Monday, May 24, 2010

The Bull Fights; Has Star 94 Learned From Experience?

In our last column, I mentioned that Kicks 101-5 had won the Country war, and 94-9 The Bull had hit a wall.  I added The Bull needs to figure a way to get to the next level.  It looked like Kicks had milked The Bull to where she was sluggish and ready to be killed.  Then came the April PPM numbers, and while The Bull is feasting on hay and grass, I'm eating crow.

The Bull showed a nice increase, from a 3.0% to 3.4% share in persons 6 and older.  That put the station back where it was 6 months ago following a steady series of decreases since then.  What's going on here?  This all seems to be a function of an unstable 18-34 cell.  In December, The Bull inexplicably lost about half its 18-34 year olds.  In April, the same thing happened to Kicks, as the station plummeted from #8 to #14 in the demo while The Bull gained.

This of course raises questions regarding the reliability of Arbitron's 18-34 sample; the cell has always been problematic with audience measurement.  I'm not privy to the sample's turnover or meter carry rate, but I have to wonder.  The 18-34 demo has become increasingly important to the Country format, given the likes of Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Jason Aldean and others.

Star 94 ran its Everyday Payday contest this spring, and it sounded larger than life.  Of course, reinforcing the thinking that nothing in radio is original, Kiss 104.1 (WALR-FM) had the same contest at the same time, albeit with a slightly different name, the Workday Payday.  The Star 94 version was so well done that it made the station sound like it had momentum.  So did it work?

Star saw its cume swell by approximately 100,000 people in March.  Unfortunately, Everyday Payday did nothing for time spent listening, the second half of the average quarter-hour equation.  That's not at all surprising when you think about it.  Star 94 announced a contestant's name at the top of every hour and promoted that fact.  That made it too easy for people to listen for a short span of time and then tune away if the name was not theirs.

Now, the Everyday Payday's successor contest has hit the Star 94 airwaves and likewise sounds phenomenal.  The correct caller picks up an iPad and gets to take a crack at $5,000 by trying to identify the songs in a montage.  This time, however, Star takes calls just 4 times a day, at 7:07AM, 11:07AM, 4:07PM and 6:07PM.  The lesser call times might be based on the higher value of the prizes, but will they do anything to increase time spent listening?  They possibly could keep listeners tuned in longer than a name an hour did.  But, I wonder why Star is not staggering the times, announcing them daily to keep people listening; or even going further by revealing just the hour.  Of course, having to listen to decipher the montage should extend TSL.

Okay, what am I missing?  The Bull plays "Lyrics & Loot" at the same times every day, as does B98.5 with the "Big Money Buzzer."

That someone in the Star 94 programming brain trust, consisting of PD JR Ammons and APD Michael Chase, has been studying the Portable People Meter has been evident, based on the formatics.  I wondered about one element, a sweeper going into a stop set announcing that more music was next.  The sweeper of course was intended to keep people tuned in during the stop set or to get them to return quickly.  Nevertheless, the sweeper in effect also announced that a stop set was imminent, an Arbitron PPM no-no.  Recently, the sweeper was replaced by a simple recorded "Star 94," which, despite the decrease in creativity, was probably a wise decision.

As has been discussed frequently here, Star 94 moved toward Hot AC late last year but could not quite cut the umbilical cord with CHR.  It's time to call a spade a spade; it has not worked.  In the April ratings, Star ranked #14 in women 25-54, a key demographic for the station.  Direct competitor Q100's music has improved, and Q probably has snagged the bulk of the CHR devotees.  Star has run away from any remotely-urban material yet kept the CHR pacing and hit music positioning.

My feeling is that Star 94 needs to choose a direction, and either way the music needs work.  If the station wants to be Hot AC, it should add some cool songs from the 80's and 90's to give it some character.  WPLJ-FM in New York is a Hot AC that gets away with hit music positioning, but Star should probably drop it to eliminate confusion.  If Star wants to return to Adult CHR, it needs to add songs by Jason Derulo, Jay Sean, Iyaz and others.  We have noted that Star plays rhythmic product by Justin Bieber and Kesha, but stays away from the more urban rhythmic flavor.  And yes, Derulo, Sean and Iyaz have a different sound than Justin Bieber and Kesha, one that is somewhat urbanish.  But their sound is a long way from hip-hop.  It's 2010, and these artists are mainstream.  When The Beat, whose target audience is suburban white kids, unabashedly adopted hip-hop positioning in 2005, it was obvious the definition of mainstream had changed.  Plus you have to love guys who sing their names at the start of their songs.

We do not mean to suggest that music is Star 94's biggest problem.  That's mornings and the fact that the station is hamstrung in the daypart.  JR has a tough roe to hoe, and I don't envy him.

Kudos to Accountemps
Creative folks at advertising agencies have always told me that good radio commercials are difficult to do.  One company that has been able to make great use of radio is Accountemps, a temporary staffing agency.  After all this time, I still smile when I hear their spots.

Fybush Atlanta Tour Rolls On
This week, Scott Fybush's Tower Site of the Week features WAGA-TV (FOX 5) and the transmitter site of WDWD-AM (Radio Disney/590).  In addition to the usual terrific writing and photography, Scott explains why the WAGA building looks like a southern antebellum mansion.  And the station's guts are revealed, thanks to a guided tour by engineer Jim Atkinson.  Radio Disney Chief Engineer Russell Smith met us at the Powder Springs facility just as the station was about to ramp up its new 12,000-watt daytime signal.  The link is

It's a Mile High for Steve McCoy
I still have a hard time believing that Steve McCoy is not on Atlanta radio.  He was a big part of the Atlanta radio landscape for 29 years.  He has accepted the morning slot at Kool 105 (KXKL-FM) in Denver.  Steve is a consummate radio professional and truly genuine person.  We wish him nothing but the best.

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, May 17, 2010

Clear Channel's Report Card

Atlanta is a Cox kind of town.  The company's 1939 purchase of WSB-AM, already a legendary station, paved the way.  And then when WSB-TV signed on in 1948 as the South's first television station, the dye was truly cast.

Cox's radio stations captured 25.3% of the Atlanta audience in the March PPM.  Clear Channel's share meanwhile was 12.2%.  Each group has 1 AM and 4 FM stations in the market.  It's not really apples to apples, however; Cox leads the way in good signals.  Clear Channel does have 2 fine FM facilities, 94.9 (WUBL-FM) and 96.1 (WKLS-FM).  So when I opened my grade book, I paid most attention to how these 2 stations scored and to how well the cluster did its homework on the use of its signals.

Both WUBL (94-9 The Bull) and WKLS (Project 9-6-1) are tied for #14 among persons 6+ and are Clear Channel's highest-ranking stations.  Oddly enough, Project received a grade of B.  (I gave them extra credit for thinking things out pretty well.)  The station is in the 6+ dumps, but 6+ doesn't mean much when you're targeting young men.  In fact, Project was #2 in men 18-34 and in a 3-way tie for #2 among men 18-49.  That gets the station on media buys for beers, cars and other things to which a young man's fancy turns this time of year.

Project 9-6-1 has its most impressive target demo numbers in midday with Aly and during afternoons with Chris Williams.  In morning drive when it goes up against The Regular Guys and The Bert Show, Project is on the heels of the front runners except for 104.7 The Fish, whose #1 rank could be an anomaly.  Project's ratings are close enough that Clear Channel is probably wise not to invest in a more expensive morning show, especially since TRG and Bert might still prove formidable.  Over Monday-Sunday, 6AM-Midnight, Project 9-6-1 would be #1 in men 18-34 and tied for #1 in men 18-49 if it were not for Urban stations.

Chris Williams proved his programming mettle and rock music expertise when he revamped 99X's music in the mid-1990's and when he created 105-3 The Buzz.  And he's proving them again at Project 9-6-1.  Though I still bemoan the loss of the 96 Rock brand and don't love the Project 9-6-1 moniker, the station earns high marks.

Now, I'm going to take on The Bull (WUBL), Clear Channel's other blue-chip signal.  The good news is that The Bull gets a passing grade of C.  But is just passing good enough when the signal has so much potential?

March was The Bull's best month in a while, as she charged from a 2.8% to a 3.0% share in persons 6+.  Direct Country competitor Kicks 101.5 meanwhile eroded from 4.9% to 4.5%.  Nevertheless, the clear indication over the past 5 months is that Kicks has won the war, and The Bull has hit a wall.  Frankly, I'm not sure why.

Kicks has the better morning show; when Citadel's financial travails forced Kicks into the minor leagues after 10AM, the station invested its money in mornings.  Cadillac Jack and Dallas McCade are superstars who were already loved in Atlanta.  The Bull's Jason Pullman has not lived up to his advance billing though he and partner Kristin Gates do a respectable job.  Yet in adults 25-54, Kicks is 43% in front of The Bull in morning drive and 63% ahead in midday.  So The Bull's lack of lead-in from the morning show does not seem to be the entire story.  Both stations play a nicely-thought-out mix of current and recent Country.

Kicks has the heritage, and the Country audience is typically a loyal one.  While both stations have good imaging, John Wilyard, the Kicks voice, is more "in your face" and assertive.  Both The Bull's Scott Lindy and Kicks' Mark Richards are respected programmers, but Richards has managed to compensate for his farm-team talent with formatic magic.  The Bull has excellent people in midday and evenings, but unfortunately they're in Birmingham and Chicago, respectively.  The Bull needs to figure a way to get to the next level, which probably will not be easy.   And that makes me wonder whether Country is the ticket for the powerful 94.9 signal.

Clear Channel's Regional Mexican move-in at 105.3, El Patron, is considered successful, partly because it's the only Hispanic game in town.  But Clear Channel should be sent to Detention for keeping it on 105.3.  The late Viva has already proven that Spanish on 105.7 can get ratings, and the 105.7 frequency provides much better coverage of Gwinnett, a hotbed for Latino growth.  Moving El Patron to 105.7 would free up 105.3's stronger signal for The Groove.

The Groove at 105.7 is a second-tier station with comparatively low first-preference listening.  It carries the syndicated Elvis Duran in mornings and has one live and local jock--but a good one--Tripp West.  What Clear Channel spends on The Groove seems consistent with the outlet's billings potential.  We covered this recently, but the 105.7 signal, though good in the northern environs where The Groove's audience tends to live, is simply too weak for the station to compete in the Atlanta market.  If Clear Channel really wants Atlanta to get into the Groove, the company needs to do a frequency swap with El Patron and grab 105.3 for its Rhythmic AC/CHR.

The remaining station in the CC/Atlanta stable is WGST-AM, which Clear Channel has cleansed of local programming.  WGST has one insurmountable problem, its nighttime signal, which covers little more than Downtown, Midtown and South Atlanta.  WGST was once a giant in this market--make that a monster--but that was when the station had an FM and before WSB-AM was awaken from a long slumber.  If WGST is to become viable again, Clear Channel would need to euthanize The Groove, shift El Patron to 105.7 and add 105.3 as a WGST simulcast.  That would put WGST in shape in terms of facilities, but some local programming investment would need to be made.

Clear Channel's Atlanta cluster has been more stable under the leadership of Melissa Forrest so I'm going to give her a star for good conduct.  If The Bull can be aroused to attack Kicks more viciously, Clear Channel's overall grade of C- will probably rise next semester.  And if the company can figure out how to properly utilize its 105.3 and 105.7 rimshots, it might even make the Principal's List.'s Atlanta Tour Continues
This week, Scott Fybush's Tower Site of the Week features Rock 100.5 (WNNX-FM), Q100 (WWWQ-FM) and 92-9 Dave FM (WZGC-FM).  As always, Scott's writing is superb and imparts lots of great information.  This issue also features some spectacular photography, shot from the roof of the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel, home to the 100.5 tower and antenna.  The link is

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, May 10, 2010

B98.5 FM's Little Mysteries

In past columns, I have wondered aloud why Star 94 plays certain songs and stays away from others.  For example, Star plays Baby by Justin Bieber and Your Love is My Drug by Kesha, but does not spin anything by Jay Sean or Jason Derulo, who have a rhythmic tenor but are still mainstream.  And why doesn't Star play Solo by Iyaz?  It's a huge hit and has a rhythmic-pop sound.  A couple of weeks ago, I questioned Star's not playing Rude Boy by Rihanna, which I admit leans a little more toward the hip-hop side of things.  Yet it's #1 on Billboard's Pop Songs and is played on some Hot AC stations.

My questions on Star 94, however, pale in comparison to a much larger issue: Why does B98.5 FM play no current music?

B98.5's playlist can best be described as Hot AC except for one distinction.  Hot AC stations include current product in their music rotation.  Breakeven by The Script is a hit that seems perfect for the B98.5 sound; it truly has that Hot AC flavor.  Need You Now by Lady Antebellum, which happens to be my favorite song, has crossed over into CHR, Hot AC and AC, and would fit perfectly.  How about the smash by Train, Hey, Soul Sister?  It's so Hot AC, as they say.  Then there's Adam Lambert's Whataya Want from Me? and others that would seem to complement B98.5's heavily-researched playlist.

Is B98.5 intent on having its own unique sound that's different from Star 94 and Q100?  Adding some current songs would somewhat duplicate what Star and Q play, but B98.5's overall music personality would remain noticeably different from its two closest competitors.  Moreover, playing select hits might appeal to B98.5 listeners who like the station's sound but would prefer a bit of today sprinkled in.  Is B98.5 finding something in its research that's making it shy away from current product?

B98.5 FM staff say that what the station is doing is working, in other words the old "if it ain't broke" axiom.  But, would adding current tunes enhance the station and shore it up against a future AC competitor?  In truth, ratings probably would not noticeably sway, and no new AC appears to be on the horizon.  B98.5 is said to be Cox Media Group's Bob Neil's favorite station.  He invented the format, and its intricacies are as guarded as Coca-Cola's secret formula.  So I'm not expecting to get the real answer to my question, assuming there is one.

Acronyms Galore
Why does everything seem to be turning into an acronym?  Certain acronyms roll off the tongue and are just fine; KFC and the AJC come to mind.  Others just don't work.  Kiss 104.1 is running promos for the Tom Joyner Morning Show, which feature the fly jock himself.  He reminds Kiss listeners to tune to "the TJMS" every morning.  The TJMS?  Not exactly music to the ears. Visits Atlanta
This week, Scott Fybush's "Tower Site of the Week" at features the main and auxiliary transmitter sites of Star 94 (WSTR-FM), the 790 the Zone (WQXI-AM) site, and the Star and Zone studios.  I accompanied Scott when WSTR/WQXI Chief Engineer Scott Trask met us at the various facilities and provided excellent tours.  Scott Fybush is an accomplished writer, an excellent photographer and a broadcast encyclopedia so the feature is well worth looking at if you have any interest in the technical end of radio.

I have to excuse myself now to go listen for the Big Money Buzzer on B98.5.  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, May 3, 2010

Praise Lifts 102.5 to Ratings Heaven

I made a deal with Derek Harper, Program Director of Radio One's Praise 102.5 and Majic 107-5/97-5.  I write a column about Praise 102.5, and he remains my Facebook friend.  Okay, that was a slight exaggeration.  He actually emailed, "Now that we are Facebook friends, you could at LEAST show my gospel station a little more love.  From #10 to #3 25-54 deserves a write-up in your blog!"

I took a look at the Arbitron total audience shares in 12 markets across the Southeast.  The Gospel format as a whole is pretty competitive with the big boys.  Maybe the bad economy has led people to faith.  Nevertheless, no other Gospel station has accomplished as much as Atlanta's Praise 102.5.

Praise 102.5 (WPZE-FM) captured third place among persons 6+ in the March PPM with an impressive 6.4% share.  The closest Gospel performers in other markets (for persons 12+) were Clear Channel's WHAL/Memphis in 4th position and Radio One's WNNL/Raleigh at #5.  Even more impressive, given the format's reputation as older skewing, Praise 102.5 landed in a 4-way tie for #2 among adults 25-54, widely known as the money demo.  (Praise's best-performing demo cell is 45-54.)

Praise 102.5 has also achieved something fairly amazing in the PPM world.  With the Portable People Meter's propensity to catch listening everywhere, amassing a giant cume is considered the road to high audience shares.  Yet WPZE's cume is relatively small, but its average time-spent-listening is almost 5 hours and is the real catalyst for its record-high ratings.  Also impressive is that First Preference Listening comprises 72% of its average quarter-hour audience and 42% of its weekly cume.  The only stations to better that are Spanish WBZY and Public (NPR) WABE.

In last year's Radio One frequency shuffle, Praise moved from 97.5 to 102.5.  Although the cluster's weakest signal with 3,000 watts from 469 feet, 102.5 throws a good signal over the areas where almost all the Praise target resides, especially when you figure that Radio One super Chief Engineer Vic Jester has probably worked his optimization magic.

Mornings on Praise 102.5 feature the syndicated Yolanda Adams.  Middays are handled by Darlene McCoy, who has earned rave reviews for her on-air work.  Rhodell Lewis takes care of the afternoon drive chores.

Evenings are where Praise 102.5's star really shines.  CoCo Brother (Cory Condrey) was brought in from sister station WKYS in Washington several years ago to do evenings at Radio One Hip-Hop outlet Hot 107-9.  CoCo decided Gospel was his calling and began transforming Gospel radio, first with a Sunday morning show on Hot 107-9.  He was able to connect the dots between Gospel and Hip-Hop and in the process, became highly influential in the Gospel world.  "CoCo Brother Live" came in at #2 in evenings among adults 25-54 in the March PPM ratings.  Based at Praise 102.5, the show is now syndicated to 20 markets across the country.

I asked PD Harper why Praise 102.5 has been setting ratings records.  He told me, "I believe the main reason for our growth is that we've changed the way we approach Gospel radio, as a matter of fact...we don't even call it's Inspirational radio.  We use the same approach that we use on our Urban AC and Hip Hop station.  We try to be very progressive in our sound, promotions and imaging.  We've tightened our playlist and are grooming the next generation of stars in this format."

A factor that has historically hindered Gospel radio from a sales standpoint was the perception that its listeners were downscale.  The format's higher ratings and younger demos in general should help dispel this.  While none of Atlanta's Urban stations index above 100 in household income of $75,000 or more according to the Media Audit, Praise indexes at a respectable 88, just 5 percentage points below the market's Urban AC's, Kiss 104.1 and Majic 107-5/97-5.

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: