her for a year.  And I question having a woman in mornings followed by another in midday; with still another in the evening.  The River pulls it off successfully with Kaedy Kiley followed by Deborah Reece.  But Kaedy has always hosted a music-intensive show, albeit with much more talk time than she has on The River.  And as music-intensive as B98.5 is, the station and its hosts have much more personality than The River, which is without a jock voice at night and hopes no one will notice.

The Atlanta radio landscape is littered with failed morning shows; finding a successful one is no walk in the park.  Even B98.5, with its formatic limitations, has gone through a slew of them.  Since around 1993, B98.5 has served up Dale O'Brien & Kari Dean, Dale O'Brien & Trevor Johns, Gary McKee & Trevor Johns and Eddie Bauer & Christy Tanner, until Kelly & Alpha came along and lasted for 9 years.  No one had ever been able to handle the B98.5 morning clock, which was music intensive but allowed for limited talk, mostly over music, as well as Kelly & Alpha.

So we wait to learn what Vikki's deal will be.  If it's 4 months and a possible extension, B98.5 has a few options.  The first of course is to reward Vikki Locke with another year at reduced pay.  A second possibility is to bring back the famous shower scene from the TV show Dallas, in other words rehire Kelly & Alpha.  A third idea would be moving Kelly McCoy into mornings.  Like Kicks with Cadillac Jack, Kelly would give B98.5 an instant heritage morning show.  He is talented and creative enough to do the little bit of extra personality that the morning shift allows.  And hiring an afternoon host is much easier than finding a morning show.

Kelly McCoy Celebrates 25 Years
Speaking of Kelly McCoy, he has completed 25 years at B98.5, an obviously tremendous accomplishment.  Congratulations, Kelly.

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