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.

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

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