Monday, December 19, 2011

Atlanta's Station of the Year: Star 94

Selecting the Station of the Year proved difficult again this time.  A few weeks ago, I had virtually decided on B98.5 FM.  After all, the station dusted itself off and dashed forward in a display of programming smarts by PD Cagle.  Taken off its leash by Cox corporate, B98.5 made some much needed and pretty dramatic changes.

I also could have made the case for Q100.  While B98.5 and Star 94 were trading barbs and places in the ratings, PD Rob Roberts was deftly guiding Q100 through the morass with hardly a PPM blip.

When I started the award 2 years ago, however, I established the criterion to be the station that made the biggest difference, good or bad.  And Star 94 bounced back from 3 years of gloom to jump from around a 3% share in total persons 6+ into the high fours.  When you compare the numbers versus a year ago, Star is the one station that looks dramatically different.

People tell me that I write too much about Star 94, and perhaps that's true.  But Star 94 has been an interesting case study over the past 4 years.  When Steve & Vikki were not renewed after 17 incredible years--and whether that was a good decision is another debate--Star had the right morning show, Cindy & Ray, before its eyes and did not see it.  The station probably could have made that move and seamlessly continued its ratings glory.

Management somehow worried that moving Cindy & Ray from afternoons to mornings would mess up both dayparts.  And speaking of mess, Star's new "Morning Mess" was too young for an Adult CHR.  To compound the mistake, the station adjusted the rest of the day to mirror the more mainstream CHR tenor of mornings, driving away hoards of longtime listeners.  Furthermore, Cindy & Ray, not a show for a straight-ahead CHR in afternoon drive, remained there.  And to really make things difficult, Q100 moved to the powerful 99.7 signal.

Star 94 started regaining its composure in 2008.  JR Ammons replaced 10-year PD Dan Bowen, and the station went back to Adult CHR.  The Morning Mess was fired and replaced with Cindy & Ray.  One of the tenets of marketing is it's easier to retain current customers than get them back.  Growing Cindy & Ray would be a long process.

Although ratings showed some signs of a rebirth, they were still in a funk.  Star hoped that Ryan Seacrest, whose career was born at Star 94, would reignite the station with his syndicated show.  Star went as far as to put it in afternoon drive.  It was a move that did not work.  The station then decided it made more sense to shift slightly to Hot AC, and not go directly against Q100, whose Bert Show made winning a CHR war a difficult proposition.

In Fall 2010, Star 94 received a gift on a silver platter.  Scott Lindy became available and was already in Atlanta.  Lincoln Financial Media SVP Programming John Dimick, who had known Lindy for years, and General Manager Rick Mack pounced.  Lindy became the new PD at Star 94.

Scott Lindy had a vision and implemented it.  Ratings jumped, and for a couple of months even surpassed a 5% share in persons 6+.  What makes this accomplishment even more commendable is that Lindy did it despite a handicap, mornings.  Cindy & Ray scored excellent ratings in afternoons but faced the challenge in mornings of bringing back listeners from the Bert Show among other places.  Yet, canceling the show would have made things worse.  Cindy & Ray have been doing fairly well but still rank lower than the rest of the station.

While ratings are very good, is Lindy likely to take Star 94 above a 5% share again?  Several months ago, he added imaging squarely aimed at Q100's Bert Show.  While that's still running, more of Lindy's imaging zings are now directed at B98.5, whose ratings fortunes seem to be most closely tied to Star 94's.  The fight for young women should remain in high gear during 2012.
Congratulations to the management and staff of Star 94 for being Atlanta's Station of the Year for 2011.
Past Winners: 2009 - V-103;  2010 - 94-9 The Bull

Thanks for reading.  Have a wonderful holiday and happy new year.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog:

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Clear Channel/Atlanta Jigsaw Puzzle

I used to enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles.  They are the kind of activity that takes your mind off the stress of life.  But not everyone enjoys challenges when there's no real competition, or prize for that matter.

Readers of this column know I have advocated that El Patron 105.3 and Wild 105.7 switch frequencies.  That was a simple puzzle in which Clear Channel/Atlanta had no interest.  A year ago, when WGST hired Rob Johnson in mornings and Rusty Humphries for afternoons, I wrote that the station would see its salaries increase but not its ratings unless it simulcast WGST on an FM signal.  Clear Channel was not interested in that puzzle either.

A rumor has surfaced, however, that Clear Channel/Atlanta is suddenly interested in putting together a puzzle. The reason is there is a prize, possibly a lucrative one.  It's called political revenue in an election year.  Rumors happen all the time but over the past week, this one has been getting louder and louder.  In fact, last week I heard variations of it from two respected people in high places, a program director and a general manager.  That does not mean it's true, of course.

News/Talk stations can take in a lot of revenue in a full-blown election year.  Many music stations accept only federal political advertising, as required by law, but not state or local.  News/Talk stations, given their political on-air environment, are probably more likely to accept state and local races.  And candidates like News/Talk because the format's listeners are involved.

A News/Talk station attracting political advertising is not necessarily a given, especially with ratings like WGST's.  A significant part of WGST's ratings ailment is a result of its poor nighttime signal, which is almost non-existent in many parts of the market; and of a News/Talk listening base that has partially migrated to FM, led there by the WSB simulcast.

Until around 1999, WGST simulcast on 105.7.  But when that signal was marginally upgraded, Clear Channel decided it wanted another profit center and destroyed WGST as a viable station in the process.

WGST has just turned on its new FM translator on 92.3.  It transmits with 99 watts from the original Richland tower on Briarcliff Road.  The signal is really bad, however, and seems to have a sharp null to the east.  The new FM does not portend a stash of election cash.  WGST needs another road to riches.

While the rumor varies, the gist of it is that WGST will add an FM simulcast at the powerful 105.3, current home of El Patron.  El Patron will then move to the 92.3 translator and simulcast with 96.7, a weak signal south of town.  Of course, we don't know if the rumor is true at all, much less that this will be the exact scenario.  That said, I'm not sure this is the best way to assemble the pieces.

WGST will never get close to WSB in ratings or revenue, but the 105.7 signal made the station quite marketable years ago.  It concentrates its coverage in Atlanta's affluent northern environs.  I would tend to put WGST on both 105.7 and 96.7, using the southern signal to cover attractive demographics in such locales as Tyrone and Stockbridge.  The only bastion of wealth where WGST-FM would be weak is Buckhead, an area where its AM signal is satisfactory even at night.

I would then move Wild to 105.3, a signal that blasts from south of Atlanta as far as Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and Marietta.  That station's potential is not being realized on 105.7 because of its iffy signal south of the top-end Perimeter.  El Patron would be relegated to 92.3.

Doing it that way would of course assure virtual destruction of El Patron.  Frankly, even giving it a 96.7 simulcast would add little to it.  To resurrect WGST, something would have to give, and Hispanic dollars from major advertisers are in a lull.

Thinking about what the rumored scenario or the one I suggested would do to El Patron makes me wonder if any of this will happen.  While the Latino ad market is in a slump, El Patron is a virtual automatic for every Hispanic buy.  That might not be the case if 92.3 became its main signal, especially with a La Raza 102.3 simulcast rumored to be coming on 101.1 from a 250-watt FM translator on Stone Mountain.

Last week, El Patron terminated Brenda Bueno, co-host of the morning show.  For now, El Tigre is going it alone.  This might mean one of two things.  Word is the station felt that Bueno, who came from the former Viva, was not well suited to the Regional Mexican sound; and the station is looking for exactly the right talent mix for mornings.  If that's true, the rumor might not come to fruition.

If the real reason for Bueno's dismissal was to pare down the budget for a signal with less potential, a legitimate WGST simulcast could be in the offing.  One sure thing is that Wild will either stay where it is at 105.7 or move to the bigger 105.3 signal.  At Clear Channel/Atlanta, success is relative, and they consider Wild a success.

If the rumor is true, fitting the puzzle pieces together correctly will be the key to the cluster's destiny in 2012.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog:

Monday, December 5, 2011

Clear Channel's CHR Strategy

The holiday season is a time of sharing, and Clear Channel has the spirit.  The company definitely believes in sharing air talent among markets.  I drove to Maryland for Thanksgiving this year and listened to Clear Channel CHR stations in Baltimore, Washington DC, Richmond, Greensboro and Charlotte.

CHR is a format in which Clear Channel enjoys a lot of success.  And in light of Arbitron's PPM, where big cumes usually translate to average-audience success, CC has not been at all timid about flipping stations to CHR, a historically high-cuming format.

I was disheartened but impressed by what I heard.  Clear Channel puts a fair amount of thought into its approach in each market.  In some large markets, CC has great stations, such as New York's Z100 and Los Angeles' 102.7 KIIS FM.  Frankly, I thought DC's Hot 99.5 bordered on being a great station.  On the other hand, I thought Z104.3 in Baltimore sounded horrendous but was well designed for that market.

Z104.3 in Baltimore is targeted to the very young.  That makes sense because CBS owns a station in the market with a very hot, Hot AC format, Mix 106.5.  Z104.3 is voice-tracked to the hilt.  Even the morning show is voice-tracked; it's done by Jackson Blue, who also does afternoon drive at 99.7 DJX in Louisville and evenings at Kiss 108 in Boston.  I guess never hearing any news or weather, let alone a temperature, doesn't faze the station's budding audience.  Nor does giving away money on the 10's and never announcing the winner.

That you can be in two places at one time is proven in middays by Nicole Shay, who in her live body is Shamara, middays at Philadelphia's Power 99.  This brings to mind another aspect of Clear Channel's strategy for its very young CHR's, CHR names.  Z-104's staff consists of Jackson Blue, Nicole Shay, Mick Lee, Staxx and JoJo Wright.

Still another part of Clear Channel's strategy for its very young CHR's is for the jocks to have a distinctive young CHR "accent."  And as bad as it sounds to me, most of the Z104.3 jocks nail it, and it apparently works.   The combination of a very young playlist, jocks who really sound the part and names that fit the lifestyle have led to ratings success among the 12-34 demographic; and the ratings combined with the heavy use of voice-tracking probably convert to some nice profitability.

In Richmond, Q94 used to be a great station.  For years and years, it was #1 or #2.  Of course, to be #1 or #2, you have to be a mass-appeal station.  These days, Q94 is a niche station using Clear Channel's very young CHR approach, and ranks #8 in total persons 12+.  I wonder, however, whether the profit margin is greater now at #8 than in the glory days.

Q94 also makes minimal use of live, local talent but in a slightly different way than Z104.3.  The Richmond CHR relies on CC syndication, kicking off mornings with Elvis Duran.  Then it's On Air with Ryan Seacrest, meaning the first regular music show starts at 2PM.  I listened to Q94 during a couple of shifts.  Jackson, on from 5-8PM, sounded live and local.  Kash, who follows him, sounded voice-tracked.  The CHR names are part of the deal; other jocks are Randi, Sisane and Boy Toy Jesse.  And the music is young.

In Greensboro/Winston-Salem, Clear Channel has taken on 107-5 KZL, long the market's sole CHR provider.  105.7 NOW is another very young CHR that deploys Clear Channel's profitability techniques, including a morning show simulcast in Charlotte and Chicago as well as liberal use of voice-tracking. Of course, the youthful CHR jock accents are there as are the names--Maxwell, JoJo and Nick D in this case.  Surprisingly, 105.7 NOW has given fits to KZL, despite a not-as-good signal or processing, and the fact that KZL has a heritage morning show.

In Charlotte, Channel 9-6-1, which has gone through a couple of metamorphoses in the past few years, has unabashedly taken on Kiss 95-1, one of the best CHR stations in the U.S.  Channel 9-6-1 sounded somewhat broader and more conservative in terms of music and presentation than Clear Channel's very young Baltimore, Richmond and Greensboro CHR's.

In a rare situation for a Clear Channel CHR, Channel 9-6-1 is getting clobbered by Kiss 95.1 after showing some initial promise.  Some predict Ace & TJ, Kiss 95.1's star morning show for years, will replace current Channel 9-6-1 wake-up host Brotha Fred, estranged son of legendary Top-40 jock Charlie Van Dyke and originating in Chicago, and once again challenge Kiss.  And that's possible since Ace & TJ are still in Charlotte and already syndicated on 4 Clear Channel stations.

With very young CHR's in Baltimore, Richmond and Greensboro, and a somewhat broader one in Charlotte, Clear Channel has the broadest of the five in Washington.  Hot 99.5 is #2 among total persons 6+ in the PPM ratings.  It has the best personalities of the 5 stations, but that does not mean the famous Clear Channel profitability measures are not in place.  Its live and local Kane Show in mornings is heard on 7 other stations.  Following Kane comes On Air with Ryan Seacrest.  Hot 99.5's live and local afternoon host, Toby Knapp, is one of the best.  He has a CHR accent tempered for dual appeal among somewhat older folks.  And as if I have to tell you, he also performs on other Clear Channel stations.

When all is said and done, Clear Channel does an excellent job of basing which type of CHR station goes into a market based on the competitive landscape.  And CC makes maximum use of its profitability tactics, syndication and voice-tracking.  CHR is a format that Clear Channel executes as well as anyone and makes some much-needed money with.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog:

Monday, November 28, 2011

An Atlanta Radio Road Test

I am a regular reader of Car and Driver.  The magazine frequently runs features comparing several models of the same class--luxury sedans, SUV's and compact cars for example.  This week, I'm going to do a similar comparison of Atlanta's radio clusters.  Like Car and Driver, the test will be a combination of science and judgment.

Unlike Car and Driver, I will not be rating vehicles of the same class.  Radio is "unfair" in that signal strength and location have a lot to do with audience size.  And the rankings will not take into account billings, the bottom line in radio.  I will just assume billings are proportionate to ratings, which is directionally true.  To be as fair as possible, rankings will be based on ratings and formats, compared to signal potential.  So here we go:

#1 - Cox Media Group - Cox has the biggest audience share with 23% but earns the top ranking for different reasons. Each station is properly purposed based on its signal and is aggressively programmed.  The anchor of course is the legendary WSB-AM.  When the station started faltering in 2010, management moved quickly and added the 95.5 signal.  While it removed 95-5 The Beat as a profit center, the move was a smart one and shored up Cox's leadership position.

The 95.5 signal was the one selected for the simulcast probably because it was the cluster's lowest-billing FM.  But it also made sense because the signal is a move-in transmitting from Hall County and putting its strongest penetration over the market's affluent northern environs, where the News/Talk format tends to excel.

Kiss 104 is also a move-in with its transmitter in Newnan, south of town.  It throws its strongest coverage over high-density African-American neighborhoods, consistent with its Urban AC programming.  And it scores mighty impressive ratings.  97-1 The River transmits from the 95.5 site, and its signal strength on the north side matches its Classic Hits format's audience.  B98.5 FM is one of the market's original big-coverage signals, and its mass-appeal AC format scores top-5 ratings.

#2 - Radio One - Radio One/Atlanta solved the puzzle of taking its signals and matching them to formats with perfection.  That's even more impressive with the format choices so limited, given the company's target audience of African-Americans.  But the biggest reason for tapping Radio One for second place was the performance of Praise 102.5 (WPZE-FM).  That a small Class A FM equivalent to 6,000 watts can tie for third place in the PPM ratings is eye popping in a market of Atlanta's size.  Praise's Gospel format simply pours its power over the areas where the music's audience resides.

Radio One's Hot 107-9 transmits from south of Atlanta in Tyrone.  In this case too, the move-in's strongest signal penetrates its young urban target audience.  Hot will soon get a power boost from 27,000 to 35,000 watts.  Majic 107.5/97.5 has already been covering the city and the areas surrounding the Perimeter.  It's been well positioned to serve the more affluent African-Americans in DeKalb County and other areas.  With its new upgrade, the 107.5 signal will soon boom across the market with more wattage and antenna height.

Radio One vied for the #1 ranking but was denied because it wastes 2 signals.  The first is its original Atlanta signal, 97.5, south of the city, which simulcasts 107.5.  Rumor has it that the company is attempting to sell the station, which will be totally redundant when the 107.5 power increase takes effect.  The other wasted signal is the 102.9 translator, which duplicates 107.9, a station needing no help in the 102.9 service area.

#3 - Lincoln Financial Media - LFM's flagship property, Star 94 (WSTR-FM), rejoined the ratings leaders this year.  The Hot AC station pretty much fulfills its potential as one of the 100,000-watt monsters.  The company's other Atlanta property, 790 The Zone (WQXI-AM), makes wise use of its signal.  During the day, its non-directional 28,000 watts, while not the 50,000 of 680 The Fan, are strong enough and then some.  The Sports format attracts the type of listener who will find the station.  The Zone's huge handicap, however, is its 1,000-watt directional night signal, which is listenable with good quality in very limited geography.  But LFM gets as much out of the station as anyone could.

#4 (Tie) - CBS Radio - CBS is one of the market's 2 split-personality clusters.  Urban V-103 always tops the ratings and has a massive signal to match.  Its sister station 92-9 Dave FM likewise has one of the original big signals but lives among the ratings challenged.  At times, it's shown a little spark, and its listeners have one of the market's best qualitative profiles.  CBS's WAOK-AM does Urban Talk, a smart format for its limited signal.

#4 (Tie) - Cumulus Media - Cumulus, with its recent acquisition of Citadel, is the market's other split-personality cluster.  Its two big signals transmitting from in town, Q100 and Kicks 101-5, are both powerhouses put to excellent use and pretty much fulfilling their potential.  The company's other two properties, Rock 100.5 and Atlanta's Greatest Hits 106.7, are underachievers.

#6 - Clear Channel - Clear Channel has 2 class C full-power FM's transmitting from the best site in Atlanta.  Yet neither is among the top 10 stations in the PPM ratings.  One of them, Country 94-9 The Bull (WUBL-FM), is not too far behind and at times has challenged format-leader Kicks.  At this juncture, however, it's not fulfilling its potential.  The other, Project 9-6-1 (WKLS-FM), has an Active Rock format with a fairly narrow target, men 18-49.  It performs well against the demo and probably makes some decent bucks.  But the potential of that signal is much broader and greater than what the station now delivers.

I hesitate to bring up Clear Channel/Atlanta's move-ins because the President/Market Manager, whom I respect, vehemently disagrees with me.  Yet each one's signal strength is greatest where the other one's most potential listeners live.  El Patron 105.3 has a powerful signal from Newnan that booms across the market, even significantly north of the Perimeter, more so than co-located Kiss 104.  However, its signal is weak in Gwinnett, the county with the most Hispanics in Georgia.  Has anyone noticed that La Raza 102.3, which covers Gwinnett only, has half the metro audience of El Patron, whose signal spans much broader geography?

Wild 105.7/96.7 covers Gwinnett and the northern counties well but has a hit-or-miss signal south of the top-end Perimeter.  Its CHR Rhythmic format does attract a high incidence of Hispanics, which makes covering Gwinnett somewhat logical.  Yet Latinos comprise only 24% of its audience, not enough to pull in Hispanic ad dollars.  The format also draws an above-average percentage of African-Americans, who make up 33% of Wild's listeners.  The remaining 43% consists of "Other," meaning Caucasians and Asians.  And most of the 76% of Wild's listeners who are not Hispanic reside where 105.7 is weak and 105.3 is strong.  Of course, I guess there's a reason why someone else and not me is Clear Channel's Atlanta Market Manager.

As 2011 concludes and the new year begins, a flurry of radio activity could be on the horizon.  My money is on the two split-personality clusters, CBS and Cumulus.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog:

Monday, November 14, 2011

Jimmy's Birthday Gift

This weekend, when Jimmy Baron celebrated his 50th birthday with family and friends, he had a couple of reasons to revel, reasons like freedom and new beginnings.  Of course, that was not what he had in mind until Thursday, when Dave-FM General Manager Rick Caffey and Program Director Scott Jameson gave him their best wishes and a pink slip.

By releasing Jimmy, PD Jameson messed up Dave-FM's own plans for this past weekend.  It was to be a special weekend in honor of Jimmy's 50th birthday.  Instead, the station had to resort to honoring Neil Young's 66th birthday.

So with Jimmy and Yvonne out as the morning show, what's next for Dave-FM?  And were Jimmy and Yvonne the main cause of Dave-FM's ratings woes?  My guess is to a very limited extent.  The show's ratings did lag the rest of the station.  I am not privy to whether the station conducted any attitudinal research about the show.  My own judgment is Dave-FM has had structural problems above and beyond mornings.

The Adult Album Alternative format attracts the most discerning music fans in commercial radio.  If the music is right, they will find the station, morning show or not.  Keep in mind also that while Jimmy and Yvonne did personality radio, the show was still "Music Mornings with Jimmy & Yvonne."

It's interesting that the week before last, John Riemenschneider was fired as Dave-FM's General Sales Manager.  John once held that position at 99X and had moved to The Beat as Local Sales Manager after the Cumulus acquisition.  I am sure selling Dave-FM to ad agencies is not the easiest thing these days, although the station's small audience has some of the best qualitative demos in the market.  So Jimmy and Yvonne join Riemenschneider in being let go for situations that probably were somewhat out of their control.

In recent weeks, Dave-FM has been adding some older music and decreasing its emphasis on the 90's.  Like on Kicks 101-5, I find the classic product bringing depth to the station and making it a better listen.  It's ironic that KFOG in San Francisco, a legendary AAA station whose audience was in decline, is doing the exact opposite to win new listeners.

Dave-FM has added a new positioner, "Atlanta's Finest Rock."  It's not exactly original, and many say a positioner is irrelevant.  I tend to disagree.  I believe a station needs to tell its audience what it is, and Dave-FM had not been doing that.  I lived in New York when NBC's WYNY was an excellent AC station but had no overall positioner.  Another station entered the format and changed its calls to WNSR, standing for New York's Soft Rock.  WNSR drilled the position into the minds of listeners and despite not being as good as WYNY in my opinion, knocked the NBC station out of the format.

Steve Craig has stepped in as interim morning host in what undoubtedly will be a music-intensive show.  Craig, like Jimmy Baron, is a well-liked Atlanta figure.  He is remembered for his midday show on 99X in its halcyon years and most notably for the noontime House of Retro Pleasure.  He brings a ton of music credibility to Dave-FM.  However, Steve is not exactly loaded with broadcast talent, and his delivery is a little different.

If music-intensive mornings are the way Dave-FM wants to go--and its gotten its best ratings with that approach--Steve's interim status could turn into something more permanent.  AAA listeners tend to be devoted to music, making the personality versus music-intensive question a difficult one to grapple with.

Will the next few months bring an increase in ratings to Dave-FM because of trial from the changes?  That's hard to say because the station is not promoting any kind of change to current or potential listeners.  And if the modifications do induce trial, will the numbers increase and then fall off a cliff as in recent history?  Scott Jameson can relax and enjoy Christmas with his family knowing the jury is out.  We will know more in several months.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog:

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Curse Of The Z Ninety-Threeno

I have not been one to believe in the supernatural.  I love watching the paranormal on TV and in the movies.  But when it comes to curses or people who claim to be psychics, I tend to dismiss them.

I have to admit, however, that in the 90's and early this century, I started wondering if the Curse of the Bambino had some merit.  After all, the Boston Red Sox, so dominant in baseball's early years, had not won a World Series since 1918.  Fortunately for my sanity, the Red Sox took the World Series in 2004.

Recently, I had a bit of a relapse.  I am again starting to think curses could be real.  I've been wondering whether the 92.9 frequency in Atlanta is cursed.  All the Red Sox did was sell Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees.  Z93, however, veered away from a highly successful Top 40 format into an abyss and has pretty much remained there for 25 years.  And with one of the market's monster signals, that seems difficult to do.

Over the July 4 weekend in 1975, I visited Atlanta for the first time en route to New Orleans.  I looked forward to seeing a Braves game and driving past the legendary White Columns on Peachtree.  What I anticipated most, however, was listening to Z93 (92.9 WZGC-FM), which had been getting loads of press in the trades.

Z93 kept me hooked; I changed the dial just once to check out WQXI-AM, then programmed by Scott Shannon.  On the return trip, I heard Z93's Dan Mason doing Boogie Checks on his evening show.  He was then the station's Program Director.  Today of course he is President of CBS Radio.

When Dan Mason left for sister station WPGC in Washington, he was succeeded as PD by John Young, another savvy radio man.  Young kept Z93 a blue-chip product, and when star morning duo Ross & Wilson left for New York's WABC, he lured Steve McCoy from Nashville for AM drive.  That started McCoy's 30-year run as a top-rated morning man on 4 Atlanta stations.

After about 10-years as a top-rated CHR, 92.9 went through a succession of owners--General Cinema, First Media, Cook Inlet Partners, (the pre-CBS) Infinity, CBS--and a sequence of formats--CHR Rhythmic, Classic Rock, Classic Hits, Rock and now Adult Album Alternative.  In the late 80's, the new Power 99 replaced Z93 as the leading CHR and hired Steve McCoy for mornings.  Someone had put the curse on 92.9.

WZGC has had its moments in its post-Top 40 era.  In 1999, consultant Alex DeMers was brought in and divided the classic rock music clock into "7-song super sets."  Ratings took off for a while.  Under PD Scott Jameson, 92.9 in its current incarnation as Dave FM nicely climbed up the ratings ladder a couple of times.  The latest climb, early this year, fooled me.  I thought the station had found a way to make its unconventional Triple A format work in the Atlanta market.  But that darn 92.9 curse had just been in a teasing mood.

As the early 2000's unfolded, I felt 92.9 should flip to Urban AC.  Its superior signal probably would have put a quick end to Kiss 104.1 (WALR-FM), a move-in with its transmitter in Newnan.  It would have enabled CBS Radio to grab a really big portion of the Urban ad dollars in Atlanta, dominating both the younger and older demos.  That move likely was never considered because the CBS brass feared cannibalizing V-103 (WVEE-FM).  My retort is wouldn't they have rather cannibalized V-103 than let Kiss do it?

That opportunity is long gone.  Kiss 104.1 has increased from 60,000 to 100,000 watts and is attempting to move closer to Atlanta.  Radio One has launched and established Majic 107.5/97.5 as the market's second Urban AC and is about to turn on 107.5's more powerful signal.  Yet other possibilities are out there--a young, exciting CHR or a Soft AC, for example.

WZGC's October PPM numbers were at the point where something has to give very soon.  In recent weeks, Dave-FM made some music tweaks, decreasing its 90's songs and adding classics that go back as far as 40 years.  What will happen in the next several weeks?  Will it be as little as bringing Steve Craig on as a personality?  Or will it be a wholesale format shift?

Like the Boston Red Sox, 92.9 needs to score big, and break or disprove the curse. Management could try the traditional methods, such as uncrossing oil, visiting a witch or walking backwards while chewing Juicy Fruit.  However, the 92.9 curse goes back so many years and is so powerful, a new format that would shake the foundation of Atlanta radio seems the only real solution.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog:

Monday, October 31, 2011

Star 94's Christmas Wish

That magical time of year is almost here, a time when we all become kids and wish for our dreams at Christmas and in the coming year.  I have a feeling I know the dream of Star 94 General Manager Rick Mack and Program Director Scott Lindy.  By the time they really know if their dream came true, the jovial man in the red suit on the sled will have long since set his GPS device for the North Pole and will be listening to his favorite Hip-Hop station on his smartphone.

The way things evolve in radio is interesting.  About 10 years ago, AC Peach 94-9 started playing only Christmas music as the big day approached, and ratings soared.  I don't know whether Peach was the first to try this noble experiment, but it was the first that I had heard of.

The following year, Peach 94-9 announced it was going all Christmas music right after Thanksgiving.  Ratings again took off, and this time the industry was watching.  The next year, a great number of AC's across the U.S. flipped to Christmas music for the holidays.  And the approach's success in Atlanta was mirrored across the country.

The big ratings translated to big revenue.  Peach and other stations created special rate cards for the holiday season to rake in the Christmas dollars and save management's jobs for another year.

Then things started getting crazy.  Virtually all AC stations were flipping to totally Christmas.  The thinking became that listeners would set their radio to the first station to switch and leave it there.  Being first seemed especially critical since AC stations play in many businesses, where radios pretty much stay on one station.

In markets with more than one AC, the race was on to play Christmas music before the competition.  The decision was not an easy one because filling the airwaves with Rudolph and the Chipmunks too early might chase people away.  Nevertheless, stations were going all Christmas weeks before Thanksgiving.  And watching the trades each day to find out if a station went Christmas became more exciting than watching CSI: Miami.

Here in Atlanta, Peach 94-9 presented the "Christmas Preview Weekend" in October.  I remember turning on the station and hearing holiday tunes when the temperature was in the 80's.  They were the songs of the season, just the wrong season.

I watched in bewilderment for a few years as B98.5 saw its pants getting beaten off by Peach 94-9's Christmas music.  I suppose it was due to Cox Radio's Bob Neil believing an AC station should sound a certain way and not being willing to deviate from that.  However, in 2005, B98.5 surprised everyone including its salespeople by flipping to Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving.  The station has been going totally Christmas every year since then.  Salem's 104.7 The Fish also has gone all Christmas music in the past several years with a playlist leaning a little more toward the serious side.

Last year, things calmed down.  AC stations still played only Christmas music and did well.  But the novelty and the race to be first seemed to have withered away.  A few years ago, a subject of huge interest was how to program against Christmas music.  But have things evolved to the point where stations are seeing the competition's Christmas programming as an opportunity?  In 2010, B98.5's Christmas ratings well exceeded the station's regular numbers but were not as high as many other AC's around the country.

In recent months, Star 94 and we listeners got quite a surprise when B98.5 started incorporating currents.  In fact, B98.5 reinforces that by going out of stopsets and other "80's, 90's and now" sweepers with a current song.  B98.5 Program Director Cagle is showing he can compete with the best of them and has led his station past Star 94 in the PPM ratings.  His latest wrinkle is humorous sweepers that sound a lot like those Scott Lindy created for Star 94 and The Bull.

Star 94 has been quick to react.  After racking up ratings with its Big 90's Weekend, including men who stayed for the rest of the week, the station detected some burnout in the September PPM.  Moreover, Star 94 might have felt that B98.5's themed 80's and Retro weekends have given Star a chance to demonstrate that Star is the station for new product.  The result was Star 94 went back to playing mainly current product during the weekend with some 90's songs thrown in.

That brings us back to Star 94's Christmas wish.  Is Star perceiving that B98.5's Christmas music will be a terrific opportunity to win back listeners by showing Star is the station for new music?  Star has added sweepers subtly knocking the older songs still played by B98.5, showing its strategy is to reinforce its position as the current music station.  If that is indeed Star 94's wish, it's a 180-degree swing from the Christmas madness of a couple of years ago.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog:

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Bigger Tent For Praise

In a recent column, I wrote about how Radio One created a major Atlanta cluster from scratch and has continued to enhance its signals.  A new rumor has it that Radio One will not be finished after the signals of 107.5 and 107.9 are increased in the coming months.

Praise 102.5 (WPZE-FM) has done wonders with its class A 3,000-watt signal.  Though the smallest of Radio One's Atlanta signals in terms of radius, it is located in exactly the right place for its Gospel format, on a tower behind the Ben Hill fire station.  That throws strong penetration over the Praise target audience, and the station consistently lands in the Arbitron top five.  Radio One does the same thing with the strategically-located small signals of Urban AC's WMMJ-FM in the DC market and WWIN-FM in Baltimore.

In 2007, the rumor first surfaced that Radio One wanted to move the Praise transmitter into the heart of Atlanta.  The company supposedly had offered Columbus (GA)-based Davis Broadcasting money to move Gwinnett's La Raza 102.3 (WLKQ-FM) farther from Atlanta.  La Raza's billings had recently exploded, and Davis reportedly turned down the offer.

These days, another rumor is making the rounds, that Radio One again wants to move 102.5 into Atlanta and increase its power to a full class C operation.  I was told Radio One has offered much bigger bucks to Davis this time to move 102.3 out of 102.5's way.

Now, still another rumor is swirling around.  According to the scuttlebutt, Radio One has offered its Charlotte cluster to Davis Broadcasting as a carrot to make the Atlanta deal.  The stations include two Class A's, Urban AC My 92.7 (WQNC-FM) and Gospel move-in Praise 100.9 (WPZS-FM).  An interesting part of this is Davis sold these properties to Radio One about 10 years ago.

Competing on these two signals is not exactly a walk in the park.  Praise does pretty well; it's a market-exclusive format that gets decent ratings.  Things are tougher for My 92.7, which goes against powerhouse V-101.9 (WBAV-FM), owned by CBS Radio.  V-101.9 has 16.5 times the power and 3 times the antenna height of My 92.7.

About 5 years ago, My 92.7 blindsided V-101.9 when it managed to steal Tom Joyner.  For awhile, 92.7 took a big lead over its Goliath competitor, which had lost its composure.  Nevertheless, when V-101.9 grabbed Steve Harvey's syndicated show a year later, the station leaped right back on top.  Still, operating a cluster with no debt would virtually guarantee a money-making operation for Davis.

Knowing I probably would not get an answer, I decided to call Davis Broadcasting CEO Greg Davis and ask him.  I was correct about not getting an answer, but I got a little more than I expected.  My first question was whether the rumor of Radio One offering significant dollars to Davis in exchange for a 102.3 move was true.  Greg's response was, "I can't comment."  My second question was whether Charlotte was tied to the deal.  Greg's reply was the same.  He did not deny either rumor.

Greg then added, "It's too premature.  But if anything is consummated, I'll be happy to tell you."  So it sounds like something is going on, and observers expect the deal to happen.  The rumored time is next Spring.

I would not expect the big increase in coverage to substantially grow Praise 102.5's audience.  Atlanta's Gospel listeners seem to have found the station.  And with Gospel still a format that some major advertisers avoid, a signal increase could put Radio One into the sticky situation of billings not being proportionate to station value.

When all is said and done, a class C station covering the full market simply brings more value to the cluster.  Radio formats are far from forever, and things could change.  And a bigger signal would attract more dollars in a sale.  So whatever pain that Radio One could suffer if the move was made would be overshadowed by the station's boost in value.

As far as La Raza 102.3 is concerned, the station could conceivably move anywhere that it would still put a 60 dBu signal into Gwinnett.  The great majority of its audience resides in the county.  Losing strong coverage in southern Gwinnett, however, could irreparably harm the station.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog:

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Fan's Rude Awakening Is Anything But

Christopher Rude has long been one of Atlanta's best radio personalities.  When I arrived in the market during 1994, I was immediately hooked on his morning show on 96 Rock (WKLS-FM).  Adding to the show's depth were Beth Kepple and Jeff Hullinger, aka "the Hull Man."  I was incredulous when the station, newly owned by Clear Channel, suddenly axed the show while Rude was vacationing in 1996 and replaced it with the syndicated John Boy & Billy out of Charlotte.

I was happy when Rude was re-hired several months later, albeit for afternoon drive.  By that time, listeners had let 96 Rock know how they felt through the mechanism known as Arbitron.  96 Rock became great again, this time anchored by The Regular Guys in mornings.

After a few years, Rude was not renewed.  It was not the time within the Clear Channel system to be a high-paid personality, quality notwithstanding, in a music-intensive daypart.

In its second christening around 2000, 680 The Fan used ESPN Radio's syndicated Mike & Mike for its morning show during its early years.  The direct competition, 790 The Zone (WQXI-FM), proved surprisingly resilient at first.  The Zone had a local morning show.

Persistent rumors that The Fan would bring in a local morning host came to fruition when Christopher Rude was hired in 2002.   He was not a sports guy by trade, but he immediately added a terrific presence to morning drive with that great voice and personality.  And he now knows enough sports to be a very effective anchor, tossing the mic to experts who surround him for more in-depth analysis.

Rude's hiring was a win-win-win.  It gave Rude a stable place in Atlanta radio in a marketplace that is not kind to top talent beyond their youthful years. It gave listeners an entertaining local morning show.  And it gave Dickey Broadcasting a blue-chip morning man at probably a nice salary but one that likely does not break the bank.  Rude and The Fan have since flown past 790 The Zone in the ratings.

Living life well is a matter of balance between work and play, tasty and healthy, expensive and frugal.  Morning shows are like life in that regard, balancing such aspects as male and female, funny and serious, music and talk.  But I can't help but wonder if 680 The Fan tries to balance The Rude Awakening between good and bad, meaning the host is really good so the co-host should be really bad.

That was a little harsh; I would not say that Perry Laurentino is really bad.  He does know his stuff.  But he somehow grates on me, and some of his logic leaves my head spinning.

One classic example happened about a month ago.  The Braves were sinking quickly, but the prior night, an off-day for the Braves, the Mets had come from behind in the 9th inning to beat the surging St. Louis Cardinals.  Laurentino proclaimed, "The Mets have just given the Braves a berth in the playoffs."  Rude, sounding somewhat skeptical, said what I was thinking: "But the Braves still have to win."  "But they will," insisted Laurentino, citing how the loss had injected energy into the Atlanta team that would thrust them to the League Series past what had to be a deflated Cardinals squad.

Sandra Golden, another member of the cast, does a decent job reading the hourly updates and occasionally puts forth an opinion.  Former Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone chimes in with a few words now and then.  But Rude is the man who makes the show a great listen.

Need A Morning Show?
Pete & Brenda in the Morning is heard on 93.5 Life FM (WSRM-FM), a Christian Contemporary station in Rome, GA, owned by Rome Radio Partners.  But the show actually comes from the West Coast.  Pete & Brenda is family-friendly, as the couple lives "life and marriage out loud."

Pete & Brenda is perfect for medium and small-market stations that cannot afford a local show in this challenging radio economy; and is very reasonably priced.  It's syndicated but doesn't sound like it.  Pete Michaels and Brenda Bissett have years of experience in major markets.  In fact, Brenda handled middays on Atlanta's B98.5 for 2 years.

Pete & Brenda can be contacted at; or by calling 503-762-1723.  Of course, their website is

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog:

Monday, October 10, 2011

More Shoes To Drop At Cumulus/Atlanta

Less is More was the name of a highly-touted Clear Channel initiative to get advertisers to purchase 30-second spots instead of 60's.  The whole thing made little sense and pretty much died.  But the concept of less is more can aptly be applied to Kicks 101-5 (WKHX-FM).  The station has gone through two cutbacks.  The first was the Citadel massacre of February 29, 2008, and the other happened a week ago following the Cumulus takeover.  And both times, Kicks emerged stronger in one of its drive times.

The 2008 debacle meant the end of the line for the country format on 106.7.  Eagle morning legend Rhubarb Jones left the business, but his co-host, Dallas McCade, joined Cadillac Jack on Kicks.  The pairing made the Kicks morning show a formidable force.  Last week, Kicks afternoon host Tim Michaels was caught in the downsizing.  However, Mike Macho, a much more talented personality, was awarded the shift.

I have long wondered why Macho, the music director, was not used more on the air.  I assumed his music chores left little or no time.  But Kicks made a considerable upgrade as a result of its cutback.

The removal of Randy & Spiff from mornings on Atlanta's Greatest Hits 106.7 (WYAY-FM) can be read a few different ways.  I wonder if the station in its current state has a future after management dismissed the guys synonymous with the format in Atlanta.  Others see it differently, saying mornings needed fresh blood.  Still another possibility is that Greatest Hits will stick around but on one of the cluster's lesser signals, where potential ad billings will not support a local morning show.

Tripp West has taken over mornings on 106.7, but I get the feeling that's temporary.  Tripp's a blue-chip personality, but his show does not have the elements of a full morning program.  I do predict Tripp will stay within the cluster.

I believe we are a long way from seeing what the new Cumulus cluster will look like 6 months from now.  We do know a couple of things:  Q100 and Kicks will remain at 99.7 and 101.5, respectively.  With the rumored separation from SVP/Programming Jan Jeffries, Q100 could evolve slightly, but it's too successful for anything but minor tweaks.  And 99X will likely stay put on the 98.9 translator.  Anything else is anyone's guess.

Will Atlanta's Greatest Hits be eliminated altogether?  Will it be moved to a lesser signal?  Cumulus has a couple of options.  AGH could shift to the 100.5 signal, where Rock is not succeeding.  Or it could replace Journey on the 97.9 translator.

Journey could move to 100.5 or even 106.7, but it would be jumping into the thicket of an expensive AC fray on either frequency.  And with the separation between Cumulus and Dickey Broadcasting as thick as the wall between two rooms at Motel 6, could one of those spots on the dial become a simulcast of 680 The Fan?  Of course, if that happened, Dickey's 93.7 translator would be open to another Cumulus occupant.

The entire question of how to make money with translators is a challenging one.  They give Cumulus more Atlanta FM's, but their small signals handicap them from competing at the same level as the full-power stations.

What about the management levels?  Will both program directors, Cumulus' Rob Roberts and Citadel's Mark Richards, hold onto their current assignments?  Both are seasoned PD's with long and successful track records, and they could certainly co-exist.  But will the always-tight Cumulus budgets preclude that from happening?

How about the General Sales Manager level, where 3 GSM's--Chris Murray, Vickki Shelton and Mary Gordon--are in place?  With Murray adding the Cumulus rock stations in the top 25 markets to his responsibilities, he likely will stay.  There is room for all three, but what will budgets dictate?

More job cuts around the cluster will probably happen.  With Citadel's Paul O'Malley now in place as VP/Market Manager, the staffers eliminated are as likely to be Cumulus as they are Citadel people.

What we do know is lots of surprises are in store.  People, formats and signals are in play.  Creating the end product will be a puzzle for O'Malley and his bosses.  It will be thing of anticipation and fascination for the rest of us.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog:

Monday, October 3, 2011

Will Our CHR Deprivation Roll On?

The past two true CHR stations in Atlanta were owned by Susquehanna.  Of course, Q100 (WWWQ-FM) remains a CHR under Cumulus but not quite of the ilk favored by the format's avid fans.

Being CHR-deprived is nothing new to Atlanta.  The market was without the real thing from 1992 to 2001 and has been again since 2006.  It's unusual in this age of the PPM for a market not to have a true CHR.  And it seems especially odd for a company that does the format so well, Clear Channel, to own two full-powered Atlanta stations that rank below the top 10 yet have no CHR.

Life is more satisfying with the glass half full so I look at a few recent developments with a glimmer of hope.  Cumulus owns CHR's around the country, but the product is pretty bad in the eyes of purists like me.  Legitimate dance and hip-hop hits are ignored, and the airwaves are full of 5-year-old Nickelback, Daughtry and Justin Timberlake.

In truth, Q100's music has made some big strides in the past 2 years and seems its most current since the Susquehanna days.  Cumulus inherited one of the country's best morning shows, The Bert Show, but has a sound not usually associated with CHR the rest of the time.  Call it bland or call it adult.  The pleasant-sounding Brittany handles middays, and the mechanical yet effective Johnny O holds forth in afternoon drive.  Evenings feature the Cumulus super-saver, the syndicated Billy Bush.  Fortunately for Q100, evening CHR listeners do not have a ton of choices.  Propelled by Bert, Q100 is a huge ratings force in the money demos.

Radio people tend to blame the uninspiring sound of Cumulus' CHR's on SVP/Programming Jan Jeffries.  He has a certain way of programming CHR's, and it's pretty distant from say New York's Z100.  Since the recent hiring by Cumulus of much-honored consultant Mike McVay, whose title is the same as Jeffries', a rumor has surfaced that Jeffries will be relegated to programming head of the company's new Chicago cluster, part of the Citadel acquisition.  Two weeks ago, Jeffries' move to the Windy City was announced but so far, stations have been told he will remain involved with Cumulus' CHR and Rhythmic formats.

If the Jeffries rumor is true, which I believe it is, CHR devotees could breathe a sigh of relief that Cumulus might not destroy the excellence of the former Citadel CHR's, such as 95SX (WSSX-FM) in Charleston, SC.  I'm hoping it would signal a Cumulus shift to the new Cox paradigm of returning autonomy to the local level.  But don't be surprised if Charleston is soon grooving to the sounds of Billy Bush.

Q100 in truth might be wise to stick to what it's doing.  Although B98.5 and Star 94 edge it out in 18-49 and 25-54 during middays and afternoons, Q100 dominates in mornings, making the total station a viable option for buys targeting those demos.

To demonstrate dissatisfaction of Q100 among youngsters, Rhythmic Wild 105-7/96-7 hovers not far from straight-ahead CHR these days.  That it's doing so well among 18-34's is impressive given the weakness of its signal where much of its available audience resides.  Q100 could easily erase Wild by moving younger but probably would sacrifice adults at the same time.

One thing that would really shake things up--and that's a tremendous understatement--is a format flip of Clear Channel's 96.1 to CHR.  Over the past 2 years, I have advocated first getting 94-9 The Bull (WUBL-FM) into the top 10 before even thinking about a change at Project 9-6-1, which does well among the men 18-34 crowd.  But the way things are looking, The Bull is not about to hit ratings pay dirt again any time soon.

The Bert Show itself could scare off such a flip.  Clear Channel would have the difficult task of finding someone who could compete.  Q100 could react by sliding younger.  Program Director Rob Roberts proved himself in the format during his lengthy tenure at Miami's Y100.

Stay positive is my mantra.  At this point, I grasp onto any straw that makes me think real CHR might be returning to Atlanta.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog:

Monday, September 26, 2011

B98.5 Grapples With Weekends

Three recent developments caused the perfect storm for B98.5 FM (WSB-FM).  The first was the departure of former Cox Radio CEO Bob Neil, who had a heavy hand in what aired on his favorite station.  The result was a decision by Cox Media Group to shift the epicenter of programming decisions to its local stations.  The second was the rapid ascent of Star 94 (WSTR-FM) as a Hot AC.  The third was malaise in B98.5's own ratings.

During Star 94's previous stay among the ratings elite, B98.5 routinely turned in stellar performances as well.  What has changed, aside from Star's slight adjustment from Adult CHR to Hot AC, is the presence of Q100 (WWWQ-FM) on the 99.7 frequency.  Now the race for young women is a cat fight.

B98.5, under Program Director Cagle, has moved swiftly and aggressively to reclaim its lost audience.  In a change that sent people to their windows looking for flying pigs, the AC added some current songs to its playlist.  In fact, the music moved forward a decade as the positioning became "your favorite songs of the 80's, 90's and now."  The workday clock changed to 50 minutes of music followed by a super-long stopset.  Jingles were tossed out as was the renown 98 at 9.  Random commercial-free hours were inserted.  A contest with a $5,000 carrot was introduced.

The Big 80's Weekend, a staple in recent years, continued.  As the saying goes, the idle mind is the devil's playground, and PD Cagle saves time by having to sign just one name.  So he apparently had some extra think time.  Star 94 is now doing The Big 90's Weekend, and Cumulus' new Journey 97-9 is all 80's and 90's.  Its strong weekend ratings notwithstanding, B98.5 did not want to lose its younger end to Star and Journey on weekends, especially after openly luring that demographic during the week.

Over Labor Day weekend, B98.5 presented something new, The Retro Weekend with all 80's and 90's.  So was this a holiday special?  That appeared the case on the following Saturday and Sunday when The Big 80's weekend was back.  But surprise, surprise: The next weekend was The Retro Weekend again, suggesting the B Brass decided the Labor Day special had been a smash.

Let's think about this.  During the week, B98.5 plays 80's, 90's and now.  Saturday and Sunday, however, were The Retro Weekend, comprised of 80's and 90's.  Why call it "The Retro Weekend?"  Why not call it "The We-Leave-Out-the-Now Weekend?"  You see where I'm going with this.

Fast forward to this past Saturday and Sunday.  B98.5 was back to The Big 80's Weekend.  Would you say the station has a little dilemma?  The real question is how a state-of-the-art AC does something special on weekends.

Does B98.5 have the product in place, and it's just a matter of nomenclature?  During the week, B98.5 plays 80's artists such as REO Speedwagon, Journey, Elton John and Michael Jackson.  On The Big 80's weekend, I hear the more classic 80's sound of songs done by Culture Club, Wham, Dire Straits, The Go Go's, Toni Basil, Joan Jett and others.

Calling it The Big 80's Weekend seems just fine since the 80's had such a distinctive musical sound, and that title brings it to mind.  If B98.5 really wants to include 90's, however, it gets into the quandary of how to make it sound like it's not the weekday playlist with something missing.  Perhaps a name that leaves out the decades, like "The B98.5 FM Classic Songs Weekend" is the answer.

No worries, however.  I have complete confidence that Cagle will figure this one out.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Orff Rounds Out Star 94 Staff

As Tim Orff, known to listeners as Orff, takes over the 7PM-midnight show, Star 94's (WSTR-FM's) air staff is complete.  Rachel Logan had held down the slot since the departure of Darik Kristofer last spring.  Rachel will remain at Star for weekends and fill-in.  Darik handles afternoon drive at CBS Radio's 94.7 Fresh FM (WIAD) in Washington, DC.

Orff got his first taste of air work on a part-time basis at the short-lived WMAX-FM (The 80s Channel).  He then served as Program Director at WWAA-AM/1690, now WMLB.  With WWAA carrying the syndicated Air America and not accepting commercials, holding the PD position was akin to being Music Director of WGST.

Orff rose to prominence when 92-9 Dave-FM ditched the Barnes half of its Barnes & Firfer morning show.  The station needed a jock to get it through the Arbitron survey and tapped Orff to spin songs, say a few words and let Holly Firfer insert a bit of personality.  In fact, I found it a little strange to hear Orff come out of a song identifying the show as "Music Mornings with Holly Firfer."  Orff proved he could bring value, and his name was added to the morning show marquee.

When the time came for Dave-FM to try its next real morning show, Zakk Tyler, Orff was shifted to late nights, 11PM-3AM if I recall correctly.  In that slot, Orff was free to develop his personality and even giggle out of control if he so desired.  When Zack Tyler did not work out, Orff was again tapped to come to the rescue.  His late night shift was then filled by traffic reporter Renee Washington.

Orff resumed "Music Mornings," injecting some entertainment within his limited talk time.  But all good things must come to an end, and new Program Director Scott Jameson's vision included a personality morning show.  He hired former 99Xer Jimmy Baron, who had auditioned as a vacation fill-in for Zakk Tyler.  This time, however, Orff had no late night show to move to since that was now Renee Washington's domain.

A few months ago, after about 2 years off the air, Orff was hired for weekends by Star 94, where his former Dave-FM morning partner, Holly Firfer, is also on the weekend staff.  Star PD Scott Lindy liked what he heard and promoted Orff to evenings.

I doubt the decision was an easy one for Lindy.  Rachel Logan, one of my favorite personalities, was doing an excellent job, a fact that Scott had acknowledged to me a few months ago.  In my mind, either Orff or Rachel would have been a great choice.

The end result is Orff sounds better than ever and fits perfectly into the slot.  The Star 94 weekday staff is outstanding, and each personality complements the others.  In the sometimes cruel world of radio, it's good to know that Orff is back on the air and on one of the market's leading stations.

This is now totally Scott Lindy's Star 94.  He grabbed the programming reins early last fall and has skillfully steered the Hot AC back to dominance.  The war for young women between Q100, B98.5 and Star 94 is a tight one, with B98.5 being especially aggressive and determined to win.  Receiving ratings every month is making the race especially exciting to watch.

Join Boomer's Poker Run
If you're into biking, you have a great opportunity to take a beautiful ride into the North Georgia mountains as the autumn colors peak, and help Atlanta radio's Boomer at the same time.  As you may know, he is faced with the expensive proposition of undergoing a kidney transplant.  The Steve Boomer Sutton Benefit Poker Run on October 15 will start at Bodock's in Canton.  The prices are $20 single and $30 double.  Sign up by calling Butch Lawson at 678-630-0935 or visiting Boomer's website,

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Radio One Upping The Power & The Ante

I had seen David Blaine do it.  And I had seen Doug Henning do it.  But I had never seen a radio company do it...until Radio One produced something from nothing.  In fact, Radio One continues to build upon its amazing Atlanta creation.

Radio One has 4 stations plus an FM translator serving the Atlanta market.  In 1994, none of these signals existed.  In 1995, Radio One purchased an FM at 97.7 elsewhere in Georgia and moved the station to 97.5, plunking it down just south of Atlanta.  GM Mary Catherine Sneed and PD Steve Hegwood saw where Urban pop was headed and launched the market's first Hip-Hop station.  Hot 97-5 (WHTA-FM) carved a niche and got significant ratings right out of the gate.

Hot 97-5 produced a city-grade signal over only about half the market.  Frank Johnson, chief engineer for the Atlanta Board of Education's TV and FM, won the FCC allotment for 107.5, licensed to Roswell.  Radio One wanted an FM to simulcast 97.5 in the northern environs and made Johnson an offer that he could not refuse.  He worked at Radio One for about 10 years after that as part of the deal.

When the ratings came out, however, it became obvious 97.5 did not need a northern simulcast.  Though the signal was concentrated on Atlanta's south side, the target audience of young African-Americans was likewise concentrated there.  And the station was able to improve its northern coverage by optimizing its signal in that direction early in its life.

The new 107.5 was freed up to become its own station.  The spanking new signal launched from the Crowne Point Building's roof at 10,500 watts and, not long after, increased to 25,000, settling in at 21,500 from a slightly greater height.  The format was Urban AC for a few years, then Smooth Jazz for 8 years, and then Urban AC again.

Radio One's third Atlanta signal was formerly a Macon station.  Before selling its Macon cluster to Cumulus in 2002, U.S. Broadcasting obtained a construction permit to move its 107.9 into the Atlanta market, also at the south end, with the intent of selling it.  Radio One's Alfred Liggins breezed in with money in hand.  Because the 107.9 signal was more powerful than 97.5, Radio One moved its successful Hot 97-5 to 107.9.

The company's fourth signal appeared in 2001 after still more hokus pokus.  The FCC had awarded a small class A station, equivalent to 6,000 watts, licensed to Mableton.  Once again, Radio One stepped up and bought out the licensee.  Transmitting from behind the Ben Hill fire station, 102.5 does fine over the geography where its gospel target audience resides.  Finally, the company's 102.9 FM translator was obtained in a legal settlement with Steve Hegwood.

Because Radio One built its Atlanta cluster so inexpensively compared to buying existing stations, the company made money quickly.  Atlanta bolstered the company's bottom line and sometimes made up for a multitude of sins in other markets.

Today, Radio One has a highly successful cluster.  Hot 107-9 is an excellent station with top talent, led by the syndicated Rickey Smiley in the morning.  I had not expected success for Smiley, but with his current cast, the show has become great, hilariously funny.  Urban AC station Majic 107-5 (WAMJ-FM) simulcasts on 97.5, and features Steve Harvey in the morning and Michael Baisden afternoons.  Gospel fills the airwaves of Praise 102.5 (WPZE-FM).

With these achievements under its belt, Radio One is still pushing hard.  Within the next 2 months, 107.5 will relocate to I-85 near Jimmy Carter Boulevard and increase power from 21,500 watts at 361 feet to 33,000 watts at 607 feet.  Not that 107.5 needs to be simulcasting with 97.5 now--I have talked about this waste of the 97.5 signal--but with its power increase, Majic 107-5 will boom into the southern suburbs, rendering the simulcast totally unnecessary.

Majic 107-5's relocation to Gwinnett will trigger another event.  Hot 107-9, whose signal was limited by the FCC's short-spacing rules, will be able to raise its wattage from 27,000 to 35,000 from a few feet higher.

Rumor has it that Radio One wants to hoist the power of Praise 102.5 and move it right into Atlanta.  Supposedly, the company has offered Davis Broadcasting a boatload of cash to move its La Raza 102.3 (WLKQ-FM) in Gwinnett farther northeast to accommodate the move.  If true, whether CEO Greg Davis agrees to that remains to be seen.

I feel that after the 107.5 power boost, Radio One could create another profit center by simulcasting a new format on 97.5 and its 102.9 translator.  Smooth Jazz, a format now almost extinct, comes to mind as a possibility.  If done on an automated basis, it could generate a few bucks.

Word is that Radio One will try to sell 97.5.  That could be a little tricky because the format would almost have to target African-Americans to be profitable.  If Radio One tried to place a non-compete clause in the contract, the company might not find a buyer.

Tricky, however, is something that Radio One has pulled off repeatedly in Atlanta, as documented above.  I would not underestimate them this time.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog:

Monday, August 29, 2011

Are Mornings In Play At Dave FM?

Dave FM Program Director Scott Jameson must have the weight of the world on his shoulders.  Ratings for the Adult Album Alternative station have been on a roller coaster.  Just when it looked like the station had realized its potential, with decent ratings made up of the upscale types that most advertisers crave, the numbers toppled back down.  In the high-stakes Atlanta market, PD's tend to fear their own shadow when ratings dip below the top ten.

I'm guessing Scott is conflicted over two things, and both involve mornings.  Since its launch, Dave FM (WZGC) has gone back and forth between a personality and a music-intensive morning show.

The AAA format typically draws the most avid and meticulous music fans in commercial radio.  The kind of morning show that Scott Shannon started at Q105 in Tampa and made famous at Z100 in New York is not the standard in the Triple A format.  Triple A morning shows are somewhat more music intensive and feature some intelligent conversation in understated tones.

Dave FM mornings have about the same mix of music and talk as their AAA counterparts around the country.  The talk, however, tends not to be of the caliber that one might hear on KINK/Portland or KGSR/Austin, for example.  Dave FM has also had two periods of music-intensive mornings hosted by Tim Orff.  And Orff's stints got ratings similar to the ratings peaks and valleys of the more expensive personality show.

Which type of morning show is right for Dave FM?  While Dave could save money with a redux of an Orff-style show, the station would never get to the next level with it.  In my opinion, the current mix of music and talk is the right one.

Jimmy Baron, one of the market's most beloved figures, has been at the helm in mornings for the past 2 years.  Jimmy's co-host is Yvonne Monet, with the popular Chris Crash Clark handling traffic.  I enjoyed Jimmy in his 99X days and thought he contributed mightily as a co-host.  But, I never felt he had the voice or broadcast talent to be a main host.  I love listening to Yvonne, but I find her a little too bright and cheery for the AAA format.  Crash is a fun listen but also a little too upbeat for Triple A.

While the less expensive music-intensive versus more costly personality tug-of-war might be going on in Scott's mind, a second conflict could be playing into this.  Radio junkies tend to have been infatuated with certain stations in the medium's modern history.  For me, WFIL, KFRC and CKLW fall into that category.  From seeing Scott Jameson live at the semi-annual CBS Radio luncheons and listening to Dave-FM, I get the idea that Scott is infatuated with Atlanta's 99X in its heyday.  It was Scott who reunited the Morning X team of Steve Barnes, Leslie Fram and Jimmy Baron on the Dave FM morning show.

A scenario has played out a couple of times already at Dave-FM.  A few years ago, when then-morning personality Zakk Tyler was on vacation, former 99Xer Jimmy Baron filled in.  Of course, not long after, it was Jimmy's show.  About a year ago, former 99Xer Crash Clark came back to town after leaving WBCN in Boston.  At the time, Dave FM's morning traffic was done by (Rob) Carter.  One morning, Crash came in for a "visit," prompting over-the-air paranoia from Carter.  Jimmy and Crash assured Carter, also over the air, that his worry was ridiculous.  Days later, Crash became the morning show's traffic reporter.

Now an even more interesting situation has arisen.  It's only rumor, but I have heard that Jimmy Baron's contract ends on August 31.  And what do you know?  Another prominent former 99X personality, Steve Craig, just lost his job at Rock 101.9 (WRXP-FM) in New York following an ownership and format change.  And guess what.  Craig has been filling in on Dave FM for the vacationing Mara Davis.

Craig's availability might be causing an even bigger conflict for Scott Jameson.  Here is a former 99X personality ripe for the picking, but doing so would involve axing another former 99Xer.  This could be a great opportunity for the right therapist.

Steve Craig has a lot of music credibility and would be a great addition from that standpoint.  But would he do a music-intensive show while sprinkling in artist facts like he did in middays at 99X and has been doing at Dave-FM during his fill-in?  Or would Dave-FM pair him with a co-host?  Just thinking about that decision makes my head feel like it will explode.  Now I have my own conflict: Excedrin or Tylenol?  I guess we'll know more soon.

Happy Labor Day.  We will be back in 2 weeks.

I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV Blog:

Monday, August 22, 2011

Spared By The PPM

The availability of massive amounts of data from Arbitron had already made radio programming a science.  But the Portable People Meter's introduction increased the analytic possibilities several fold.

The PPM technology itself has made radio easier on the ears.  While it's still necessary to instill the moniker or call letters to build the brand, repeating them ad nauseam in order to prod diary mentions is no longer required.  But when I think of the PPM's effects on Atlanta radio, I am most thankful for its impact on Kiss 104 (WALR-FM).

In 2001, Kiss moved from 104.7 to 104.1, and Kiss's former frequency became the home of 104.7 The Fish.  Shortly after the switch, I was having lunch with a friend, Tim Rohrer, then General Manager of 680 The Fan, owned by Dickey Broadcasting.  Dickey was the company that sold Kiss to Cox, which in turn traded the 104.7 frequency to Salem.  Tim remarked, "Cox didn't do a good job promoting the change to 104.1.  I bet a lot of Kiss listeners will write 104.7 in an Arbitron diary."

Tim appeared to have hit the nail on the head.  The ratings showed a significant decline for Kiss.  They also indicated 104.7 The Fish's audience was around 25% African-American.  The Kiss sales force asserted the ratings falloff was caused by confusion.  And the station must have believed that because it took action to recapture the diary mentions that it had earned.

Coming out of every song, and every other place where Kiss was mentioned on air, an additional "104.1" was added before the word "Kiss;" in other words, "104.1, Kiss 104.1."  This went on for years.  It drove me nuts, but eventually Kiss's ratings came back.  Nevertheless, 104.7 The Fish's African-American listeners have settled in at about 20% of its total audience.

Thank heavens for the PPM.  Not only is the maddening extra 104.1 no longer iterated, but the moniker has been abridged to just Kiss 104.

Speaking of Kiss 104, I am happy the station has reverted back to two stopsets per hour, no longer playing 10 commercials in a row.  And 97-1 The River has also returned to the two-stopset clock.  Just like that, the stations are a better place for the folks who pay the bills, the advertisers.

Over the past several weeks, Kiss 104 has been breaking in a new station voice, Jay Delay.  To my ears, Jay sounds similar to the departed Derrick Jonsun, who imaged Kiss for years.  Jay comes across kind of like Derrick but with a touch more aggressive delivery consistent with the more recent music that the station now plays.  I thought Derrick did a tremendous job for the station.

A Question for Arbitron
When I wrote the recent column on La Raza (WLKQ-FM) in Gwinnett, I obtained PPM ratings for that county only.   I requested numbers for Hispanics 18-34 and 18-49.  In a county that's approximately 30% Hispanic, the report came back with all zeros.  That's despite the fact that 26 Latino people in Gwinnett carry meters (according to Arbitron), and Arbitron obviously knew that.

I then had the ratings run again on persons 18-34 and 18-49, leaving out the Hispanic qualifier.  Many stations had big numbers, including two Spanish outlets, El Patron and La Raza.  Was I to assume these 2 stations' listeners were Anglo?  Of course not.

So let me get this straight.  Arbitron knows 26 Hispanic people carry meters in Gwinnett County, and that their meters picked up listening to El Patron and La Raza among the 18-34 and 18-49 demos.  So how could those stations have lots of 18-34 and 18-49 listeners but none of them Hispanic?  If someone could explain this, I would be most appreciative.

Congratulations to Leslie
Leslie Fram, a key player in Atlanta radio for years, is moving to CMT in Nashville as SVP of Music Strategy.  Leslie is known for having a great ear for music, and I expect her contributions to be big.  At CMT, she will be reunited with Brian Philips, Operations Manager for Atlanta's 99X in its heyday.  Philips is now the cable network's President.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV Blog:

Monday, August 15, 2011

Climbing Radio's Ladder

Radio is a business in which the old axiom, "bad things happen to good people," applies more often than we would like.  That makes it a special pleasure to congratulate several people with ties to Atlanta radio on upward career moves.

In Jay Dixon's case, another saying--"every cloud has a silver lining"--comes to mind.  Cox/Atlanta surprised the industry last month by eliminating Jay's position as Program Director of Kiss 104 (WALR-FM).  He had moved to Atlanta 7 years ago after successfully programming Cox's 98.7 Kiss FM in the Birmingham market.  Jay had kept Kiss 104's ratings in the top 5 among 25-54 throughout his stay until recently, when the station started skewing older.  However, the audience's aging was a result of Cox's decision not to include current product in Kiss's Urban AC mix.

Immediately prior to Jay's departure, Kiss 104 finally reinstated currents and recurrents.  I doubt the modification, which included dropping the jingles, had anything to do with Jay's leaving, but I am not privy to politics inside Digital White Columns.  The fact that Jay's boss, VP Programming Tony Kidd, is one of the country's top Urban programmers probably made the PD position vulnerable when budget considerations mandated a cutback.

Very quickly, New York's 98.7 Kiss FM (WRKS), snapped up Jay Dixon as its new PD.  It's a homecoming of sorts for Jay, who once was the outlet's Creative Services Director.  The station, owned by Emmis, needs the help.  In the early 90's, 98.7 Kiss FM was the market's #1 station but has seen its ratings fortunes slide in recent years.  Part of that is due to the PPM, but Kiss is now New York's distant #2 Urban AC station.  My guess is Jay will have more autonomy in New York than he had in Atlanta, and an opportunity to make a real difference.

Jay is very knowledgeable and talented as well as great guy.  He has earned his stellar reputation, and I wish him the best.

I have written more than once about "That Guy Kramer," the morning show at Panama City's Island 106 (WILN-FM).  Steve Kramer, who started his radio journey as an intern for Q100/Atlanta's Bert Show and then moved to CHR 97.3 Kiss FM in Savannah, proved himself a talented and skillful morning host.  Kramer, along with co-hosts Miguel Fuller and Holly O'Connor, led Island 106 to unprecedented ratings heights in their 4 years there.  The show was perfect for CHR yet not at all juvenile.  Early this year, I expressed surprise in this column that they were still in Panama City.

Last week, That Guy Kramer took a big jump from market #234 to market #20, when it became Play 98.7/Tampa's (WSJT-FM's) morning show.  Play 98.7 is a still-developing Hot AC owned by CBS.

In Tampa, Steve, Miguel and Holly are gunning for MJ Kelly, CHR 93 FLZ's morning icon.  MJ has owned the market for years and shows no sign of waning.  And they are not alone; Cox's new Hot 101.5 wants to take the CHR crown away from FLZ.  Play 98.7 has a small signal disadvantage in the eastern part of the market, with less wattage and antenna height than 93.3 and 101.5, and a tower at the western end of the market, mere blocks from the Gulf.

Several years ago, 98.7 got huge ratings when it was Rhythmic CHR Wild 98.7 (WLLD-FM).  Wild's success prompted CBS to move the station to the much more powerful and centrally located 94.1 signal, where it has continued to thrive.  The last format on 98.7 before Hot AC was Smooth Jazz.

I believe the talent of That Guy Kramer will shine through, and the show will excel in Tampa as it did in Panama City.

Atlanta is the home of Lincoln Financial Media, owners of Star 94 (WSTR-FM), 790 The Zone (WQXI-AM), and clusters in San Diego, Denver and Miami.  Along with CEO Don Benson and VP, Engineering Barry Thomas sits the company's head programmer, John Dimick.  Last week, John was promoted to SVP, Programming & Operations.

John is smart, driven and nice, and he is a student of radio.  He knows the PPM methodology like the back of his hand, and uses that knowledge to give his stations an edge.  He is also a member of MRC, the Media Ratings Council.  Congratulations to John on his well-deserved promotion.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV Blog:

Monday, August 8, 2011

La Raza: Thriving In Gwinnett

La Raza 102.3 (WLKQ-FM) is accomplishing something extremely rare in the radio business.  The small-signaled station, in the shadow of the Atlanta giants, is getting good ratings and making big money.

The urge to own a radio station has always been kind of analogous to the sex drive.  People want it so badly that they sometimes act without thinking.  Going back to the early days of music radio, stations just outside major markets signed on as fast as families were moving to the suburbs.

Let's face it; people in towns like Carrollton, Griffin and Cartersville listen to Atlanta radio, and for good reason.  The Atlanta stations sound much better, pure and simple.  It's that way across the country in communities close to a major population center.

The thinking has always been that stations in towns near large cities can super serve their community and be a place where local merchants can afford to advertise.  And that's been true to some extent, but competing in the shadow of the big boys is a tough row to hoe.

For years, WLKQ-FM was Oldies Lake 102.  It was a station that was full of surprises because unlike major market Oldies stations, its music was not driven by research but by what the Program Director liked.  Lake 102 was considered a successful station, but success is relative.  Selling primetime spots for $25 is not everyone's idea of success.

When the Josephs retired in 2005, they sold WLKQ to Greg Davis' Davis Broadcasting.  Davis had owned Urban clusters in the Columbus (GA), Augusta, Charlotte and Macon markets, but had sold everything except in his hometown of Columbus.  I wondered why he bought WLKQ, and my guess is it made him feel like he owned a station in the Atlanta market.

When Davis first took over, the format was Classic Hits, like 97-1 The River plays.  I had expected Hispanic and questioned the format choice.  But somewhere, sometime, somebody planted the Hispanic notion in Greg Davis' head.  Davis sought out Brian Barber, who was VP of Sales for Spanish Broadcasting System in Miami, and asked what he thought about flipping to Spanish.  Barber responded that "it would be crazy not to go Hispanic," and the dye was cast.  Barber was brought in as General Manager.

At the time, Hispanic radio in Atlanta was limited to small AM's that were no longer viable as general market stations.  None served the entire Atlanta market.  Barber, in possession of Atlanta's first Hispanic FM, sensed he had a better mousetrap though the new La Raza did not put a listenable signal into most of the market.  He immediately increased Lake 102's rates fivefold.  I for one balked at paying that to be on a small Gwinnett signal that did not yet have ratings, but Barber persisted and billings skyrocketed.

The new La Raza was soon dealt a blow, however, when Clear Channel launched Viva 105.3, a much more powerful station that covered far more geography.  Nevertheless, La Raza still had a couple of big things going for it.  First, La Raza was a Regional Mexican station, consistent with Gwinnett's (and Georgia's) Hispanic population; Viva was a Spanish Contemporary Hit format and did not reflect Atlanta's Latino community.  Second, Viva's signal, emanating from southwest of Atlanta, did not penetrate buildings in Gwinnett.

A second blow was dealt, however, when Clear Channel/Atlanta, then under Jerry Del Core, shifted Viva to 105.7, a signal that boomed into Gwinnett, the state's largest Hispanic county.  Its mismatched format notwithstanding, Viva racked up some big ratings.  But La Raza hung tough with the super sales talent of Brian Barber and his staff, and the red hot Gwinnett advertiser market.

Clear Channel was not done, however.  The company added a second Hispanic outlet on 105.3, this one with the correct format for the market, Regional Mexican.  Predictably, the new El Patron cannibalized Viva, which Clear Channel eventually killed.

When the dust settled, La Raza was still standing, in fact standing pretty.  While it had a Regional Mexican competitor, La Raza had a far better signal in Gwinnett.  And La Raza could hone in on county advertisers who did not want to pay for the entire Atlanta market.

In the Gwinnett County Arbitron ratings for 18-34 and 18-49, El Patron holds a very small lead in average audience and weekly cume over La Raza despite a signal that does not penetrate buildings.  I believe the reason is many Hispanic Gwinnett residents travel across the market for work everyday, and La Raza has little signal south of Gwinnett.  Therefore, these Gwinnett residents tune to El Patron in their travels during the workday.  And El Patron can be carried on car radios back into and through Gwinnett.

La Raza's ad rates are now more than another multiple higher than its predecessor station's.  (Davis later purchased 100.1 in Canton, giving La Raza coverage in central and western Georgia, and ads on 102.3 are also heard on 100.1.)  Barber tells me that the station runs close to sold out.  I am not privy to how much La Raza bills annually but can take a good guess based on its rates.  It's a number competitive to some of the second-tier Atlanta FM's.

La Raza is a great story and one that defies the history of stations located in the shadows of a major market.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV Blog:

Monday, July 25, 2011

An Urban AC Uprising

Radio is kind of like the Middle East.  Things stay quiet for a while, but ultimately someone fires a shot.  Two months ago, unfriendly fire came from Cox Media Group's Kiss 104 (WALR-FM) and was aimed squarely at Radio One's Majic 107-5/97-5 (WAMJ/WUMJ-FM).

Until 2 years ago, Kiss had little Urban AC competition.  Radio One used its limited 3,000-watt 102.5 signal for the format.  Then the competitive landscape vastly changed, when Radio One put Urban AC on 2 signals, 107.5 and 97.5, to insure 60 dBu coverage of virtually the entire market.  Kiss withstood the challenge well for almost the entire 2 years, as the format's share expanded.

Being the heritage station in a format can be good, not so good and misleading.  Look at Kicks 101-5 (WKHX-FM), Atlanta's heritage country station.  Heritage was good when Kicks fended off Clear Channel's 94-9 The Bull (WUBL-FM) for the newcomer's first few years.  It was not so good when Kicks started losing its younger listeners to The Bull in 2009.  And it was misleading when people looked at the 6+ PPM numbers; despite being overtaken in 18-49 and 25-54, Kicks appeared to still dominate.  (Kicks rebounded, and today is beating The Bull in those important demos.)

Like Kicks, Kiss appeared to remain the format leader, but Majic had been quietly chipping away at the younger demos.  When the now defunct 97-1 Jamz hit the air in 2003, Kiss dropped straight-ahead Urban AC in favor of "Old Skool R&B."  Even after Jamz signed off in 2006, Kiss continued with older product and kept winning.  Majic, meanwhile, deployed a state-of-the-art Urban AC playlist.  Despite Kiss 104's bigger Persons 6+ share, the heritage station was overtaken among 25-54-year olds by Majic this year.

After losing to Majic among 25-54 listeners for 4 months, Kiss reverted to a conventional Urban AC playlist a couple of months ago.  The station has also adopted the Cox/Atlanta "at least 11 (songs) in a row without stopping" complemented by 10 commercials in a row.  Results in the June PPM were excellent as Kiss recaptured the 25-54 lead.

Majic is led by PD Derek Harper, who works under OM Hurricane Dave Smith.  Kiss recently (and surprisingly) laid off the highly-regarded Jay Dixon as its PD; for now, programming mastermind Tony Kidd is handling the PD chores.

The 2 stations are now very similar in music selection, playing tunes from the 70's through recently.  Both stick their toe tepidly into the current or recurrent waters; I hear Cee Lo Green occasionally on Majic and Marsha Ambrosius on Kiss.  Aside from playlists, Kiss and Majic are quite different.  Kiss emphasizes music, and Majic is heavier on personality.

Both competitors air famous syndicated voices in morning drive, Kiss 104 with Tom Joyner and Majic 107-5/97-5 with Steve Harvey.  As in other markets where the 2 shows go head-to-head, Harvey wins among younger demos.  Though Kiss regained the 25-54 lead in June, Harvey edged out Joyner in that key demo during morning drive.

In middays, Kiss has the corporate-sounding yet effective Cynthia Young while Majic features Carol Blackmon, longtime co-host on V-103's Mike & Carol morning show, who exhibits more personality.  Art Terrell, who exudes personality even in his limited talk time, hosts afternoon drive on Kiss.  Majic goes a different direction in PM drive with the syndicated Michael Baisden.  The show was coerced into playing music by the PPM but still emphasizes talk.

The stations diverge in evenings as Kiss 104 features Slow Jams, a love songs show, while Majic 107-5/97-5 maintains its regular rotation.  In terms of personalities, I have to give a considerable edge to Majic, which features the talented and smooth Si-Man (Silas Alexander) versus Kiss, which recently installed former part-timer Charles Mitchell in the slot.

Both Kiss and Majic are working to bolster their signal.  By November, the 107.5 signal will increase from 21,500 watts at 361 feet to 33,000 watts at 607 feet, which should give Majic the better Atlanta coverage of the 2 stations.  I wonder whether 97.5 will still simulcast the 107.5 signal; Radio One could simulcast a new format on 97.5 and its 102.9 translator.  But whether the company has that kind of vision remains to be seen.

Cox has earned a reputation for having a smart and aggressive engineering team, led by Chief Engineer Charles Kinney.  The company has been working to strengthen the Atlanta signals of its 3 rimshots, 95.5, 97.1 and 104.1.  Several years ago, Cox increased the power of Kiss 104 from 60,000 to 100,000 watts.  But the transmitter's distant location, just north of Newnan, still causes some holes in places such as DeKalb County.

Kiss now has a construction permit to half its antenna height in order to move much closer to town.  The proposed site is the Tyrone tower that houses the 107.9 and 96.7 antennas.  According to reports, Cox's need to add a few feet to the tower has met with resistance from Clayton County, but Cox is hopeful of a favorable resolution.

So which station is likely to win the dust-up?  I personally prefer music, and therefore my preference is Kiss.  I feel the station's imaging, handled by Derrick Jonzun, establishes the right mood for Urban AC.  Majic's imaging, voiced by the controversial Kipp Kelly, also sounds great, but I prefer the ambiance that Jonzun creates.

Majic will have a better signal in Atlanta, at least short term, even if it relinquishes the 97.5 frequency.  It should be stronger where more population is concentrated and better penetrate buildings.

I wonder whether the power of Steve Harvey in mornings will give Majic a big edge in winning the younger demos for the day; now that the market seems to have sampled the station.  If that was the case, I would expect Kiss to take the older demos and garner the larger 6+ share.  But the talk-heavy Michael Baisden in afternoon drive on Majic complicates any conjecture.

If I were forced to predict, I would say both Kiss and Majic will remain strong for years to come.  Both Cox and Radio One have too much riding on the stations to drift away from their A game.

Thanks for reading.  We will be back in 2 weeks.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV Blog: