Monday, April 26, 2010

Station Voices in the PPM Era

What makes radio magic to us?  Songs of course have hooks that grab listeners.  I'm going to coin a term, "radio hooks."  I have seen posts from people on and mentioning how they were swept away by a jingle going into a song, in other words the kind of thing that would elicit a "Huh?" from the rest of the world.

CHR has always had the most radio hooks in its architecture, but other formats have them in varying degrees.  Jocks talking up to posts with just the right inflection and produced top-of-the-hour ID's are examples.  And while non-radio people might think I was ready for the loony bin if I told them about this, especially when you combine it with my interest in transmitter sites, I believe these radio hooks combine with the hooks in the music to subliminally seduce an audience.

Professional outside voices replaced in-house promos as well as much of the talking up to vocals in the late eighties and early nineties.  This created another radio hook as the station's voice became a big part of its product.  As consolidation and then a poor economy took their toll on local personalities, stations did not skimp on voice talent, which was relatively inexpensive and made stations with shallow talent pools sound good.  In fact, station voices probably contribute to the "radio sounds homogenized" complaint from people in the industry.

As we radio aficionados drool over how various voice talents sound, the normal folk are probably oblivious to them.  But remember my hypothesis on radio hooks: While they melt us, they contribute to the listener's subliminal perception of the station.  Rob Roberts, programming chief for Atlanta's Q100 and Rock 100.5, commented, "(Imaging) is generally noticed most when it’s bad…when it’s good one just glides along enjoying the audio ride."

Radio station voice people these days are kind of akin to physicians.  There are generalists in both industries, of course.  But if you had a skin problem, you would see a dermatologist.  Likewise, if you wanted to tell people that you were about to play 10 joints in a row, you would hire a hip-hop specialist.

As part and parcel as station voices have become, something has thrown a wrench into the mix.  That something is Arbitron's PPM technology.  Recently, Kiss 104.1, 95-5 The Beat, Project 9-6-1, 104.7 The Fish and other Atlanta stations decreased the number of times their voice talent speaks as well as the length of the sweepers.  Has the radio community seen one too many Gary Marince seminars?  (Mr. Marince is Arbitron's VP, Programming Services & Development.)  I too have seen Mr. Marince's minute-by-minute analyses that show ratings on a music station decline when music is interrupted.

While I can't argue with the numbers, I still believe in my radio hook theory; that many elements, including good imaging, combine with the music to subtly entice listeners, no matter that some will momentarily tune out at certain times.  In any case, excellent voice people are heard up and down the Atlanta radio dial.  Most are just so darn good.  The following are some of my favorites:

Best of the Best
Jon Carter makes a big difference, along with his partner Buffy O'Neil, in helping B98.5FM sound great.  His voice and delivery inject youth, brightness and substance into the station and are pleasing to all ages.

Dr. Dave Ferguson has perfected a style that is unique and oh-so urban.  When you hear him, you know you're listening to V-103.

Jeff Davis has been the voice of WSB-AM since 1993, when former PD Greg Moceri used Jeff's imaging to transform the personality of the station.  His body of work has remained on the station all this time and still sounds fresh.  Jeff is more of a generalist who voices a number of formats.  He probably is not the person I would use for a more niche format like CHR.  However, he works just fine for WSB's news/talk format and tips the overall sound of the station toward the youthful side of things.

Derrick Jonzun's confident delivery lets you know that you are listening to an Urban AC station, in fact the Urban AC station, when he speaks on Kiss 104.1.

George Robinson, who lives in Atlanta, is an artist who treats his work on Rock 100.5 as an acting role, and his sound matches the station to a tee.

Kipp Kelly brings attitude to the stage that he sets for Majic 107-5/97-5's Urban AC format.  He adds a different dimension to Atlanta radio.

Really Good
Malcolm Ryker - Project 9-6-1, Nick Michaels - 92-9 Dave FM, Brian Lee - 95-5 The Beat, Joe Syzmanski - Star 94.

Aside from these personal favorites, there is plenty more great voice talent gracing the Atlanta airwaves.

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

Monday, April 19, 2010

Star 94 for Pleasure & Pain

I like a lot of things about Star 94.  Its formatics and imaging are great, and its music has improved.  Their uphill ratings fight notwithstanding, Cindy & Ray do a good job in the morning.  Heather Branch and Darik Kristofer are solid performers.  And Chase Daniels is sounding absolutely great; what a terrific pickup he was.

Late last year, Star 94 moved in a decidedly Hot AC direction, a logical decision to separate itself from Q100, whose Bert Show has stonewalled Star's attempts at ratings gains.  However, Star 94 stopped a little short of the CHR/Hot AC border.  It switched out its American Top 40 CHR countdown for the Hot AC version.  Yet the station plays such songs as Baby by Justin Bieber (with Ludacris) and Kesha's Tick Tock, which makes me wonder why Star feels Jason Derulo and Jay Sean don't fit.  Even Rihanna's Rude Boy, which Star does not touch, seems acceptable for a CHR/Hot AC hybrid.

That all aside, I enjoy the station except for one show.  When it kicked off, I did not care for On-Air with Ryan Seacrest and made no secret of it in this column.  However, I am now finding listening to Seacrest absolutely painful.  It reminds me of the morning when I suddenly could no longer look at the scrambled eggs at the Oak Grove Market.

I am not into reading minds, and The Amazing Kreskin apparently has an unlisted number.  So I'm going to take some educated guesses.  Whatever Star 94 is paying to carry Seacrest has to be minimal so the idea of using the show to replace a live jock made economic sense.  But I think there was more to it than that.  For one thing, although Seacrest debuted in midday, where almost all stations air it, Star had determined the show's permanent slot would be afternoon drive.  Second, the station promoted Seacrest like he was the second coming of JoJo Morales.  Bottom line is I believe the Star 94 brain trust thought it had a big hit on its hands.  (How's the mind reading going so far?)

Several months ago, Star 94 made a notable adjustment.  It added the underutilized Chase Daniels from 4-8PM, pushing Ryan Seacrest back to noon-4.  Heather Branch and Darik Kristofer had their shows clipped to make room.  This signaled that Star 94 decided it was not so enthralled with Seacrest after all.  With the addition of Daniels, whatever little money Star is spending on Seacrest is now money that could be added to the bottom line; the station has enough full-time talent to cover the day without spending it.  The change also sent a message that Star 94 is poised to dump Seacrest without missing a beat.

With the "Gentlemen, start your engines" announcement having been read and the Star jocks holding their foot just above the pedal, how long will they be in this uncomfortable position?  Seacrest started on Star 94 last May so will the contract be up in a few weeks?  Or did the station's headiness about the show push Star to ink a longer deal?  And if that's the case, for how long are they stuck with Seacrest?  Let's hope it's the former for the station's good and for my listening pleasure.

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

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Clear Channel's Hard Choices

With apologies to Puretone, I ask you the following question:  Is 105-7 The Groove...well...stuck in the groove?  The market's newest station is about 6 months old and shows little sign of crawling, let alone walking.

The Groove of course is only part of Clear Channel's problem in the Atlanta market.  Total shares by owner in the February PPM ratings were Cox-25.9%, Radio One-14%, CBS-12.4% and Clear Channel-11.9%.  The company's highest-rated station, El Patron (WBZY-FM), came in at an awe-inspiring #15.  We could devote another column to why Clear Channel's two blue-chip facilities, WKLS and WUBL, are not pulling their weight.

A lot of us here in Atlanta have a serious CHR jones, myself included.  So it's understandable that The Groove's evolution to more current material has gotten our attention and lifted our spirits.  In truth, the station has moved from Rhythmic AC closer to Rhythmic CHR.  But Rhythmic is still the operative term; The Groove is nowhere near real CHR.  Of The Groove's top-20 songs, only Sexy Chick by David Guetta and I Gotta Feeling by the Black-Eyed Peas are currently played by straight-ahead CHR stations.  The Groove's most-played songs probably can be classified as Rhythmic CHR recurrents.  And The Groove is still the place to hear Kelly Clarkson and Adam Lambert on steroids.

What does The Groove do now to get out of its funk?  A better question is whether anything could be done that would help.  I wish I knew the answer, but one thing I do know is what the station is doing now is not working.

The 105.7 frequency's former occupant was Viva, a Central-American Latino station that at one time got substantial ratings.  When Clear Channel added a second Hispanic outlet, El Patron on 105.3, Viva's ratings predictably fell since El Patron's Regional Mexican programming more closely mirrored Atlanta's Hispanic population, which was about 70% Mexican.  The situation reflected two more in a series of boneheaded moves by Clear Channel, putting the wrong Latino format on its first station and then cannibalizing the station's audience by adding a second Hispanic station.

When Clear Channel realized it was years ahead of its time, that the market did not have room for two Hispanic stations, especially one programmed to Latin Americans, it blew up Viva.   That of course was the right decision.  It opened up 105.7 for Clear Channel's Rhythmic AC format.  I'm wondering, however, whether one more decision should have been made.  On paper, the answer is no.

The coverage maps indicate that 105.7's 60 dbu (primary) signal covers Atlanta down to around the Airport as well as big swaths of land to the north and west.  It seems perfectly suited to The Groove's target audience, which tends to live to the north.  On the contrary, the 105.3 circle penetrates a huge area to the south and west of Atlanta but barely makes it to Sandy Springs to the north.

Sports teams are often good on paper also but still lose.  One thing about FM coverage maps can be misleading.  Non-directional FM stations are permitted to optimize in desired directions without becoming directional, and optimization can make a big difference.  For one thing, an antenna can be mounted on any side of a tower.  Yet coverage maps of non-directional FM's are always circles.  With The Groove's audience tending to be in the market's northern areas, it's quite possible that 105.7's signal is truly omnidirectional.  On the other hand, I would bet that a company with the technical savvy of Clear Channel has maximized 105.3's signal toward the northeast, where the population resides. 

The empirical evidence is what I hang my hat on, and I can tell you that The Groove at 105-7 has big signal problems.  Here in DeKalb County, The Groove is touch and go, and it's not much better going through town on the Connector.  In fact, I have concluded that 105.7, which was a truly suburban signal before moving to Sweat Mountain, will work as a metro station for only two purposes.  One is as a Hispanic station; it delivers the Latino hotbed of Gwinnett County and the high-density Hispanic areas west of town with a solid sound.  I believe El Patron could move to 105.7 and hardly miss a beat.  The second is as a WGST simulcast, which would be a problem.  An FM would be tied up with a schedule stripped of local programming, and Clear Channel would lose a profit center.

The 105.3 signal, while not one of the 100,000-watt boomers, is still mighty powerful with 61,000 watts at 1,204 feet.  It's much more stable and stronger, and has more punch than 105.7 at least as far north as Sandy Springs.  If 105.3 has a slight disadvantage in the northern environs, which likely have a higher incidence of The Groove's target, it more than makes up for it over the rest of the market.  In other words, it covers Atlanta like an Atlanta station and is competitive with the other choices on the dial.

Were The Groove and El Patron to exchange frequencies, would The Groove gain any traction?  I don't know the answer.  But if Clear Channel is determined to give The Groove a chance to work, a swap would make sense.  It would have made even more sense when The Groove launched, and Clear Channel should have thought this out a little more carefully.

Frequency switches can be confusing to listeners.  Nevertheless, the risk in this case seems minimal.  Hispanic listeners would seek out El Patron and find it quickly.  And given The Groove's specialized nature, its devotees would quickly bounce over to 105.3.  Frankly, the swap would be the only way to resuscitate the patient.

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, April 5, 2010

The Radio Story That Blows Me Away

We all know the power of the Internet.  We can track down friends we grew up with.  We can reach bigwigs who would not answer our phone calls or letters via email and often receive a response.

At this point in life, I consider myself jaded.  I've seen it all, and very little shocks me anymore.  But one story still gets my head shaking when I think about it.  The story started many years ago.

In June 1972, my brother and I set off on a car trip across the U.S. from our home in Baltimore.  In the evenings, we set up our little pup tent, which was usually surrounded by luxury RV's at KOA campgrounds.  Even back then, I was a full-fledged member of radio dorkdom and traveled equipped with my cassette recorder/radio in order to aircheck stations across the country.  My brother had his own purpose for taking the trip, to scout colleges, one of which was Vanderbilt.

As we approached Nashville, my recorder was at work, taping WMAK, the market's Top-40 station.  The midday personality was named John Young, a guy with a great voice and delivery.  As my brother wandered around the Vandy campus, I remember the recorder/radio sitting atop the car hood as I listened to more of Young's show.

Even back then, I read the trades and followed John Young's career from WMAK to KILT in Houston.  In the late 1970's, I read on the front page of Radio & Records that Young had been named Program Director of Atlanta's Z93, and of course I knew who he was.  I was quite familiar with Z93, then a kingpin CHR, and had heard the station on my first visit to Atlanta in 1975.  Nevertheless, that was the last I heard of John Young for many years.

The airchecks from my trip and numerous others that I had recorded in the 70's and 80's lay untouched in my basement for years as I moved from Baltimore to New York to Baltimore to Atlanta.  In 2005, I decided to contribute many of the recordings to, a website comprised of Top-40 radio airchecks.  Prior to submitting them, I listened to each one.  And after many years, I again heard John Young on WMAK from 1972.

A year or so later, I was scanning the posts on and noticed one from someone whose screen name was JY.  Another poster replied to JY's post with words to the effect of, "John Young, good to see you on here.  I'm Rebecca Stevens' husband, and when I told her you were on the board, she smiled."  I then emailed John through Radio-Info and told him about the WMAK aircheck that I had contributed to

John replied, saying he was glad I wrote.  That started a constant dialogue between us that developed into a friendship.  John, now with a successful voiceover business, is a smart and thoughtful radio observer, and is always generous with his time and effort in responding to me.  And, he is loyal to his friends, including Steve McCoy, whom John convinced to move to Atlanta back in 1981 from Nashville, where he was comfortable.  When he was inducted into the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame last year, McCoy acknowledged that John Young had instilled in him the courage to go head-to-head with 94Q's Gary McKee, then the market's top morning man.

While listening to and recording John Young back in 1972, I could never have imagined that I would become friends with him 35 years later.  Whenever I think about that, it still blows my mind.

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