Monday, September 26, 2011

B98.5 Grapples With Weekends

Three recent developments caused the perfect storm for B98.5 FM (WSB-FM).  The first was the departure of former Cox Radio CEO Bob Neil, who had a heavy hand in what aired on his favorite station.  The result was a decision by Cox Media Group to shift the epicenter of programming decisions to its local stations.  The second was the rapid ascent of Star 94 (WSTR-FM) as a Hot AC.  The third was malaise in B98.5's own ratings.

During Star 94's previous stay among the ratings elite, B98.5 routinely turned in stellar performances as well.  What has changed, aside from Star's slight adjustment from Adult CHR to Hot AC, is the presence of Q100 (WWWQ-FM) on the 99.7 frequency.  Now the race for young women is a cat fight.

B98.5, under Program Director Cagle, has moved swiftly and aggressively to reclaim its lost audience.  In a change that sent people to their windows looking for flying pigs, the AC added some current songs to its playlist.  In fact, the music moved forward a decade as the positioning became "your favorite songs of the 80's, 90's and now."  The workday clock changed to 50 minutes of music followed by a super-long stopset.  Jingles were tossed out as was the renown 98 at 9.  Random commercial-free hours were inserted.  A contest with a $5,000 carrot was introduced.

The Big 80's Weekend, a staple in recent years, continued.  As the saying goes, the idle mind is the devil's playground, and PD Cagle saves time by having to sign just one name.  So he apparently had some extra think time.  Star 94 is now doing The Big 90's Weekend, and Cumulus' new Journey 97-9 is all 80's and 90's.  Its strong weekend ratings notwithstanding, B98.5 did not want to lose its younger end to Star and Journey on weekends, especially after openly luring that demographic during the week.

Over Labor Day weekend, B98.5 presented something new, The Retro Weekend with all 80's and 90's.  So was this a holiday special?  That appeared the case on the following Saturday and Sunday when The Big 80's weekend was back.  But surprise, surprise: The next weekend was The Retro Weekend again, suggesting the B Brass decided the Labor Day special had been a smash.

Let's think about this.  During the week, B98.5 plays 80's, 90's and now.  Saturday and Sunday, however, were The Retro Weekend, comprised of 80's and 90's.  Why call it "The Retro Weekend?"  Why not call it "The We-Leave-Out-the-Now Weekend?"  You see where I'm going with this.

Fast forward to this past Saturday and Sunday.  B98.5 was back to The Big 80's Weekend.  Would you say the station has a little dilemma?  The real question is how a state-of-the-art AC does something special on weekends.

Does B98.5 have the product in place, and it's just a matter of nomenclature?  During the week, B98.5 plays 80's artists such as REO Speedwagon, Journey, Elton John and Michael Jackson.  On The Big 80's weekend, I hear the more classic 80's sound of songs done by Culture Club, Wham, Dire Straits, The Go Go's, Toni Basil, Joan Jett and others.

Calling it The Big 80's Weekend seems just fine since the 80's had such a distinctive musical sound, and that title brings it to mind.  If B98.5 really wants to include 90's, however, it gets into the quandary of how to make it sound like it's not the weekday playlist with something missing.  Perhaps a name that leaves out the decades, like "The B98.5 FM Classic Songs Weekend" is the answer.

No worries, however.  I have complete confidence that Cagle will figure this one out.

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

Monday, September 19, 2011

Orff Rounds Out Star 94 Staff

As Tim Orff, known to listeners as Orff, takes over the 7PM-midnight show, Star 94's (WSTR-FM's) air staff is complete.  Rachel Logan had held down the slot since the departure of Darik Kristofer last spring.  Rachel will remain at Star for weekends and fill-in.  Darik handles afternoon drive at CBS Radio's 94.7 Fresh FM (WIAD) in Washington, DC.

Orff got his first taste of air work on a part-time basis at the short-lived WMAX-FM (The 80s Channel).  He then served as Program Director at WWAA-AM/1690, now WMLB.  With WWAA carrying the syndicated Air America and not accepting commercials, holding the PD position was akin to being Music Director of WGST.

Orff rose to prominence when 92-9 Dave-FM ditched the Barnes half of its Barnes & Firfer morning show.  The station needed a jock to get it through the Arbitron survey and tapped Orff to spin songs, say a few words and let Holly Firfer insert a bit of personality.  In fact, I found it a little strange to hear Orff come out of a song identifying the show as "Music Mornings with Holly Firfer."  Orff proved he could bring value, and his name was added to the morning show marquee.

When the time came for Dave-FM to try its next real morning show, Zakk Tyler, Orff was shifted to late nights, 11PM-3AM if I recall correctly.  In that slot, Orff was free to develop his personality and even giggle out of control if he so desired.  When Zack Tyler did not work out, Orff was again tapped to come to the rescue.  His late night shift was then filled by traffic reporter Renee Washington.

Orff resumed "Music Mornings," injecting some entertainment within his limited talk time.  But all good things must come to an end, and new Program Director Scott Jameson's vision included a personality morning show.  He hired former 99Xer Jimmy Baron, who had auditioned as a vacation fill-in for Zakk Tyler.  This time, however, Orff had no late night show to move to since that was now Renee Washington's domain.

A few months ago, after about 2 years off the air, Orff was hired for weekends by Star 94, where his former Dave-FM morning partner, Holly Firfer, is also on the weekend staff.  Star PD Scott Lindy liked what he heard and promoted Orff to evenings.

I doubt the decision was an easy one for Lindy.  Rachel Logan, one of my favorite personalities, was doing an excellent job, a fact that Scott had acknowledged to me a few months ago.  In my mind, either Orff or Rachel would have been a great choice.

The end result is Orff sounds better than ever and fits perfectly into the slot.  The Star 94 weekday staff is outstanding, and each personality complements the others.  In the sometimes cruel world of radio, it's good to know that Orff is back on the air and on one of the market's leading stations.

This is now totally Scott Lindy's Star 94.  He grabbed the programming reins early last fall and has skillfully steered the Hot AC back to dominance.  The war for young women between Q100, B98.5 and Star 94 is a tight one, with B98.5 being especially aggressive and determined to win.  Receiving ratings every month is making the race especially exciting to watch.

Join Boomer's Poker Run
If you're into biking, you have a great opportunity to take a beautiful ride into the North Georgia mountains as the autumn colors peak, and help Atlanta radio's Boomer at the same time.  As you may know, he is faced with the expensive proposition of undergoing a kidney transplant.  The Steve Boomer Sutton Benefit Poker Run on October 15 will start at Bodock's in Canton.  The prices are $20 single and $30 double.  Sign up by calling Butch Lawson at 678-630-0935 or visiting Boomer's website,

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

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

Monday, September 12, 2011

Radio One Upping The Power & The Ante

I had seen David Blaine do it.  And I had seen Doug Henning do it.  But I had never seen a radio company do it...until Radio One produced something from nothing.  In fact, Radio One continues to build upon its amazing Atlanta creation.

Radio One has 4 stations plus an FM translator serving the Atlanta market.  In 1994, none of these signals existed.  In 1995, Radio One purchased an FM at 97.7 elsewhere in Georgia and moved the station to 97.5, plunking it down just south of Atlanta.  GM Mary Catherine Sneed and PD Steve Hegwood saw where Urban pop was headed and launched the market's first Hip-Hop station.  Hot 97-5 (WHTA-FM) carved a niche and got significant ratings right out of the gate.

Hot 97-5 produced a city-grade signal over only about half the market.  Frank Johnson, chief engineer for the Atlanta Board of Education's TV and FM, won the FCC allotment for 107.5, licensed to Roswell.  Radio One wanted an FM to simulcast 97.5 in the northern environs and made Johnson an offer that he could not refuse.  He worked at Radio One for about 10 years after that as part of the deal.

When the ratings came out, however, it became obvious 97.5 did not need a northern simulcast.  Though the signal was concentrated on Atlanta's south side, the target audience of young African-Americans was likewise concentrated there.  And the station was able to improve its northern coverage by optimizing its signal in that direction early in its life.

The new 107.5 was freed up to become its own station.  The spanking new signal launched from the Crowne Point Building's roof at 10,500 watts and, not long after, increased to 25,000, settling in at 21,500 from a slightly greater height.  The format was Urban AC for a few years, then Smooth Jazz for 8 years, and then Urban AC again.

Radio One's third Atlanta signal was formerly a Macon station.  Before selling its Macon cluster to Cumulus in 2002, U.S. Broadcasting obtained a construction permit to move its 107.9 into the Atlanta market, also at the south end, with the intent of selling it.  Radio One's Alfred Liggins breezed in with money in hand.  Because the 107.9 signal was more powerful than 97.5, Radio One moved its successful Hot 97-5 to 107.9.

The company's fourth signal appeared in 2001 after still more hokus pokus.  The FCC had awarded a small class A station, equivalent to 6,000 watts, licensed to Mableton.  Once again, Radio One stepped up and bought out the licensee.  Transmitting from behind the Ben Hill fire station, 102.5 does fine over the geography where its gospel target audience resides.  Finally, the company's 102.9 FM translator was obtained in a legal settlement with Steve Hegwood.

Because Radio One built its Atlanta cluster so inexpensively compared to buying existing stations, the company made money quickly.  Atlanta bolstered the company's bottom line and sometimes made up for a multitude of sins in other markets.

Today, Radio One has a highly successful cluster.  Hot 107-9 is an excellent station with top talent, led by the syndicated Rickey Smiley in the morning.  I had not expected success for Smiley, but with his current cast, the show has become great, hilariously funny.  Urban AC station Majic 107-5 (WAMJ-FM) simulcasts on 97.5, and features Steve Harvey in the morning and Michael Baisden afternoons.  Gospel fills the airwaves of Praise 102.5 (WPZE-FM).

With these achievements under its belt, Radio One is still pushing hard.  Within the next 2 months, 107.5 will relocate to I-85 near Jimmy Carter Boulevard and increase power from 21,500 watts at 361 feet to 33,000 watts at 607 feet.  Not that 107.5 needs to be simulcasting with 97.5 now--I have talked about this waste of the 97.5 signal--but with its power increase, Majic 107-5 will boom into the southern suburbs, rendering the simulcast totally unnecessary.

Majic 107-5's relocation to Gwinnett will trigger another event.  Hot 107-9, whose signal was limited by the FCC's short-spacing rules, will be able to raise its wattage from 27,000 to 35,000 from a few feet higher.

Rumor has it that Radio One wants to hoist the power of Praise 102.5 and move it right into Atlanta.  Supposedly, the company has offered Davis Broadcasting a boatload of cash to move its La Raza 102.3 (WLKQ-FM) in Gwinnett farther northeast to accommodate the move.  If true, whether CEO Greg Davis agrees to that remains to be seen.

I feel that after the 107.5 power boost, Radio One could create another profit center by simulcasting a new format on 97.5 and its 102.9 translator.  Smooth Jazz, a format now almost extinct, comes to mind as a possibility.  If done on an automated basis, it could generate a few bucks.

Word is that Radio One will try to sell 97.5.  That could be a little tricky because the format would almost have to target African-Americans to be profitable.  If Radio One tried to place a non-compete clause in the contract, the company might not find a buyer.

Tricky, however, is something that Radio One has pulled off repeatedly in Atlanta, as documented above.  I would not underestimate them this time.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

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