Monday, January 31, 2011

Grandma's Cooking Not For Radio

I generally come close to ignoring the Holiday PPM reports.  The Christmas AC's around the country generally go through the roof, and other stations' numbers pretty much shout aberration.  In fact, I wonder why Arbitron's Holiday dates do not coincide with radio's holiday period, when most Christmas stations program the music.  Issuing 2 reports with each covering Christmas music and regular weeks muddies things up for stations and advertisers.

A couple of things, however, seem to have broken through Atlanta's Holiday PPM numbers.  Star 94 (WSTR-FM) has to be happy.  After falling in December to its lowest ratings in months against Christmas music on B98.5 FM, many--myself included--expected the Hot AC to dip further due to more weeks of Christmas music in the Holiday report than December.  Yet Star 94 bounced back nicely, which makes me wonder what's in store for the LFM property this year.  Of course, it was only a month and, the many more days of measurement per panelist versus the diary notwithstanding, monthly ratings are sometimes bouncy.

Another observation that jumped out through the holiday confusion was that Atlanta's Greatest Hits 106.7 (WYAY-FM) hit rock bottom.  I'm guessing Citadel/Atlanta staffers are telling themselves that the old folks who listened to True Oldies have left, and the station is ready to start building.  And that could be partially true.  Yet the many other stations around the U.S. that evolved from "Oldies" to "Classic Hits" have not seen that happen.  In fact, many saw their demos improve and Total Persons increase.

So what's wrong with Atlanta's Greatest Hits?  Randy & Spiff are the morning show, and the duo has been accepted and successful in this market for years.  This is certainly an appropriate morning show; no problem there.  In middays, 106.7 has moved in Kristen Charles from weekends on Kicks 101-5 (WKHX-FM), 106.7's sister station.  Kristen is not of full-time major market quality; she's weekend caliber at best and would fit better on a Country station.  However, midday is a music-intensive daypart, and I doubt Kristen has much to do with the station's sagging ratings.  Afternoons feature one of the market's best personalities, Tripp West, who has the gift of sounding excellent in almost any format.  Evenings are automated, but I don't think the problem is the air staff or lack of one in the automated hours.

I haven't studied the formatics but have confidence that Program Director Mark Richards is a maven in that arena.  That leaves me suspecting the music.  I checked out what some of the country's leading Classic Hits stations are playing, stations such as WCBS-FM/New York, KRTH-FM/Los Angeles, KLUV-FM/Dallas and WMJX-FM/Miami.  All of these outlets were once full-blown Oldies stations that have successfully adjusted to add a big dose of 70's.  I noticed several differences from Atlanta's Greatest Hits 106.7.

Difference #1 - The out-of-town stations have definitely added 70's, but have nowhere near abandoned the 60's.  Each hour has approximately 7 70's songs and 5 60's tunes.  Atlanta's Greatest Hits plays 70's except for 1 or 2 60's each hour.  Keeping a significant amount of 60's is probably key to keeping the old audience while building a new one.

Difference #2 - Every hour in the other markets contains several blockbuster classics from the 60's, like Good Lovin' by the Young Rascals, She Loves You by the Beatles and Pretty Woman by Roy Orbison.  And yes, the 60's songs played by 106.7 are classics, but more than 1 or 2 per hour are likely needed to instill without doubt in former listeners that their favorite station has not gone away.

Difference #3 - On the CBS-FM's and K-Earths of the world, all 70's (and 80's) were smashes.  Examples are Bad Bad Leroy Brown by Jim Croce and Billie Jean by Michael Jackson.  Steve Miller's Jungle Love and the Marshall Tucker Band's Heard It in a Love Song, which 106.7 plays, never cracked the top 10.  And many songs that made the top 10 are not necessarily classics and would not test well.  Just to See Her by Smokey Robinson and Cupid by the Spinners are pleasant songs but probably more appropriate for AC, where listeners look for an overall music sound.  Classic Hits listeners are probably more passionate about individual songs.

Difference #4 - The Classic Hits stations in the other markets have a good music flow.  In the 60's and 70's, Top 40 was a broad format, but these days, music on radio is segmented, and even Oldies/Classic Hits station have a consistent Pop/Rock tone.  Atlanta's Greatest Hits 106.7 sometimes flirts with a train wreck in this area.  My Sharona by The Knack and Goodbye Stranger by Supertramp received Top-40 play in the 70's but are now the province of Classic Rock radio.  WYAY's playing them is probably confusing to Oldies/Classic Hits listeners.

So how is Atlanta's Greatest Hits coming up with its hourly music clock?  Did the Citadel Corporate and Citadel/Atlanta brain trusts decide that moving almost entirely into the 70's was the way to go?  And who is selecting the individual songs?  Mike Macho is the Music Director, but are the songs his decisions?

We all dislike consolidation and the generic radio that it's created.  But one thing that consolidation along with technology did was make programming music a science.  Could WYAY be doing it on its own?  As much as we loved mom-and-pop radio, homemade is much better for apple pie and baked ham than compiling a playlist; that's best left to the experts...or at least the focus groups.

All 106.7 needs to do is look at what's playing on other Oldies/Classic Hits stations around the country.  I know the radio cliche that every market's different, but this would certainly be an improvement as well as get the station out of the dumps before it ever gets started.

Dylan Takes On Boston
Former Q100/Atlanta PD Dylan Sprague has been named programming chief at Clear Channel's Boston cluster, including the legendary Kiss 108 (WXKS-FM) and Jam'n 94.5 (WJMN-FM).  He will fill the huge shows of Cadillac Jack McCartney.  I worked with Dylan on a major promotion for the opening of Atlanta's Atlantic Station.  He is a keen and aggressive programmer, and a smart businessman.  He's also a really nice guy.  Congratulations, Dylan. 

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

Monday, January 24, 2011

How Will Cox Delight Us?

Cox Radio owns the #1 cluster in Atlanta.  The company's stations lead in ratings and billings, which seems appropriate in Cox's home market.  Yet Cox has gone above and beyond that to entertain us radio junkies.

Several years ago, Cox created the liner, "B98.5 FM, voted #1 for the most music while you work."  It was not just B98.5 that was bestowed this positioning.  It was placed on Krater 96 (KRTR-FM) in Honolulu, WWRM-FM in Tampa and other Cox AC's.

I wondered what listeners thought about the liner, and I'm guessing that focus groups approved of the "most music while you work" part.  The general audience probably did not devote a lot of thought to it.  Oh, but what a gift to us.  Posters on a certain Atlanta radio board had fun with it for years.  And at least some Cox staffers found it amusing.

At a 2005 meeting with Dan Kearney, then B98.5's General Manager, and salespeople from all of the Cox/Atlanta radio stations, I mentioned Mayor Franklin was a shoe-in for re-election, but that the real contest was whether B98.5 would continue to be voted #1 for the most music while you work.  That drew laughter from the attendees and prompted Dan to add to the comedy.

We all were disappointed when the station dropped the line.  But little did we know what was coming next.  After being jockless in afternoon drive, 97-1 The River (WSRV-FM) added a talent, Kate McCarthy.  I tuned in and within seconds realized that Ms. McCarthy was actually B98.5 FM's Jordan Graye.  I was surprised, to say the least.  I have high regard for Jordan both personally and professionally, and this is not a knock at her.  But I was trying to comprehend Cox's thinking.

In Rome, northwest of Atlanta, Craig Ross, former morning co-host on AC Q102 (WQTU-FM), voicetracked evenings on sister Country station South 107 as JR Butler.  Clear Channel used one of the personalities on Country B-93.7 (WBCT-FM) in Grand Rapids to voicetrack middays on its Country outlet in nearby Muskegon, 107 MUS (WMUS-FM), using a different name.  But we're talking about drivetime on a major station in market #7.

Okay, The River is a music-intensive station whose listeners are not tuning in to hear the disc jockey for the most part.  However, consider this: According to Arbitron, approximately 42% of The River's listeners tune to B98.5 in a week; and 30% of B98.5's audience listens to The River.  Still, I guess the bottom line was that neither station's ratings were hurt by the use of Jordan on both.  Who knows whether the ploy caused listeners to question the credibility of both stations and thus hurt advertiser results or perceptions.  I highly doubt it.

All of that aside, what great fortune it was for us radio folks.  The Jordan/Kate phenomenon started a running comedy on the same Atlanta radio board.  Posters created a story about a competition between the two personalities and a bitter feud.  The poster who appeared to have the most fun was an R. Tibbs, who called the situation "the gift that keeps on giving."  On my birthday, another poster, Neil Millman, sent me a message that read, "Happy birthday.  Has Kate McCarthy sent you anything?"  And I enjoyed being Facebook friends with both Jordan and Kate.

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.  Two weeks ago, the Kate McCarthy persona disappeared as Kelly Stevens took over afternoon drive on The River.  Of course, Jordan Graye remains on B98.5 in middays.  Jordan wrote on her Facebook page, "Jordan and Kate will never lose each other.  Kate is my BFF although she does get on my nerves a little.  I betcha Kate turns up somewhere."

So I want to take this opportunity to thank Cox for its generosity in going above and beyond to make sure we radio fans were entertained.  At this point, I think it's fair to ask, "Cox, what's next?"

Deborah Reece Leaves The River
One of my favorite personalities, Deborah Reece, has given up her midday slot at 97-1 The River but is still very much a part of the Cox Radio family.  Deborah is doing production work for the Clark Howard Show, including writing and voicing twice-hourly promo leads into traffic reports.  She also will do fill-ins on all 3 Cox/Atlanta FM music stations.  Additionally, Deborah does freelance voice work.

New Post for Dan Bowen
Dan Bowen, who guided Star 94 to ratings heights for 10 years starting in 1998, has joined AirPlay Direct as VP of Radio Strategies.  AirPlay Direct is a digital delivery system developed for artists, radio programmers and music industry professionals.  Bowen was last at the CMA, where he was VP of Strategic Marketing and Communications.

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

Monday, January 17, 2011

Talk Radio Plays Musical Chairs

Last week's snowfall was accompanied by a flurry of moves at Atlanta's Talk stations, WSB and WGST.  Joining the exclusive radio club whose members include New York's Harry Harrison, Cumulus' Rob Roberts and Salem's Hugh Hewitt, Erick Erickson debuted his late evening show on WSB.  Dave Ramsey, who was displaced when WGST hired a live and local host, Rusty Humphries, for afternoon drive, started on WSB at midnight.  Finally, Michael Savage, dropped by WSB in favor of Erickson, was picked up by WGST for 9PM-midnight.

With the addition of Erickson, WSB clipped Herman Cain's show by an hour to air 7-9PM.  Cain has been pondering a run for the U.S. Presidency and of course would have to leave the air if he officially announced.  Many people cannot get past Cain's diction, but I enjoy listening to him.  I find him intelligent and more reasonable than most political talk show hosts.  Maybe my knowing what he's accomplished in the business world has something to do with that.

My early impressions of Erickson are pretty good.  He has a very good radio presence, and is intelligent and well read.  His material during the first few shows, a litany of examples of bad actions by liberals and by President Obama, is kind of tired by now.  In fairness, I realize Erickson was still getting to know the lay of the land and was taking few calls.  Hopefully he'll move his debate onto substantive issues.

If Herman Cain does indeed exit WSB, the station could immediately move Erick Erickson into early evenings and Ramsey into late evenings with nary a blip.  The bigger question being bounced around, however, is whether Erickson could replace Neal Boortz if the Talk Master ever decided to retire, which he's shown no signs of doing.

Boortz is a highly compelling host, and finding someone to fill his shoes would be a challenge.  He probably gets away with saying certain things because he's Boortz; a replacement might not.  That notwithstanding, Erickson has displayed some hints that he has the talent to be a lightening rod in terms of personality and delivery.  His subject matter needs to improve, but at this point, I feel the jury is out regarding his ability to take over for Boortz.  I'm interested in hearing how he and his show develop.

Snagging Dave Ramsey was a sound move for WSB because he has a loyal and rabid fan base.  I'm not sure how rabid one has to be to stay awake for the show, but Ramsey will probably slide into 10PM-1AM before long.  Acquiring the controversial Michael Savage is not likely to affect the minimal evening ratings of WGST given the station's small nighttime coverage area.  The winner here is Talk Radio Network, which syndicates the show.  Despite his termination by WSB, Savage still has an affiliate in market #7, an important fact for national network media buyers.

Changes On The River
Without any fanfare, Kelly Stevens has moved into afternoon drive at 97-1 The River.  He of course was part of the Kelly & Alpha morning show on B98.5 FM for 9 years.  After a hiatus of more than a year, Kelly was hired back last summer for weekends at B98.5 as well as fill-ins on B98.5 and The River.  Kelly is a class person and talented radio personality, and I'm glad to see him back full time.

Royal Marshall Passes
The entire Atlanta radio community is saddened by the sudden passing of Royal Marshall.  Royal's talk show work on WSB and WCNN as well as his engineering and cameo appearances with Neal Boortz had made him a household name.  He was a loved figure at 1601 West Peachtree Street. 

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Hitting On All Cylinders

Do you ever think about recording artists who produce an amazing song and then disappear into the annals of the one-hit wonders?  How about acts that crank out uninspired hits and then out of nowhere release a record that's magic, only to return to mediocrity?  Some performers create top-notch product every time.  Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, and Pink are some of today's artists who accomplish that feat.

In 2010, three incredible songs exploded onto the landscape, and all started getting airplay at about the same time last spring.  All three have become staples of the recurrent list in several formats.

Train has been around since the mid-90's and first gained national exposure in 1998 with Meet Virginia, a nice song for CHR, Hot AC and AAA, but not exactly a classic.  The group's success grew both artistically and monetarily with Drops of Jupiter and then Calling All Angels, both good songs.  We had heard little from Train since 2003.

Lead singer Pat Monahan must have found a used ukulele at a garage sale, but he created musical alchemy when he picked it up and sang Hey, Soul Sister.  Everything came together, and the song blasted onto the radio and the charts in 2010.  In Atlanta, Q100 and Star 94 still have it in heavy rotation, and it's been around so long that B98.5 is playing it.  Yet after Hey, Soul Sister, it was back to being a nice band for Train, as both If It's Love and Marry Me received airplay, but neither was special.  Will Train ever climb to such heights again?

Lady Antebellum had been around a few years and was a leading Country act.  Love Don't Live Here and I Run to You had hit big and established the group as one of Country radio's darlings.  In 2010, however, Lady Antebellum released Need You Now.  It's full of hooks and harmonies, and both the singing and instrumentals border on perfection.  The song crashed through the Country ceiling and landed on CHR, Hot AC and AC stations.  On Atlanta radio, it still gets heavy airplay in all those formats.  Hungry for some Lady Antebellum to follow Need You Now, stations added I Run to You, which was actually released in 2008.  The group's real follow-up was American Honey and then Our Kind of Love.  But none of those came anywhere near the greatness of Need You Now.  Will Lady Antebellum's future appeal be to Country fans alone?

Radio stations in the U.S. started playing Breakeven by the Script after the song hit big in Europe.  Although it never cracked the top 10 in this country, it was a fabulous song that hit on all cylinders.  And of course it was right in the respective wheelhouses of Q100 and Star 94, fitting CHR and Hot AC.  It's still a regular part of the young Atlanta female's diet.  After Breakeven peaked, stations added The Man Who Can't Be Moved, which had reached #2 in the band's home country of Ireland in 2008.  But it was not the song that Breakeven was.  Will the Script ever do it again?

Weekenders Getting Noticed
Weekend air talent often sounds like it's there to save money, which is probably the case.  A few recent additions, however, have risen above the crowd.  For several months, the very talented Joe Rosati has been appearing on Star 94 in the Saturday evening slot.  Rosati is not actually in Atlanta, even though he announces songs requested by Linda in Lawrenceville and Vicki in Smyrna.  He's voicetracked from Detroit, where his day jobs are afternoon drive on 106.7 The Beat (WDTW-FM) and Imaging Director at Channel 955 (WKQI-FM).  On the Saturday that Star 94 dropped its hit music positioning, Rosati had not gotten the memo.  Ah, the perils of voicetracking.

Rachel Logan is Star 94's newest weekend personality, and she did a fair amount of filling in during the holiday weeks.  She sounds exceptionally good, comes across as a natural, and apparently loves her job.  I remember her holding things down on 97-1 The River, probably before Kaedy Kiley took over mornings.  I am told that Rachel worked off-air at Cox/Atlanta and moved to air work later in life than most.  But I love listening to her.

Over at Q100, Adam Bomb, who left the station last year for mornings at Cumulus' i93 in Dallas, has been back doing voicetracked weekend shifts.  Maybe the fact that Adam's evening replacement at Q100, the syndicated Billy Bush, is so bad makes me appreciate him even more.  But he's definitely making the Bomb family proud.  I understand that Grandpa Bomb talks constantly about his grandson to anyone who will listen.

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