Monday, May 2, 2011

Time To Give Dave Its Props

Dave FM (WZGC/92.9) has now had 3 stellar PPM months in a row.  And the station accomplished this with no help from the Falcons.  It appears Program Director Scott Jameson has carved a solid niche for the Triple A outlet, and for that he deserves credit.  That does not mean Dave FM is my idea of a top AAA station, but maybe that's why Scott is in the PD chair, and I'm not.

A little history might be in order.  I first heard 92.9 in Atlanta on a trip here in the mid-1970's.  At the time, it was Z93, a great Top-40 station led by now CBS Radio President Dan Mason.  And a few years later, John Young would program the station to even greater heights.  In the mid-eighties after Young departed, however, Z93 started faltering.  When I moved to Atlanta in 1994, Z93 was a struggling Classic Rocker, which depressed me when I thought of the greatness the station had known.

Z93 staggered through the 1990's and early 2000's until 2004, when it became 92-9 Dave FM.  The positioner was "Rock Without Rules," which apparently meant anything PD Michelle Engel felt like playing.  Its novelty attracted attention, and it got some ratings early on.  As the newness wore off, ratings declined.  Rock Without Rules became Radio Without Rules.  I guess playing the Police every hour was Radio Without Rules.

Engel was replaced by Mike Wheeler, who gave the station some definition by moving it into the AAA space.  Wheeler changed mornings from music intensive to personality by hiring Zack Tyler.  I've always wondered how the Tyler mistake could have been made by anyone who had listened to his aircheck, much less an experienced PD.  In any case, Tyler was not long for the market, and neither was Wheeler.  But at least Mike pointed the station in the right direction.

CBS/Atlanta Market Manager Rick Caffey found Scott Jameson in Indianapolis after an exhaustive search.  Scott is a smart and creative programmer.  One interesting element that he added is short stories about artists and songs that put things in perspective.  Scott credited this to research done by VH-1.  Jameson's product overall does reflect some thinking.

Triple A stations are relatively rare and generally succeed in markets with a liberal political bent and heavy university presence.  Atlanta's demographic makeup does not really conform, and perhaps that's why Dave FM succeeds with an uncharacteristic AAA performance.

Dave FM has never sounded like the format's standard bearers, KBCO/Denver, KINK/Portland, KMTT/Seattle and others.  It does not have the overall tenor and coherence of the Triple A leaders.

Rick Caffey is a big believer in personality as well as live and local.  And how can we not love that in this day and age?  In fact, he has one of the country's premier talents in middays on Dave FM, Mara Davis, who constantly proves her worth by outperforming the rest of the station in the ratings.  Just one thing, though.  The legendary Triple A stations do not have that kind of personality.

The format's personalities are solid but not humorously conversational, and they lean toward brevity.  They all have a consistent AAA tone that ties the station together.  They're closer to NPR than CHR.  One Dave FM personality does sound like Triple A, and she's evening host Margot Smith.

Triple A is the closest commercial format to the music aficionado end of the spectrum.  Portland's KINK has used "True to the Music" as its slogan for years.  It was written by ad agency Wieden & Kennedy.  It means the station respects the music; not talking over intros and keeping the music, not the personality, the star.

The AAA standard bearers have morning shows, sometimes with more than one host.  But the same Triple A tenor of the station remains as does respect for the music.  Bits like visiting a decrepit part of town to ask residents about the royal wedding are not a fit.

Nick Michaels is the primary voice talent for Dave FM.  He has a deep and distinctive voice, and would be great for TV documentaries.  But--and here it comes--he does not sound like Triple A, whose leaders use big voices for their imaging.

Dave FM's playlist has evolved to be essentially the same as the top AAA stations.  I don't know what it is--maybe it's perception caused by the other formatic elements--but I come away thinking of Dave's music as slanted toward pop--Tears for Fears and Dave Matthews.

To my ears, the overall sound of 92-9 Dave FM is not AAA in tenor or cohesiveness.  The format's leading members have a distinctive AAA sound in all facets of their presentation--air talent, imaging and music.  Their sound is structured, maybe semi-serious, and the elements pull together in one direction.

But does any of that matter?  Dave FM has found a way to make AAA successful in Atlanta.  Not only are ratings high, but the station's qualitative is excellent.  Despite my own preferences and beliefs regarding how AAA should sound, I offer congratulations to Scott Jameson and the Dave FM staff.  Unless KBCO gets picked up and then plunked down in Atlanta, 92-9 Dave FM should continue to do just fine.

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