Monday, October 4, 2010

Atlanta's Got Talent

Billy Currington is pretty good at drinking beer, but some Program Directors in Atlanta are pretty excellent at doing radio.  In fact, as much as we all moan and groan about the state of radio, some of Atlanta's programmers are among the best in the business.

I started thinking about this 2 weeks ago when Clear Channel announced it had hired Dan Persigehl as Atlanta Operations Manager and PD of The Bull.  Persigehl brings years of programming experience at Clear Channel/Phoenix, and Entercom in Portland and Kansas City, and has an excellent reputation.  While Market Manager Melissa Forrest and Senior VP/Programming Clay Hunnicutt are known to have their fingers in the pie, I doubt the company has hired Michelangelo to paint the bathroom.

CBS Radio/Atlanta Market Manager Rick Caffey, a believer in personality radio, told an audience of clients that he searched long and hard for the best programmer for 92-9 Dave FM (WZGC); and that he got that person in Scott Jameson.  Who would be more qualified on paper than a man who spent years successfully programming the leading Classic Rock and Alternative stations in the Indianapolis market?  As I've said before, Dave-FM is a little too pop as an AAA station for my taste, but I must say that Jameson has impressed with his attention to detail and to his audience.  He has a top-10 station in the money demo, Adults 25-54.

Jameson's counterpart at sister station V-103 (WVEE-FM), Reggie Rouse, also has a place in the ranks of programming heavyweights.  Having started at the bottom of the food chain at WPGC in Washington, Rouse has risen to VP, Urban Programming at CBS Radio.  Even without his programming credentials, Reggie is hard to miss when he walks into a room.

Speaking of Urban programmers, try mentioning Jay Dixon among Urban radio people; he's achieved legendary status.  These days, Dixon programs Urban AC station Kiss 104.1 (WALR-FM).  After starting out in the music business, Dixon spent 11 years as a producer at New York's 98.7 Kiss FM, part of that time working on Isaac Hayes' morning show.  He has an uncanny ability to know what sounds just right and what does not.  I met with Jay recently, and he told me something that blew my mind.   I complimented the Kiss jingles and the unusual way in which they are used.  Coming out of a stop set, the personality speaks over the ramp, and then the voices chime in.  Jay informed me that the jingles were purchased as acapellas, and that he searched the music library for a bed to go with them.  He certainly found the right one.

When Cumulus Media Partners acquired Susquehanna's Atlanta stations, the company brought in veteran programmer Rob Roberts to be its eyes and ears.  Rob spent 11 years programming Clear Channel's Y100 (WHYI-FM) in Miami to success and knows the format like the back of his hand.  And while it's hard to know how many decisions are made at the station level, a close listen to Q100 reveals that Roberts plays close attention to market developments and adjusts accordingly, keeping the station at the top of its game.

Chris Williams and Mark Richards might not come up in a conversation about heavy hitters outside the Atlanta market.  But both have demonstrated smarts and expertise.  Williams gained notice when as Music Director of the original 99X, he was charged with retooling the playlist after the Alternative station's audience had matured.  He executed the assignment flawlessly.  He went on to program The Buzz and competed against his former station while creating a unique product.  Chris then turned The Buzz and many of its elements into Project 9-6-1 (WKLS-FM), a still different station with an active rock emphasis.  He has presided over Project 9-6-1 as it scored ratings victories in its young male target audiences.

In radio as in life, you have to play the hand you're dealt, and Kicks 101-5's Mark Richards has done just that.  On February 29, 2008, most of his high-powered jocks were let go in a nationwide Citadel bloodbath.  The wreckage actually resulted in a better morning show, as Dallas McCade, who had been paired with morning star Rhubarb Jones on the now-defunct Eagle 106.7, joined Cadillac Jack.  Aside from mornings, Bill Celler was the only remaining veteran, and he was later taken off the air in a money-saving move.  That left minor leaguers behind the mic in all other dayparts.  Mark Richards, however, carried on, deploying formatic magic to compensate for the dearth of talent, and keeping Kicks on top.

In addition to the standouts above, Atlanta radio has excellent programmers up and down the dials.  I'm not going to mention the remaining names because I'd undoubtedly leave people out.  Suffice it to say that Atlanta can stand up to any market when it comes to program chiefs.

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