Monday, August 30, 2010

Cox Clones A Legend

I learned about WSB-AM as a young teenager in Baltimore.  When my radio fever took hold and I started tuning across the nighttime dial, WSB was always there with a reliable, clear signal.  When I made my first trip to Atlanta in 1975, three things were on my agenda, a Braves game, Underground Atlanta and a drive to White Columns on Peachtree, WSB's home.

To many living here in Atlanta, WSB was Atlanta radio.  In this land of poor ground conductivity and low-power signals, WSB was the one station that could be heard everywhere day and night.  In the 60's and 70's, the kids had Quixie (WQXI-AM), and their parents had WSB.  And former WSB General Manager Elmo Ellis was as much a legend as his station.

All of this created kind of a mystique to WSB, an allure above and beyond what it sent out over its signal.

As FM music stations took center stage in the 80's and 90's, WSB started losing its way.  The decline might have culminated in 1990, when the station let the Braves go to WGST just in time for the unanticipated championship season of 1991; and helped create a formidable competitor in the process.

Former WSB General Manager Marc Morgan, now a top executive at Cox Media Group, raided the kitty to pull Neal Boortz and Clark Howard, both proven talents, away from WGST in 1992.  With most of the key pieces in place, new Program Director Greg Moceri's immediate concern was bringing WSB's formatics into the 1990's, which he accomplished in resounding fashion.

In fall 1995, WSB rebounded to #1 in persons 12+, a position that it was to trade back and forth with V-103 over the next 15 years.  The station had gotten there with still more money, a lot of it, and a little luck.  As for the money, WSB had outbid WGST to reclaim the Braves, which had become one of baseball's best teams, effective with the 1995 season.  As for the luck, WSB tested reruns of Dr. Laura during early afternoons in 1996 and dethroned Rush Limbaugh on WGST.

WSB's market-leading position was the result of a number of things--premier talent, the Braves, super imaging and formatics, the market's top news department, its 50,000-watt signal--and that mystique surrounding the station.

WGST owner Clear Channel eventually did the inevitable, stealing Dr. Laura for its own Atlanta station.  After all, her show was syndicated by a Clear Channel subsidiary.  Laura was dragged kicking and screaming up Peachtree Street.  But the move neither hurt WSB, given its momentum, nor helped WGST.

When Arbitron brought its Portable People Meter to town in 2009, predictions were widespread that WSB's halcyon days were numbered; that WSB's ratings were partially due to the brand's high recognition, which had been manifesting itself in bogus diary mentions.  That turned out not to be correct.

Early this year, WSB-AM started seeing some audience erosion.  The rate of loss accelerated over the past 4 months.  Though the 6+ numbers bounced back some in July, the station fell from the top 10 in the money demo, Adults 25-54.  Decisive action was taken on August 16, when 95-5 The Beat was blown up and replaced with a simulcast of WSB-AM.

In 2 weeks, we'll talk about the rationale for the move and its likely outcome for WSB as well as its implications for other stations.

Thanks for reading, and happy Labor Day.  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:

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