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.

Fybush.com'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 http://fybush.com/featuredsite.html.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net.  Follow us on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/atlantaairwaves, and we'll follow you back.

Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV Blog: http://blogs.ajc.com/radio-tv-talk/

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