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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