A male bovine has been quietly on a tear. And what's miraculous is that the animal was in intensive care just 2 years ago. Moreover, its owner is not known for saving dying herds. The days of wondering whether the owner would go back to growing fruit are over.
Ladies and Gentlemen, 94-9 The Bull (WUBL-FM) is one of Atlanta's leading radio stations. It's here to stay, and it's even found the morning show that will carry it into the future.
The story has been told here several times. In December 2006, people enjoying their Christmas favorites were jolted out of their chairs by Country music and aggressive imaging as The Bull was born prematurely. "The biggest stars, the biggest hits" was the positioner. A little humor was interjected: "From our trailer to yours, Merry Christmas." The baby station showed some promise. Owner Clear Channel's seriousness was evident when Clay Hunnicutt, head Country programmer at the company, was dispatched to Atlanta to steer The Bull.
Unlike most format changes, The Bull was not born because of a hole in the market. After all, Atlanta had heritage Country Kicks 101-5 (WKHX-FM) and its flanker sister Eagle 106.7 (WYAY-FM). And the market was surrounded by South 107 (WTSH-FM), 106.3 WNGC and others. It likely came into being because Clear Channel was desperate to grow its Atlanta billings and saw the revenue that Kicks was raking in.
The early promise fizzled out as The Bull's sound and positioning inexplicably changed after a few months. A voicetracked version of Nashville's Big D & Bubba was placed in mornings on the now laid-back Bull. Paul Koffy, a mediocre jock, was hired for middays. A not too tantalizing used car giveaway was shared with other Clear Channel stations. The Bull was getting clobbered by Kicks and beaten by Eagle. If "The Bull" were an answer on Jeopardy, the question would have been, "What were they thinking?"
Realizing Big D & Bubba were not gaining traction, The Bull hired Country comedian Cledus T. Judd in early 2008 from Tampa's WQYK-FM for mornings. But Cledus was not a host; in Florida, he was a sidekick who chimed in with funny lines. And his hillbilly tenor as the main host did not behoove The Bull in this cosmopolitan market. Now well into its second year, The Bull plodded along as a humdrum product with ratings to match. Meanwhile, Clay Hunnicutt was rewarded for this disaster by being promoted to Senior VP and relinquishing day-to-day responsibility for The Bull.
The Bull caught a break on Leap Year Day, 2008, thanks to Citadel CEO Farid Suleman. The Citadel chief did not understand flanking and questioned why the company had competing stations in Kicks and Eagle. He also wanted an Atlanta affiliate for Citadel's nationally syndicated True Oldies Channel and Imus, and needed an operation that would run on the cheap. The upshot of all this was the death of Eagle 106.7 and the release of its quality but costly air staff of Rhubarb Jones, Sandy Weaver and Steve Mitchell. Only morning co-host Dallas McCade was spared and moved over to Kicks. Suddenly, the format hole that was never there for The Bull started to take shape.
Suleman was not quite finished, however. He also slashed the budget of Atlanta Country leader Kicks 101-5, resulting in the loss of most of its on-air staff. Still standing were morning host Cadillac Jack and Kicks veteran Bill Celler, who slid from middays back into his former afternoon drive slot. Dallas McCade, the sole survivor of the Eagle demolition, was paired with Cadillac Jack, actually improving the morning show. Celler remained on the air for a while and then was taken off in an additional budget cut. The stellar morning show of Cadillac Jack and Dallas McCade remained intact, but all other dayparts on Kicks were filled with part-timers and journeymen personalities. Program Director Mark Richards stayed in place and continued to make the station sound as good as possible with formatics and music.
Kicks 101-5's quality had been severely compromised. Yet 94-9 The Bull, anchored by Cledus Judd, sounded worse and was unable to take advantage of the gift from Mr. Suleman. Before long, Clear Channel Market Manager Chuck Deskins was replaced by Melissa Forrest, and things at The Bull were finally about to change.
Join us next week for the story of The Bull's turnaround. Thanks for reading. I would love to hear from you at email@example.com. Follow us on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/atlantaairwaves, and we'll follow you back.
Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV Blog: http://blogs.ajc.com/radio-tv-talk/