Monday, November 29, 2010

Star 94 Dances The Lindy

Don't you love reading about people who find treasures in items discarded by others?  Well, Lincoln Financial Media CEO Don Benson and VP/Programming John Dimick have proven themselves masters at this.

When longtime General Manager Mark Kanov retired in 2008, Benson did not have to look far.  Rick Mack, one of the most qualified candidates in the business, was passed over for the GM job at Citadel/Atlanta, where he had been General Sales Manager.  My guess is the company wanted a Citadel, rather than ABC, veteran in the slot.  Citadel tapped Paul O'Malley.  But lucky for Star.

Star 94 needed a Program Director, one who would step up in a big way.  Rumors flew that John Dimick was willing to wait out the contract of Alice 105.9/Denver and former Q100/Atlanta PD Dylan Sprague.  But in August, Clear Channel/Atlanta released super programmer Scott Lindy; so Dimick saved on moving expenses while getting one of the best.  Mystery shrouded Lindy's departure from CC, but word swirled that he had made an unkind remark to a higher-up.  Clear Channel's loss was Star's gain.

Now that Scott Lindy has guided Star 94 for several weeks, I can discern his philosophies and like them.  For one thing, he's a big believer in personality and apparently effective at bringing it out.  Heather Branch, who sounded good from day one, has leaped into the ranks of the market's best over the past month.  Even the already lively Darik Kristofer in evenings has revved it up a notch.

Lindy also believes radio should be entertaining and that humor is a means to that end.  I'm a fan of the clean, quick imaging that Star has been deploying.  Lindy has sprinkled in a number of longer, unplugged sweepers that apparently reflect his dry wit.  "What can you say about a perfect Star song that keeps you from throwing a stapler at the boss?" is one example.  They slow down the pace slightly but add some depth.  The just-added Hot AC positioner "Your life and your music are on Star 94" should help Star establish a stronger identity.  Finally, coming out of weather with "In Atlanta, it's always Star 94" is not original but is the radio geek's rapture.

Lindy also believes in the power of social media as station tie-ins on Facebook, Twitter and My Space are receiving increased mentions.  And the jocks seem to have taken a liking to the new boss, as indicated by their enhanced energy.  Finally, Star 94 continues to use its promotions to maximum benefit, such as creating appointment listening for giveaways.

So is all this good stuff enough to move the ratings needle?  Star 94 lives in crowded territory with B98.5 and Q100 hugging it.  Mornings have been the crux of Star's problem.  Lindy has some morning cred after pairing Jason Pullman with Kristen Gates on 94-9 The Bull.  That show features lots of music and listener interaction, both already characteristics of Cindy & Ray on Star 94.

B98.5 (WSB-FM) gets a fair amount of criticism for its short playlist of focus group-driven songs.  But the Cox AC has managed to forge a distinctive sound musically that jumps out.  I mean surprises such as "Tubthumping" by Chumbawamba and "Come On Eileen" by Dexy's Midnight Runners give B98.5 several degrees of separation.

I have expressed in this column that Star needs to compensate for its morning woes by doing more to break out via music.  But I wonder if adjusting the playlist is next on Lindy's agenda.  On the ride home from the airport on Saturday after a week away, I heard Eve 6, a pleasant diversion from the usual Matchbox 20 and Counting Crows.  (I also heard some new sweepers intended create a lifestyle and emotional tie to the new positioning.)

Whether Scott Lindy's work so far will take Star 94 to the next level remains to be seen.  But the station has a skillful pilot in the cockpit.

New Station Hits the Air: The area's newest station, WWGA in Carroll County, west of Atlanta, launched on November 22.  The Class A FM station (equivalent to 6,000 watts) was made possible by Gradick Communications winning the allocation at last year's FCC auction.  WWGA signed on as "Christmas 98.9."  Its real format will be revealed on December 26.

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