Monday, August 29, 2011

Are Mornings In Play At Dave FM?

Dave FM Program Director Scott Jameson must have the weight of the world on his shoulders.  Ratings for the Adult Album Alternative station have been on a roller coaster.  Just when it looked like the station had realized its potential, with decent ratings made up of the upscale types that most advertisers crave, the numbers toppled back down.  In the high-stakes Atlanta market, PD's tend to fear their own shadow when ratings dip below the top ten.

I'm guessing Scott is conflicted over two things, and both involve mornings.  Since its launch, Dave FM (WZGC) has gone back and forth between a personality and a music-intensive morning show.

The AAA format typically draws the most avid and meticulous music fans in commercial radio.  The kind of morning show that Scott Shannon started at Q105 in Tampa and made famous at Z100 in New York is not the standard in the Triple A format.  Triple A morning shows are somewhat more music intensive and feature some intelligent conversation in understated tones.

Dave FM mornings have about the same mix of music and talk as their AAA counterparts around the country.  The talk, however, tends not to be of the caliber that one might hear on KINK/Portland or KGSR/Austin, for example.  Dave FM has also had two periods of music-intensive mornings hosted by Tim Orff.  And Orff's stints got ratings similar to the ratings peaks and valleys of the more expensive personality show.

Which type of morning show is right for Dave FM?  While Dave could save money with a redux of an Orff-style show, the station would never get to the next level with it.  In my opinion, the current mix of music and talk is the right one.

Jimmy Baron, one of the market's most beloved figures, has been at the helm in mornings for the past 2 years.  Jimmy's co-host is Yvonne Monet, with the popular Chris Crash Clark handling traffic.  I enjoyed Jimmy in his 99X days and thought he contributed mightily as a co-host.  But, I never felt he had the voice or broadcast talent to be a main host.  I love listening to Yvonne, but I find her a little too bright and cheery for the AAA format.  Crash is a fun listen but also a little too upbeat for Triple A.

While the less expensive music-intensive versus more costly personality tug-of-war might be going on in Scott's mind, a second conflict could be playing into this.  Radio junkies tend to have been infatuated with certain stations in the medium's modern history.  For me, WFIL, KFRC and CKLW fall into that category.  From seeing Scott Jameson live at the semi-annual CBS Radio luncheons and listening to Dave-FM, I get the idea that Scott is infatuated with Atlanta's 99X in its heyday.  It was Scott who reunited the Morning X team of Steve Barnes, Leslie Fram and Jimmy Baron on the Dave FM morning show.

A scenario has played out a couple of times already at Dave-FM.  A few years ago, when then-morning personality Zakk Tyler was on vacation, former 99Xer Jimmy Baron filled in.  Of course, not long after, it was Jimmy's show.  About a year ago, former 99Xer Crash Clark came back to town after leaving WBCN in Boston.  At the time, Dave FM's morning traffic was done by (Rob) Carter.  One morning, Crash came in for a "visit," prompting over-the-air paranoia from Carter.  Jimmy and Crash assured Carter, also over the air, that his worry was ridiculous.  Days later, Crash became the morning show's traffic reporter.

Now an even more interesting situation has arisen.  It's only rumor, but I have heard that Jimmy Baron's contract ends on August 31.  And what do you know?  Another prominent former 99X personality, Steve Craig, just lost his job at Rock 101.9 (WRXP-FM) in New York following an ownership and format change.  And guess what.  Craig has been filling in on Dave FM for the vacationing Mara Davis.

Craig's availability might be causing an even bigger conflict for Scott Jameson.  Here is a former 99X personality ripe for the picking, but doing so would involve axing another former 99Xer.  This could be a great opportunity for the right therapist.

Steve Craig has a lot of music credibility and would be a great addition from that standpoint.  But would he do a music-intensive show while sprinkling in artist facts like he did in middays at 99X and has been doing at Dave-FM during his fill-in?  Or would Dave-FM pair him with a co-host?  Just thinking about that decision makes my head feel like it will explode.  Now I have my own conflict: Excedrin or Tylenol?  I guess we'll know more soon.

Happy Labor Day.  We will be back in 2 weeks.

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

Monday, August 22, 2011

Spared By The PPM

The availability of massive amounts of data from Arbitron had already made radio programming a science.  But the Portable People Meter's introduction increased the analytic possibilities several fold.

The PPM technology itself has made radio easier on the ears.  While it's still necessary to instill the moniker or call letters to build the brand, repeating them ad nauseam in order to prod diary mentions is no longer required.  But when I think of the PPM's effects on Atlanta radio, I am most thankful for its impact on Kiss 104 (WALR-FM).

In 2001, Kiss moved from 104.7 to 104.1, and Kiss's former frequency became the home of 104.7 The Fish.  Shortly after the switch, I was having lunch with a friend, Tim Rohrer, then General Manager of 680 The Fan, owned by Dickey Broadcasting.  Dickey was the company that sold Kiss to Cox, which in turn traded the 104.7 frequency to Salem.  Tim remarked, "Cox didn't do a good job promoting the change to 104.1.  I bet a lot of Kiss listeners will write 104.7 in an Arbitron diary."

Tim appeared to have hit the nail on the head.  The ratings showed a significant decline for Kiss.  They also indicated 104.7 The Fish's audience was around 25% African-American.  The Kiss sales force asserted the ratings falloff was caused by confusion.  And the station must have believed that because it took action to recapture the diary mentions that it had earned.

Coming out of every song, and every other place where Kiss was mentioned on air, an additional "104.1" was added before the word "Kiss;" in other words, "104.1, Kiss 104.1."  This went on for years.  It drove me nuts, but eventually Kiss's ratings came back.  Nevertheless, 104.7 The Fish's African-American listeners have settled in at about 20% of its total audience.

Thank heavens for the PPM.  Not only is the maddening extra 104.1 no longer iterated, but the moniker has been abridged to just Kiss 104.

Speaking of Kiss 104, I am happy the station has reverted back to two stopsets per hour, no longer playing 10 commercials in a row.  And 97-1 The River has also returned to the two-stopset clock.  Just like that, the stations are a better place for the folks who pay the bills, the advertisers.

Over the past several weeks, Kiss 104 has been breaking in a new station voice, Jay Delay.  To my ears, Jay sounds similar to the departed Derrick Jonsun, who imaged Kiss for years.  Jay comes across kind of like Derrick but with a touch more aggressive delivery consistent with the more recent music that the station now plays.  I thought Derrick did a tremendous job for the station.

A Question for Arbitron
When I wrote the recent column on La Raza (WLKQ-FM) in Gwinnett, I obtained PPM ratings for that county only.   I requested numbers for Hispanics 18-34 and 18-49.  In a county that's approximately 30% Hispanic, the report came back with all zeros.  That's despite the fact that 26 Latino people in Gwinnett carry meters (according to Arbitron), and Arbitron obviously knew that.

I then had the ratings run again on persons 18-34 and 18-49, leaving out the Hispanic qualifier.  Many stations had big numbers, including two Spanish outlets, El Patron and La Raza.  Was I to assume these 2 stations' listeners were Anglo?  Of course not.

So let me get this straight.  Arbitron knows 26 Hispanic people carry meters in Gwinnett County, and that their meters picked up listening to El Patron and La Raza among the 18-34 and 18-49 demos.  So how could those stations have lots of 18-34 and 18-49 listeners but none of them Hispanic?  If someone could explain this, I would be most appreciative.

Congratulations to Leslie
Leslie Fram, a key player in Atlanta radio for years, is moving to CMT in Nashville as SVP of Music Strategy.  Leslie is known for having a great ear for music, and I expect her contributions to be big.  At CMT, she will be reunited with Brian Philips, Operations Manager for Atlanta's 99X in its heyday.  Philips is now the cable network's President.

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

Monday, August 15, 2011

Climbing Radio's Ladder

Radio is a business in which the old axiom, "bad things happen to good people," applies more often than we would like.  That makes it a special pleasure to congratulate several people with ties to Atlanta radio on upward career moves.

In Jay Dixon's case, another saying--"every cloud has a silver lining"--comes to mind.  Cox/Atlanta surprised the industry last month by eliminating Jay's position as Program Director of Kiss 104 (WALR-FM).  He had moved to Atlanta 7 years ago after successfully programming Cox's 98.7 Kiss FM in the Birmingham market.  Jay had kept Kiss 104's ratings in the top 5 among 25-54 throughout his stay until recently, when the station started skewing older.  However, the audience's aging was a result of Cox's decision not to include current product in Kiss's Urban AC mix.

Immediately prior to Jay's departure, Kiss 104 finally reinstated currents and recurrents.  I doubt the modification, which included dropping the jingles, had anything to do with Jay's leaving, but I am not privy to politics inside Digital White Columns.  The fact that Jay's boss, VP Programming Tony Kidd, is one of the country's top Urban programmers probably made the PD position vulnerable when budget considerations mandated a cutback.

Very quickly, New York's 98.7 Kiss FM (WRKS), snapped up Jay Dixon as its new PD.  It's a homecoming of sorts for Jay, who once was the outlet's Creative Services Director.  The station, owned by Emmis, needs the help.  In the early 90's, 98.7 Kiss FM was the market's #1 station but has seen its ratings fortunes slide in recent years.  Part of that is due to the PPM, but Kiss is now New York's distant #2 Urban AC station.  My guess is Jay will have more autonomy in New York than he had in Atlanta, and an opportunity to make a real difference.

Jay is very knowledgeable and talented as well as great guy.  He has earned his stellar reputation, and I wish him the best.

I have written more than once about "That Guy Kramer," the morning show at Panama City's Island 106 (WILN-FM).  Steve Kramer, who started his radio journey as an intern for Q100/Atlanta's Bert Show and then moved to CHR 97.3 Kiss FM in Savannah, proved himself a talented and skillful morning host.  Kramer, along with co-hosts Miguel Fuller and Holly O'Connor, led Island 106 to unprecedented ratings heights in their 4 years there.  The show was perfect for CHR yet not at all juvenile.  Early this year, I expressed surprise in this column that they were still in Panama City.

Last week, That Guy Kramer took a big jump from market #234 to market #20, when it became Play 98.7/Tampa's (WSJT-FM's) morning show.  Play 98.7 is a still-developing Hot AC owned by CBS.

In Tampa, Steve, Miguel and Holly are gunning for MJ Kelly, CHR 93 FLZ's morning icon.  MJ has owned the market for years and shows no sign of waning.  And they are not alone; Cox's new Hot 101.5 wants to take the CHR crown away from FLZ.  Play 98.7 has a small signal disadvantage in the eastern part of the market, with less wattage and antenna height than 93.3 and 101.5, and a tower at the western end of the market, mere blocks from the Gulf.

Several years ago, 98.7 got huge ratings when it was Rhythmic CHR Wild 98.7 (WLLD-FM).  Wild's success prompted CBS to move the station to the much more powerful and centrally located 94.1 signal, where it has continued to thrive.  The last format on 98.7 before Hot AC was Smooth Jazz.

I believe the talent of That Guy Kramer will shine through, and the show will excel in Tampa as it did in Panama City.

Atlanta is the home of Lincoln Financial Media, owners of Star 94 (WSTR-FM), 790 The Zone (WQXI-AM), and clusters in San Diego, Denver and Miami.  Along with CEO Don Benson and VP, Engineering Barry Thomas sits the company's head programmer, John Dimick.  Last week, John was promoted to SVP, Programming & Operations.

John is smart, driven and nice, and he is a student of radio.  He knows the PPM methodology like the back of his hand, and uses that knowledge to give his stations an edge.  He is also a member of MRC, the Media Ratings Council.  Congratulations to John on his well-deserved promotion.

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

Monday, August 8, 2011

La Raza: Thriving In Gwinnett

La Raza 102.3 (WLKQ-FM) is accomplishing something extremely rare in the radio business.  The small-signaled station, in the shadow of the Atlanta giants, is getting good ratings and making big money.

The urge to own a radio station has always been kind of analogous to the sex drive.  People want it so badly that they sometimes act without thinking.  Going back to the early days of music radio, stations just outside major markets signed on as fast as families were moving to the suburbs.

Let's face it; people in towns like Carrollton, Griffin and Cartersville listen to Atlanta radio, and for good reason.  The Atlanta stations sound much better, pure and simple.  It's that way across the country in communities close to a major population center.

The thinking has always been that stations in towns near large cities can super serve their community and be a place where local merchants can afford to advertise.  And that's been true to some extent, but competing in the shadow of the big boys is a tough row to hoe.

For years, WLKQ-FM was Oldies Lake 102.  It was a station that was full of surprises because unlike major market Oldies stations, its music was not driven by research but by what the Program Director liked.  Lake 102 was considered a successful station, but success is relative.  Selling primetime spots for $25 is not everyone's idea of success.

When the Josephs retired in 2005, they sold WLKQ to Greg Davis' Davis Broadcasting.  Davis had owned Urban clusters in the Columbus (GA), Augusta, Charlotte and Macon markets, but had sold everything except in his hometown of Columbus.  I wondered why he bought WLKQ, and my guess is it made him feel like he owned a station in the Atlanta market.

When Davis first took over, the format was Classic Hits, like 97-1 The River plays.  I had expected Hispanic and questioned the format choice.  But somewhere, sometime, somebody planted the Hispanic notion in Greg Davis' head.  Davis sought out Brian Barber, who was VP of Sales for Spanish Broadcasting System in Miami, and asked what he thought about flipping to Spanish.  Barber responded that "it would be crazy not to go Hispanic," and the dye was cast.  Barber was brought in as General Manager.

At the time, Hispanic radio in Atlanta was limited to small AM's that were no longer viable as general market stations.  None served the entire Atlanta market.  Barber, in possession of Atlanta's first Hispanic FM, sensed he had a better mousetrap though the new La Raza did not put a listenable signal into most of the market.  He immediately increased Lake 102's rates fivefold.  I for one balked at paying that to be on a small Gwinnett signal that did not yet have ratings, but Barber persisted and billings skyrocketed.

The new La Raza was soon dealt a blow, however, when Clear Channel launched Viva 105.3, a much more powerful station that covered far more geography.  Nevertheless, La Raza still had a couple of big things going for it.  First, La Raza was a Regional Mexican station, consistent with Gwinnett's (and Georgia's) Hispanic population; Viva was a Spanish Contemporary Hit format and did not reflect Atlanta's Latino community.  Second, Viva's signal, emanating from southwest of Atlanta, did not penetrate buildings in Gwinnett.

A second blow was dealt, however, when Clear Channel/Atlanta, then under Jerry Del Core, shifted Viva to 105.7, a signal that boomed into Gwinnett, the state's largest Hispanic county.  Its mismatched format notwithstanding, Viva racked up some big ratings.  But La Raza hung tough with the super sales talent of Brian Barber and his staff, and the red hot Gwinnett advertiser market.

Clear Channel was not done, however.  The company added a second Hispanic outlet on 105.3, this one with the correct format for the market, Regional Mexican.  Predictably, the new El Patron cannibalized Viva, which Clear Channel eventually killed.

When the dust settled, La Raza was still standing, in fact standing pretty.  While it had a Regional Mexican competitor, La Raza had a far better signal in Gwinnett.  And La Raza could hone in on county advertisers who did not want to pay for the entire Atlanta market.

In the Gwinnett County Arbitron ratings for 18-34 and 18-49, El Patron holds a very small lead in average audience and weekly cume over La Raza despite a signal that does not penetrate buildings.  I believe the reason is many Hispanic Gwinnett residents travel across the market for work everyday, and La Raza has little signal south of Gwinnett.  Therefore, these Gwinnett residents tune to El Patron in their travels during the workday.  And El Patron can be carried on car radios back into and through Gwinnett.

La Raza's ad rates are now more than another multiple higher than its predecessor station's.  (Davis later purchased 100.1 in Canton, giving La Raza coverage in central and western Georgia, and ads on 102.3 are also heard on 100.1.)  Barber tells me that the station runs close to sold out.  I am not privy to how much La Raza bills annually but can take a good guess based on its rates.  It's a number competitive to some of the second-tier Atlanta FM's.

La Raza is a great story and one that defies the history of stations located in the shadows of a major market.

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