Star 94 (WSTR-FM) is the station that launched Ryan Seacrest's career.
In the early 1990's while attending Dunwoody High, Seacrest asked Star 94's then-evening personality, Tom Sullivan, if he could visit during Tom's shift. Sullivan took a liking to Seacrest, and the visits became frequent. One evening, Sullivan wanted to run out for a while and asked Seacrest to take over the show. Program Director Tony Novia was listening and was none too pleased. But, Novia later relented and hired Seacrest as a part-timer. Ryan Seacrest became Star 94's weekend teen sensation.
Seacrest left for bigger things and eventually landed at L.A.'s Star 98.7 (KYSR-FM) handling afternoons. While still at KYSR, he took home the big prize, American Idol host, and the rest, as they say, is history.
In light of Seacrest's background in Atlanta and at Star 94, it's not surprising that Lincoln Financial Media's management thought On Air with Ryan Seacrest would be a winner in this market and in fact lead Star 94 back to ratings glory. That combined with saving money on a salary seemed too good to be true. It was.
At the time, Seacrest had already been picked up by CHR stations across the country, most of them owned by Clear Channel. The company's strategy, similar to Star 94's, was to save dollars on salaries while the lure of the Seacrest name kept ratings up. Clear Channel designed the show for middays, and many of its stations, including the most-listened-to CHR in the country, New York's Z100, were able to rely on their momentum to get through On Air without a ratings loss.
Star 94, however, was even more wide-eyed. The show started on Star during January, 2009 in middays. But rumors flew from the start that On Air would shift to afternoon drive once The Morning Mess was axed and Cindy & Ray moved into mornings. That of course all proved to be true.
Star 94 was in a different position than many of the stations carrying Seacrest. It had ceded the Atlanta CHR crown to Q100. Unlike the dominant CHR's that hoped to breeze through the show without an audience hiccup, Star was depending on On Air to overtake the competition.
I had heard On Air with Ryan Seacrest, and it sounded canned and bland. And though affiliates can program their own music, and technology makes Seacrest sound almost local, the show takes away the normal formatic flow as well as the ability to air local promotions. Star 94's Chase Daniels was inserted to run contests. And on a show that was not created with drivetime in mind, the talented Daniels also would come on to introduce traffic reports.
Star 94 remained in a ratings malaise although Seacrest's afternoon drive numbers were no worse than the station's as a whole. When Star moved Seacrest back to noon to 4 and created a 4-to-8PM slot for Chase Daniels, the bloom was off the rose. The watch was on for the other shoe to drop. Management had come to the realization that On Air was not the best use of the station's time.
That shoe did drop as of 4PM on Friday, when Seacrest signed off for the last time on Star 94. (He will of course still be heard on American Top 40.) The contract reportedly ran into next January, but the station somehow managed to wrangle itself free. The new schedule is Cindy & Ray from 5:30-9AM, Heather Branch 9AM-2PM, Chase Daniels 2-7PM and Darik Kristofer 7PM to midnight.
Removing Seacrest makes the Star 94 team a more cohesive unit. Everyone sounds like Star 94. Formatics are consistent across the day. Heather Branch's talent is more fully utilized over the midday hours. The same holds true for Chase Daniels in afternoon drive and Darik Kristofer in evenings. Star has more control over its destiny.
The upside potential notwithstanding, the move does nothing to alleviate Star 94's major structural problem, mornings dragging down the rest of the day. And some decisions regarding music need to be made. I was glad the station finally added B.O.B.'s Nothing On You now that the song is on its way down. Of course, the rap was edited out, making the sound perfect for Star. Break Your Heart by Taio Cruz Not Featuring Ludacris also is now being played, and the song sans Ludacris has a general market flavor. (Star 94 could have a sweeper promoting "your favorite songs without Ludacris." The station airs Justin Bieber's Baby leaving out the Ludacris part.)
"iPads All Day + 5K," and being live and local lead Star 94 into the July PPM period with a nice one-two punch. This could lift the station's ratings ceiling. By how much is anyone's guess, but I don't see this moving Star into the high-rent district occupied by Q100. But, living life without Seacrest was a move in the right direction.
Get Well, Julie Shaw
Our best wishes go out to Julie Shaw of the CBS Radio/Atlanta management team, a beautiful person both inside and out. Julie, we wish you a full and speedy recovery.
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