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