Fantasizing is part of life. I admit I sometimes daydream about rolling down the highway in a BMW 7 Series or relaxing poolside with a drink somewhere in Fiji. Here in Atlanta, we have one continuous pity party over our lack of a true CHR station. So 105.7 The Groove's announcement that it would get "bigger, better and louder" on Labor Day set off the fantasizing big time. Hey, why not?
Posters on Radio-Info.com rearranged the entire Clear Channel Atlanta cluster. Even WGST was back on FM. And 94-9 The Bull was to be replaced with a new and better Groove. When reality set in on Labor Day, however, Clear Channel had made one of the two moves that would have made sense; it added the small 96.7 signal south of town to create a 105.7/96.7 simulcast of The Groove. It was a reasonable and conservative way to go.
Moving The Groove to 94.9 or 96.1 would not have made good business sense. At last listen, The Groove had just about completed its post-Beat journey to Rhythmic CHR, a format that's not one of the more mass, bigger-billing ones. The Groove's revenue potential might be in the $7 or $8 million-dollar range. The 94.9 and 96.1 signals, both 99,000 watts from in town, are worth too much for that kind of revenue; those signals need billings commensurate with their value. Mainstream CHR, on the other hand, is a mass-appeal format that can bill big.
Has anyone noticed that Clear Channel's CHR's are racking up big ratings across the U.S.? Stations like Z107.7 in St. Louis, Hot 99.5 in Washington, Wild 95.5 in West Palm Beach and 96.5 Kiss FM in Cleveland are just some examples of CC CHR's that have soared to new ratings heights. The company has learned how to do CHR. Would doing it in Atlanta on 94.9 or 96.1 make sense?
In its first 2 years, 94-9 The Bull was a poorly-programmed Country station filling a format hole that wasn't there. Its ratings reflected that and had people wondering why Clear Channel had destroyed the market's second AC station. The Bull was thought to be a failure, and format flip rumors ran rampant. Then in 2008, Melissa Forrest took over as Market Manager with an eye toward making the station a success. She relaunched it on the Monday after Thanksgiving, 2008. The new Bull was a far better product though still up against heritage Kicks 101-5. Little by little, The Bull inched forward though taking little from Kicks.
Early this year, with the market's Country shares stretched to the limit, something had to give, and that something was The Bull. Ratings started declining, but Forrest stayed the course, and things began to turn. While Kicks still holds a substantial lead, The Bull became a top-10 station in the August PPM ratings, breaking a 4% share. Country attracts prime demos though its power ratio (share of ad dollars vs. share of audience) is lower than CHR's. The clear message for The Bull is to stay the course and keep pinging Kicks for the long term.
Project 9-6-1's looks are deceiving, at least its Persons 6+ looks. While the station was #17 in the beauty contest, it was #2 in Men 18-34 and tied for #2 in Men 18-49 during July. That means beers, cars and other manly products should be easy captures for the station, translating to some decent billings. So Clear Channel appears to be under no pressure to flip 96.1. Nevertheless, with The Beat gone and Q100's music often straying away from current hits, Atlanta's CHR format hole seems to have gotten bigger. With Clear Channel's CHR finesse, flipping 96.1 to CHR might give the company two top-10 stations in a market that has been CC's achilles heel, and increase revenue.
My opinion is that Clear Channel should stay pat with Project 9-6-1 at least until The Bull is firmly entrenched as a top-billing station. After that, the risk might be worth taking (though 105.7 would have to be rethought). The problem for Clear Channel would be that Q100 holds the cards. Q100 has The Bert Show, which would be a huge barrier to success for any CHR newbie. With Bert in command during mornings, Q100 could revamp its music clock in the other dayparts, making significant listener jump to 96.1 a more unlikely proposition. Nevertheless, the young audience is a fickle one, and seeing a CC full-power CHR in Atlanta succeed big would not surprise me.
Although the addition of 96.7 to 105.7 The Groove should prove beneficial, a better move, and one that I've been touting ad nauseam, would have been to switch frequencies with El Patron at 105.3. The 105.3 signal is competitive inside Atlanta, which both 105.7 and 96.7 are not. While 105.7 puts a strong signal into affluent northern areas such as East Cobb, 105.3 is almost as potent. Though coverage maps show 105.3's city-grade signal stopping at Sandy Springs, we doubt that's really the case. Clear Channel knows how to maximize signals, and you can bet that the 105.3 signal is not really circular as shown on maps; that it's maximized toward the northeast, which can be done legally on FM without becoming officially directional.
The 105.7 signal provides good coverage of the market's high density Hispanic areas, Gwinnett County, Smryna and Austell. More importantly, 105.7 proved it could get good ratings with a Latino format when it was Viva prior to the launch of El Patron.
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Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV Blog: http://blogs.ajc.com/radio-tv-talk/