Monday, July 26, 2010

Q100 Hits Atlanta

Q100 (WWWQ-FM) will not be celebrating its 10th anniversary until January but already has made plenty of history.

Prying the 100.5 frequency, Q100's original home, from Anniston, Alabama and moving it to the Atlanta market had taken 16 years.  For the first 10, super radio broker Tom Gannon tried to claim it for Sandy Springs.  Later, Susquehanna Radio picked up the ball and sneaked it across the goal line.

The new station was licensed to College Park, but the antenna was attached to the existing tower atop the Westin Peachtree Plaza in downtown Atlanta.  The power was 3,000 watts, but the antenna sat almost 1,000 feet above average terrain.  The low wattage provided instant ammunition for the competition's sales teams to bring to uneducated media buyers.

In FM, height is as important as wattage.  Q100 actually was equivalent in coverage to 25,000 watts at 328 feet.  While covering most of the market well, the station did have a directional antenna that produced a null, an area into which signal strength was limited, in heavily-populated Gwinnett County, northeast of town.

Brian Philips had already accrued quite a reputation as a programming visionary.  He had been the architect for Atlanta's hugely-successful 99X and had resurrected Susquehanna's Dallas Country station, KPLX-FM, as The Wolf.  Philips was tapped to create Q100 and selected Ed (Mr. Ed) Lambert as Program Director.  Today, Philips is President of cable network CMT.

Q100 was something that Atlanta had not heard in years, a genuine straight-ahead Top-40 station.  In fact, the last such outlet also had been owned by Susquehanna, Power 99 (WAPW-FM), 99X's predecessor on 99.7.

Star 94 (WSTR-FM) had been winning the young CHR audience by default until 95-5 The Beat (WBTS-FM) signed on in 1999 with a format that emphasized the dance side of Top 40.  With the debut of Q100, The Beat decided the mainstream CHR category had become just a little too crowded and segued to Rhythmic CHR.

Philips assembled a blue-chip air staff of Tracy St. George, JoJo Morales and Suzy Tevares in addition to Mr. Ed.  For mornings, Philips struck gold.  He heard something in Bert Weiss, Kidd Kraddick's co-host on Dallas' 106.1 Kiss FM (KHKS).  Bert would go on to be one of the business' most successful morning talents ever, up there with Gary McKee in the Atlanta market.  Philips plucked co-host Jeff Dauler from Philadelphia's Q102 (WIOQ-FM), and despite the long-distance paring, Bert and Jeff had good chemistry.

Early on, Melissa Carter, morning news person on sister 99X, replaced Lindsay Brien, the Bert Show's original reading-challenged newscaster.  Melissa became a major member of the cast.  Much later, Jenn Hobby, part of a short-lived morning show on The Beat, became the fourth member of Bert's contingent.

In its first year, Q100 gained little ratings traction and did not hit revenue targets.  Budget cuts became inevitable; the contracts of JoJo Morales and Suzy Tavares were not renewed; station voice Sean Caldwell was replaced by Jeff Berman.  (Some felt Caldwell sounded too Hot AC for Q100.)  Susquehanna, a privately-held company, showed enormous patience with the station.  If one of the major public conglomerates had owned it, we probably would not have Q100 today.

As 2002 unfolded, The Bert Show began to grow its ratings.  Dylan Sprague was hired as PD, replacing Lambert.  Dylan, now in Denver, was a much better PD than jock but put himself on in afternoon drive.  Q100 was sounding good but was a mainly one-daypart (morning drive) station in terms of ratings.  Eventually, some audience started building outside of morning drive.

The big breakthrough came in October, 2005 when Q100 increased its power to 12,500 watts at about the same antenna height from the same location.  Susquehanna had convinced Clear Channel, owners of a Greenville market station on 100.5, to allow the increase in return for a bundle of cash.

Q100's new signal traveled farther and more strongly into Gwinnett.  Following the wattage boost, Q100's cume--number of different listeners in a week--grew exponentially.  Average quarter hour ratings remained a challenge but also increased.  In some ratings periods, Q100 was close on the heels of Star 94.

As 2005 came to a close, middayer Tracy St. George, the sole remaining jock from day one, accepted a position in West Palm Beach.  Dylan Sprague replaced her with the equally competent Brittany, who is still in place today.

Join us next week for part 2 as Q100 changes hands...and then makes history one more time.

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, July 19, 2010

The Beat & The Groove - Rhythmics of Different Breeds

Advertising agencies and advertisers have had a profound effect on radio.  They have defined their target consumers as 18-49 or 25-54 for the most part.  That the bulk of the ad money was chasing these demos forced radio stations to program for them.  During the 1990's, after a new FCC rule allowed FM move-ins to proliferate, major markets had numerous stations looking for basically the same audience.

The result was niche formatting to the nth degree.  Over the years, AC, Soft AC, Hot AC, CHR Pop, CHR Rhythmic, Adult CHR, Today's Country, Classic Country, Active Rock and others became the music choices.  In some cases, the descriptor does not necessarily reveal the programming.

What is Classic Hits, for example?  Atlanta has Classic Hits 97.1 The River (WSRV-FM), whose playlist is comprised of Rock-oriented songs that are not quite Rock, in other words a softer version of Classic Rock with emphasis on the 70's.  At one point during its Classic Rock period, the former Z93 (WZGC-FM) used the Classic Hits label and defined it the same way as The River.

Over the past several years, Oldies format listeners outgrew the younger demos for whom advertisers are looking.  Consequently, the format's stations decreased their 60's and segued more into the 70's and 80's.  And, to distance themselves from the dreaded "O" word (which also could have stood for "old people"), they positioned the stations as Classic Hits.  These days, a mention of Classic Hits is more likely to bring to mind the former Oldies purveyors.

CHR Rhythmic is a term that has described a number of format permutations.  CHR Rhythmic came to the fore in the mid 1980's, when WPGC in Washington, a longtime Top-40 station, moved to the rhythmic side of the format to differentiate itself from its direct competitor, Q107.  In the late 90's, CHR Rhythmic came to mean black music programmed for young white people.

Chicago's B96 (WBBM-FM) had been highly successful with mainstream CHR.  Around 1990, the station, owned by CBS, started adding dance-oriented songs to the playlist and evolved to CHR Rhythmic.  Late in the decade as dance product dried up somewhat, B96 mixed in R&B and Hip-Hop that was acceptable to a general market audience.  B96 was a huge success and became the paradigm for the Rhythmic CHR format.

When Atlanta's 95-5 The Beat (WBTS-FM) launched in 1999, the format was CHR Pop with a Dance and Rhythmic lean.  In 2001 when Q100 signed on as Atlanta's third CHR, Cox made a decision to shift The Beat to CHR Rhythmic in the B96 mold.  Positioning following the format adjustment remained "Atlanta's new #1 hit music station" until 2005, when vaunted consultant Steve Smith changed it to "Atlanta's new #1 for Hip-Hop."

Its positioner notwithstanding, The Beat under Smith and current PD (Lee) Cagle is musically on the CHR side of the Hip-Hop/CHR border.  Both Hot 107-9 (WHTA-FM), Atlanta's true Hip-Hop station, and The Beat share some artists, including Drake, Young Jeezy, Rihanna, DJ Khaled and Usher.  Yet the majority of Beat performers, though having an Urban lean, are not heard on Hot 107-9.  Jason DeRulo, B.o.B., Lady Gaga, Eminem and Katy Perry are in heavy rotation on The Beat but never played on Hot.  Conversely, The Beat never touches such Hot 107-9 mainstays as Soulja Boy, Rick Ross and California Swag District.  The Beat's jocks are almost all white and very good at sounding black.

Although 95-5 The Beat pretty much follows the B96 model, targeted to young whites, its audience is 47% black and 9% Hispanic.  B96 does not use Hip-Hop positioning, but The Beat has had a multicultural audience composition since it glided into the CHR Rhythmic space.

Clear Channel over the past couple of years has delved into a different kind of Rhythmic radio.  The company first introduced a Rhythmic AC format called "Movin'" in several major markets.  Movin' had mixed results and was not deemed a major success.  Nevertheless, Clear Channel hit it big with Rhythmic in New York and Miami with KTU (WKTU-FM) and 93.9 MIA (WMIA-FM), respectively.

In New York, the historic WKTU call letters were resurrected at 103.5 in 1996.  Clear Channel was careful not to cannibalize the ratings of its huge New York CHR, Z100 (WHTZ-FM), and took KTU in a dance direction.  Over the years, format modifications were made and since 2006, KTU has been defined as Rhythmic AC.  I tend to classify KTU these days as CHR Rhythmic, though far different from B96, and with a nice dose of older songs.  In the Miami market, 93.9 flipped to 93.9 MIA on Christmas, 2008 and, modeled after KTU, achieved success.

Atlanta's 105.7 The Groove took flight late last year.  When it launched, Rhythmic AC probably was the best format descriptor.  As the months passed, The Groove has trudged closer to the CHR Rhythmic side of things.  However, like KTU and 93.9 MIA, industry trades define The Groove as Rhythmic AC.

The Groove has evolved into a product similar to its New York and Miami counterparts.  Those markets, unlike Atlanta, have a huge Hispanic population that is heavily predisposed to Rhythmic sounds.  Atlanta's lack of a pure CHR station does provide at least a small opening for The Groove, as does the still modest but growing Latino population.

The Groove shares several artists with The Beat, including B.o.B., Lady Gaga, Taio Cruz, Kesha and Jason DeRulo.  From there, 105.7 The Groove swerves into a non-Urban, pop direction with the Black Eyed Peas, Gwen Stefani, Train, Enrique Iglesias, La Roux and others of their ilk.  The Groove plays a dance version of I Need You Now by Lady Antebellum and of Whataya Want from Me? by Adam Lambert.  While The Groove has become more current, almost half the songs each hour are former hits by such stars as Michael Jackson and Shaggy.

The Beat has a younger presentation than The Groove, and The Beat is music-intensive in the morning while The Groove is importing Elvis Duran's syndicated show from New York.  While both stations occupy the CHR Rhythmic space, The Beat appeals to a younger, more African-American audience, including teens.  The Groove is somewhat older, and more Hispanic and general market-friendly than The Beat.

One factor that manifests itself in the ratings is The Beat has a far better signal overall.  Moreover, the station has filed an application with the FCC to move its transmitting facility into Atlanta from its current site in Hall County.  As discussed in a previous column, The Groove could come closer to signal parity by moving to Clear Channel's 105.3 signal.

As is the way of today's radio world, every format comes in various shades (or is that flavas?).  The Groove version of CHR Rhythmic is executed with almost all current product at Panama City's 107-9 PFM (WPFM-FM).  PFM's presentation has a straight-ahead CHR sound.

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, July 12, 2010

Reports of Radio's Death Greatly Exaggerated

Radio has been on its death bed for years, or so many would have us believe.  In truth, the advent of TV was a legitimate reason to hold a death vigil for the big box without a picture.  But think about this: Radio solved that crisis by changing its content and not its delivery method.  More on that later.

The latest prediction of doom came from an unlikely source, the leader of a radio company.  Vivian Schiller, CEO of NPR, predicted listening will move online, with mobile playing a key role.  Internet radio will be in all cars and will replace terrestrial radio within 10 years, she said.  Ms. Schiller's comment prompted a predictable backlash from many of her company's affiliated stations.

I have been hearing similar forecasts for the past decade, and they've recently picked up steam.  Yet so far, radio's demise hasn't come anywhere close to happening.  As radio people, we get caught up in the decline of terrestrial programming and the growing prevalence of voice tracking, national syndication, corporate direction and the like.  As consumers, we forget about the enormous strengths of terrestrial radio.

Internet radio is coming and will likely be available in all cars within 10-15 years, probably not in 5 as some are predicting.  But, being available is not the same thing as being purchased and used.  Internet in cars will cost money, and, as with satellite radio now, not everyone will take it.  The fee of course will be for Internet access and not specifically for radio.  Wireless Internet customers will have an assortment of reasons for subscribing, radio being just one.

Terrestrial radio, meanwhile, is free, and free is a huge advantage.  Most people most of the time do not feel they need an alternative.  For this reason alone, terrestrial radio is not going away any time soon.

Those of us close to radio can think of numerous reasons why the product should be better.  When Internet radio offers alternatives, we jump aboard the bandwagon and expect it to take over.  What we don't recognize is the rest of the world doesn't think like us; most people do not place much of a premium on more radio choices.

Internet stations will have a difficult time building an audience and generating revenue.  Over 6,000 stations are available; anyone can launch one.  "Narrowcasting" became the term to describe the radio dial in the 1980's and 1990's as formats became more niche and audiences more splintered.  "Microcasting" aptly characterizes Internet radio.

Terrestrial radio also has the advantage of delivering massive audiences simultaneously; one signal can reach millions.  Internet radio, on the other hand, sends out an individual stream to each person.

In this age of high technology, we are inclined to get excited about each new device unveiled.  If we had Internet radio for 90 years and terrestrial radio were just introduced, we would say, "Wow, one signal reaching millions of people; what a concept.  It's going to take off and replace Internet radio."

Gary Lewis, Senior VP at Cumulus, said it well: "The hand-wringing over Internet radio is just one more premature obit for our medium that inevitably comes with every advent of entertainment technology.  In-car 8-tracks, cassettes, CD's, mp3 players and satellite all were supposed to spell the end.  The combination of free, local, quality "push" content that is radio has and will continue to withstand all comers for the length of our professional lifetimes."

Internet radio will grow and, along with iPods, mp3 players and the like, give increased competition to terrestrial radio.  Radio's problem is its content, and so far radio's audience erosion has not grown to the point where the content needs fixing.  If that day comes, radio will improve its content and stay on top.  The reasons are its superior delivery system and free access.

With an apology to the late Mark Twain for this week's title, 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: