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:

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