97-1 The River has surprised me. It's been much more of a success than I had imagined. The station (WSRV-FM) launched on New Year's Day 2006, commercial-free and backed by a boatload of TV ads. It predictably had a big first Arbitron book. But in my mind, it would be downhill from there.
Z-93 (WZGC-FM) had never done much with the format, and the tight River playlist was super stale. Moreover, Atlanta's distance from the transmitter near Chateau Elan caused some holes in the signal. The River's ratings did settle down a little but stayed strong over the years.
The PPM's arrival slapped a lot of programmers in the face. Programming for the diary had become a science, and now many of those techniques no longer worked. Stations are still fine tuning the new science of programming for the PPM. One PPM axiom--and I've heard this articulated by Arbriton's Gary Marince--is that music stations get their highest numbers when music is playing, especially during long sweeps.
The River has one of the top cumes (i.e. number of different listeners over a week) in the market. But cume is one of two factors that go into average weekly listening; the other is time spent listening (TSL). And The River's TSL has been woefully short. The River's programming brain trust, VP/Market Manager Programming Tony Kidd and Program Director Jay Dixon, looked for a way to keep people already in the cume tuned in.
Their solution, unveiled a week ago, was 52 minutes of music an hour. As a result, 97-1 The River has gone to one stopset each hour. Another little adjustment in search of longer time spent listening was implemented last fall, enticing the audience to stay glued for "The Classic Hit Song of the Hour."
Concurrent with last week's change, The River introduced a new station voice, Scott Fisher, who has a "friendly aggressive" sound and makes the station ions better. Its car giveaway sounds so much more exciting than the same contest last fall. The music is coming across a tad more rockish, but Tony Kidd told me that was not an intentional change; that the playlist is always evolving.
Kaedy Kiley remains the music-intensive morning host, and Kelly Stevens has slipped into afternoon drive. Middays, formerly occupied by Deborah Reece, are now automated, as are evenings.
The revelation that stations can be automated yet get good ratings was brought to light by the former Beat (WBTS-FM) in its infant and toddler days. The station took seemingly forever to hire talent yet did well in the interim. That stations can get away with a cheap product does not make me happy, but it's a fact of life.
Atlanta's Greatest Hits Responds
I received an email from one of my favorite Atlanta radio people, Randy Cook of 106.7's Randy & Spiff. Randy wanted to set the record straight after reading my recent column about the station ("Grandma's Cooking Not for Radio").
When writing the article, I compared a few hours of Atlanta's Greatest Hits 106.7 to other Classic Hits stations in major markets. My conclusions were 106.7 marched to its own drummer; it played too little 60's product, mixed too many genres and aired songs that did not measure up to the Classic Hits label. In any case, unlike other stations that shifted from Oldies to Classic Hits, 106.7 lost most of its audience.
Some of Randy's points were, "WCBS-FM is winning in New York, and we are following that model. We have been following the WCBS-FM list all along. I have been over every clock on WCBS-FM, 24-7...one hour will have 10 70's songs, the next will have 10 60's songs, the next will have 5 80's songs...and everything in between. It is a very unpredictable sound...and that is what we have tried to emulate.
"I think if you monitor Atlanta's Greatest Hits over a full day, you will find there are times when it sounds like Fox 97, times when it sounds like The River, and times when it strays into the territory of B98.5. We are not trying to be all things to all people...but we are finding that the #1 station that people are coming to us from in PPM is B98.5, not The River. If we can convince our True Oldies Channel audience that we will still provide them their 60's (Beatles to Bon Jovi), if we can find a place between The River and B98.5, I believe we can be a success."
Well said, Randy, and I truly appreciate the input.
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Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV Blog: http://blogs.ajc.com/radio-tv-talk/