Radio is full of surprises, and the latest was sprung on us by a most unlikely source. WGST (640 AM) has brought in nationally-syndicated host Rusty Humphries for a live-and-local Atlanta show in afternoons. The Clear Channel talker also hired Rob Johnson from KMPH-AM in Modesto for mornings. Humphries will continue his national program from 9PM to midnight as Johnson makes the big move from market #113 to market #7.
When I came to Atlanta in 1994, WGST was neck and neck with WSB-AM, and each station was going for the other's jugular. The following year, however, saw the start of the WSB resurgence and WGST decline. The factors contributing to WGST's eventual collapse were: 1) the tremendous improvement in WSB, 2) WGST's loss of the Braves to WSB, 3) WGST's introduction of Planet Radio, 4) Clear Channel's decision to strip WGST of its FM (105.7), 5) the decimation of the WGST news department, 6) the move to syndication in morning drive and 7) the continued growth of the market's outlying areas.
WGST has not been a ratings factor for several years and pulled in at #22 among total persons in October. A long time has passed since the visionary Eric Seidel was leading the station to greatness.
A basic business tenet is that money spent should result in more money made. That adding Johnson and Humphries will make WGST a better station is without question. And it's not impossible that ego combined with this year's upswing in revenue prompted the improvements. But I doubt it. CC/Atlanta President/Market Manager Melissa Forrest is a savvy business person.
Let's think about this. WGST's 50,000-watt daytime signal covers the metro well, but the station powers down to 1,000 watts at sunset, limiting clear reception to about a 10-mile radius around downtown. We are headed into the months with the least amount of daylight, meaning WGST will miss most of the market for half of morning drive and half of afternoon drive. To add to the dismal prospects, the addition of WSB's FM signal has removed a significant number of talk listeners from the AM dial. The reality is the new local talent will add absolutely nothing to WGST's audience and presumably its revenue while costing Clear Channel money.
Why did WGST add Rob Johnson and Rusty Humphries if the new hosts will only hurt the bottom line? That's a great question that has understandably sparked speculation. Does Clear Channel plan to flip one of its Atlanta FM's to a WGST simulcast?
I recently was told by a well-connected and credible senior executive in Atlanta radio that Clear Channel has mandated that 94.9 be turned into a talk station. Moreover, someone involved in radio about 30 miles outside the Perimeter informed me that Premiere Radio Networks, Clear Channel's syndication arm, has blocked access by stations near Atlanta to certain talk programming though the shows are not currently on an Atlanta outlet.
While I believe these people, I do not for a minute think that Clear Channel will mess with 94-9 The Bull. After all these years of pain and suffering, the company finally has a winner in Atlanta, its achilles heel. But what about one of the other FM's?
WSB's addition of the 95.5 signal was a game changer. WGST once did well with 105.7, but along with WGST's inadequate AM, the 105.7 signal would work no more. To compete against WSB, Clear Channel would have no choice but to pair WGST-AM with 96.1 (WKLS-FM). I have a hard time imagining this happening, but it's far from impossible. The station now riding the signal, Project 9-6-1, has done well in its target young-male demos, making it a natural buy for beers, razors and other categories. Nevertheless, it probably bills nowhere near what a high-ranking talker would.
Given Clear Channel's success with CHR in other markets, I once thought 96.1 could take the hits to the top of the Atlanta ratings charts. However, the company's investment in The Groove, a Rhythmic CHR, has made that extremely unlikely.
We will keep close watch on the Building of Death in early 2011.
Correction - In the column about Rome Radio Partners 2 weeks ago, I stated the stations were built by Mike McDougald. I received an email from Steve Gradick, President of Gradick Communications, informing me that his dad, Les Gradick, built 107.1 FM, 1220 AM and 1360 AM in the Rome area. Steve added that his father also owned the 93.5 frequency. All of these stations are now owned or leased by Rome Radio Partners. Mike McDougald did built WRGA-AM and WQTU-FM, also owned by RRP. Thanks for the correction, Steve.
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Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV Blog: http://blogs.ajc.com/radio-tv-talk/