Monday, February 21, 2011

Clear Channel Still Defying Logic

The original Viva 105.3 was Clear Channel's first Hispanic entry in the Atlanta market, launching in September, 2004.  By the following Spring, Viva had shifted to 105.7.  The frequency move was a logical one.  Gwinnett County, northeast of Atlanta, had exploded with Hispanic growth.  Davis Broadcasting had purchased the former Lake 102 (WLKQ-FM) in Gwinnett and flipped it to Regional Mexican as La Raza.

The 105.7 frequency threw a city-grade signal over Gwinnett.  The 105.3 signal came in okay in cars but not buildings.  Clear Channel wanted a competitive signal in this important Latino area.  Furthermore, 105.7's coverage was good in the high-density Spanish pockets west of town, Smyrna and Austell.

In 2006, Clear Channel added a second Hispanic outlet with Regional Mexican, and the only place to put it was 105.3.  While 105.7 was the right signal for Spanish, the new 105.3 had the right format for Spanish.  With the Atlanta Hispanic population over 70% Mexican, launching Viva with a contemporary format had not been the wisest choice.  Viva 105.7's high ratings had been the fruits of being the only Hispanic choice outside of Gwinnett, where it split audience with La Raza.  Predictably, the new station at 105.3, dubbed El Patron, cannibalized Viva 105.7.

Clear Channel eventually acknowledged Viva's contemporary format was not for Atlanta, and blew up Spanish on 105.7.  Where did that leave Clear Channel?  The company had the right Spanish format on 105.3, but with weak penetration into Latino-heavy Gwinnett County; and it had 105.7, a signal that boomed into Gwinnett County but was poor through most of the metro.

What would have been the logical thing to do?  Consider that El Patron (WBZY-FM) has lower ratings on 105.3 today than Viva had on 105.7 before El Patron's conception.  Yet El Patron has the appropriate format.  (Part of that could be due to the PPM.)

A couple of months ago, Davis Broadcasting added a second Gwinnett signal.  The company acquired an FM translator and christened it La Mega 96.5, giving the area a Spanish contemporary station, a la Viva.  Though La Mega is just 250 watts, its antenna is 1,421 feet up the 97.1/95.5 tower near Chateau Elan, and throws a hefty signal across Gwinnett.  If Clear Channel's El Patron had not previously abdicated Gwinnett to Davis Broadcasting, it has now.  Not taking the logical step of sliding to 105.7 made that happen.

With Viva 105.7 dead and El Patron 105.3 on a signal that did not penetrate buildings in the hottest Hispanic growth area, Clear Channel's next job was to put a new format on 105.7.  The Atlanta market's extensive sprawl makes having a strong signal across the metro mandatory for (non-Spanish) ratings success.  The 105.7 signal is weak across most of the market while 105.3 is strong.  When Clear Channel launched The Groove at 105.7, the company now had both El Patron and The Groove on signals that were custom tailored to under perform.  Not surprisingly, that's what occurred.

El Patron recently started adding contemporary--Viva/Mega--songs to its Regional Mexican playlist.  The genres do not exactly go together like cookies and milk.  What was CC's reasoning?  When you're the only Hispanic game in town, and listeners have nowhere else to turn, adding some songs for a different audience comes with little risk.  So was that it?  Or was it a reaction to Davis' new La Mega?  Did Clear Channel worry that Atlanta Latinos who like the Viva format would strain to pick up La Mega?  El Patron's contemporary songs definitely will not harm La Mega 96.5 in its Gwinnett home.

When Cox killed The Beat to make room for the WSB-AM simulcast, The Beat had a solid ratings track among young people.  Clear Channel prudently evolved 105.7 The Groove into Wild 105.7 and created a nice surrogate of The Beat, even bringing in Maverick, Mami Chula and the buzzer, which has years of experience.  Yet Wild 105.7's ratings have fallen short, and you know what's coming next.  The station should be on 105.3, home of El Patron, and not the weak 105.7.  Even with the simulcast of the paltry 96.7 signal south of Atlanta, Wild is anemic throughout much of the market.

Clear Channel's thinking might have been that Rhythmic CHR targets the northern environs, which have a high incidence of white teens; and where the 105.7 signal is strongest.  But their lower incidence per capita notwithstanding, so many more potential listeners live or work south of the northern arc.  And 105.3 has a very competitive signal to the north at least through Sandy Springs.

Clear Channel could increase ratings and revenue by swapping formats on 105.3 and 105.7.  I realize evolving from The Groove to Wild took months; I'm not sure why the switch was not done in one fell swoop.  Making the frequency change could cause more confusion, but that would be short-term.  At this point, Clear Channel is still defying logic.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

V Is For Void

V-103 (WVEE-FM) has always been the station that got it; the station that realized investing in the product can pay off big in ratings, billings and prestige.  It's always had huge talent.  Its current roster of Frank Ski, Wanda Smith, Ryan Cameron and Greg Street makes it the New York Yankees of Atlanta radio.  It's involved in the community, and it has a monster signal.  Despite predictions to the contrary, the People's station is still #1 in the People Meter era.  V-103 is one of the most storied and respected Urban stations in radio history.

I've been wondering, however, whether complacency plus the lure of saving money has caused V-103 to erode in quality just a bit.  It's been 8 months since Elle Duncan jumped from middays to the morning show, and no midday replacement has been named.  Ramona Debreaux, Sytonnia, Shay Moore and Osie the Dark Secret have been rotating in the slot.  And even singer Al B. Sure took at crack at the primo opening.

After giving the matter considerable thought, I'm proud to say I've figured out the thinking of V-103 Program Director Reggie Rouse.  Reggie is obviously a huge baseball fan.  Think about this: He made V-103 the New York Yankees of Atlanta radio.  He likes the platoon system and has taken it to a whole new level.  Instead of 2 players sharing a spot, Reggie uses 5 people.

Note to V-103 Market Manager Rick Caffey: Buy Reggie some Braves tickets so he can get his baseball fix.  The #1 station in market #7 should have a midday personality.  I have heard Reggie is hesitant to put Romona, my favorite of the group, in the slot because of her years in middays across town at Hot 107-9 (WHTA-FM).   If that's true, which it might not be, it should not be an issue; virtually no one would think of it.  Sytonnia and Shay Moore also would be suitable.  Both have a sound tinged with the uniqueness that has been a hallmark of V-103.

My least favorite is Osei the Dark Secret, who was rumored to have won the spot a couple of months ago.  In my opinion, Osei does not have talent commensurate with a full-time shift on V-103, but he's a Reggie Rouse favorite.  Osei started as Reggie's intern years ago at WPGC in Washington.

A year has passed since relationship maven Joyce Littel was released as host of V-103's Quiet Storm after 17 stellar years on the job.  And still to this day, the 10PM-2AM shift is jockless and runs automated.  The Quiet Storm is without a host in some other markets, but this is V-103 in Atlanta.  Al B. Sure, who pinch hit for Reggie in middays, was reportedly hired for the late night shift several months ago but never appeared.  Granted, Al B. Sure is flexible and can work "night and day."  At a CBS Radio luncheon last year, Reggie Rouse told me that he "certainly hopes" to have a live human in the slot.

The absence of a regular host during 8 of 24 hours is taking the bloom off the rose for the legendary station.  That V-103 has not been voice tracked or corporately programmed has set it apart in this age of consolidation.  The bottom line is the People's Station needs some people.

Denny Radio Sees Daylight
Punxsutawney Phil may not have seen his shadow, but Denny Schaffer, who hosts on Talk 920 (WGKA-AM) from 9-11:30PM, saw daylight last Friday.  Syndicated Salem talker Dennis Prager, who usually fills noon-3, had the day off so Denny was handed the mic.

Schaffer was excellent as he interacted with callers and guests.  And he has substantial broadcast talent.  I wish Denny Radio were always on in the daytime.  Salem's business model, however, is to use its AM talk stations to gain clearance for the company's talk product, which includes Prager, Bill Bennett, Mike Gallagher, Michael Medved and Hugh Hewitt.  Providing clearance for its network in the Atlanta market takes precedence over achieving local ratings and billings success.

I'm guessing local Salem management is wishing along with me.  The national Salem talk hosts are solid.  I find them a cut above the big national political talkers in terms of intellect and demeanor.  But Salem/Atlanta management probably could program WGKA to more local success if given the opportunity.

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

Monday, February 7, 2011

B98.5's Predictable Predictability

In a 1977 interview, vaulted programmer Bill Tanner, who had led Y100 to the top of the Miami ratings, described his station's format as "predictable unpredictability."  Is B98.5 (WSB-FM) the polar opposite?

B98.5 FM is clearly a well-oiled machine.  We know a liner promoting the 98 at 9 is coming after the next song if not after this one.  We know the first words that the talent will say when coming out of a song.  In fact, we pretty much know all the words that they will utter during the time the mic is open.  We know the jingles and when they'll air.  We know the music.  According to some, B98.5 is the station that's a parody of itself.

The midday and afternoon drive personalities, Jordan Graye and Kelly McCoy, respectively, have been in place for years.  They both fit in well and are among the market's best sounding though they stick to the script for the most part.  In my almost 17 years in Atlanta, B98.5 has probably been the market's most predictable...and one of its most successful.  It's a handcrafted thingamabob.  (That means a Bob Neil creation.)

One area, however, has been slightly shaky at times, and that's mornings.  When I arrived in Atlanta during 1994, Dale O'Brien was doing the morning show with Trevor Johns.  I was immediately impressed with O'Brien's great voice, broadcast delivery and wit.  And apparently ratings were high, as they had been with O'Brien's first partner, Kari Dean.  For whatever reason, B98.5 let O'Brien go, and that started a rough road.  The legendary Gary McKee came in but did not shine as brightly as he had years earlier at WQXI.  McKee left after a few years to join Z93 (WZGC-FM).  Then B98.5 went through Eddie Bauer & Christie Tanner and later Chandler Steele (Heidi Mason) before settling on Kelly & Alpha in 1999.

Kelly Stevens and Alpha Trivette did a personality show within B98.5's tight more-music confines as well as anyone could.  They handled mornings successfully for 10 years until B98.5 got the itch to pick up the displaced Steve McCoy & Vikki Locke in 2009.  The deal was to let Steve & Vikki be Steve & Vikki, deviating from Bob Neil's Cox AC philosophy, even in mornings.  Nevertheless, actually putting on the show caused cognitive dissonance for someone, probably Neil himself.  Just less than a year ago, before a hefty raise was to kick in, Cox fired Steve & Vikki.  Then, the company turned around and rehired Vikki.  Her contract is rumored to run through June, 2011, but that might or might not be accurate.

Vikki Locke is a talented personality, and B98.5 allows her a little room to operate.  However, I find the program lacking without Steve.  When people lose a family member through death or divorce, they often find their surroundings empty and move.  So perhaps that's happened to me with B98.5's morning show.  Since Vikki started flying solo last spring, ratings were steadily declining but rebounded some in the fall.  Then came Christmas music so the next few months will be telling.

If Vikki's contract does indeed end in June, will the station retain her?  Was the reason that Vikki was kept while Steve was sent packing that B98.5 wanted a big name but with half the talk?  Or did Cox want to break up the team to keep them from competing in the future, before bringing in a new show?  What will the ratings say this spring?

If Cox did say, "Adios, it's been real" to Vikki, what would B98.5 do for mornings?  Kelly & Alpha could be resurrected, but Kelly Stevens seems comfortably ensconced in afternoons on 97-1 The River and weekends at B98.5.  The station could move PM drive icon Kelly McCoy into mornings, give him some breathing room, and have an instant heritage morning show with a music-intensive format.  Hiring someone for afternoons would be far less chancy than bringing in an unknown quantity for wake-up duty.  Of course, Kelly might not relish the idea of getting up at 3AM.

As we journey through the next few months, mornings at B98.5 might be a topic of conversation.  Instead of being predictably predictable, B98.5 just might adopt Bill Tanner's description of Y100, predictable least until June.

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