Monday, October 31, 2011

Star 94's Christmas Wish

That magical time of year is almost here, a time when we all become kids and wish for our dreams at Christmas and in the coming year.  I have a feeling I know the dream of Star 94 General Manager Rick Mack and Program Director Scott Lindy.  By the time they really know if their dream came true, the jovial man in the red suit on the sled will have long since set his GPS device for the North Pole and will be listening to his favorite Hip-Hop station on his smartphone.

The way things evolve in radio is interesting.  About 10 years ago, AC Peach 94-9 started playing only Christmas music as the big day approached, and ratings soared.  I don't know whether Peach was the first to try this noble experiment, but it was the first that I had heard of.

The following year, Peach 94-9 announced it was going all Christmas music right after Thanksgiving.  Ratings again took off, and this time the industry was watching.  The next year, a great number of AC's across the U.S. flipped to Christmas music for the holidays.  And the approach's success in Atlanta was mirrored across the country.

The big ratings translated to big revenue.  Peach and other stations created special rate cards for the holiday season to rake in the Christmas dollars and save management's jobs for another year.

Then things started getting crazy.  Virtually all AC stations were flipping to totally Christmas.  The thinking became that listeners would set their radio to the first station to switch and leave it there.  Being first seemed especially critical since AC stations play in many businesses, where radios pretty much stay on one station.

In markets with more than one AC, the race was on to play Christmas music before the competition.  The decision was not an easy one because filling the airwaves with Rudolph and the Chipmunks too early might chase people away.  Nevertheless, stations were going all Christmas weeks before Thanksgiving.  And watching the trades each day to find out if a station went Christmas became more exciting than watching CSI: Miami.

Here in Atlanta, Peach 94-9 presented the "Christmas Preview Weekend" in October.  I remember turning on the station and hearing holiday tunes when the temperature was in the 80's.  They were the songs of the season, just the wrong season.

I watched in bewilderment for a few years as B98.5 saw its pants getting beaten off by Peach 94-9's Christmas music.  I suppose it was due to Cox Radio's Bob Neil believing an AC station should sound a certain way and not being willing to deviate from that.  However, in 2005, B98.5 surprised everyone including its salespeople by flipping to Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving.  The station has been going totally Christmas every year since then.  Salem's 104.7 The Fish also has gone all Christmas music in the past several years with a playlist leaning a little more toward the serious side.

Last year, things calmed down.  AC stations still played only Christmas music and did well.  But the novelty and the race to be first seemed to have withered away.  A few years ago, a subject of huge interest was how to program against Christmas music.  But have things evolved to the point where stations are seeing the competition's Christmas programming as an opportunity?  In 2010, B98.5's Christmas ratings well exceeded the station's regular numbers but were not as high as many other AC's around the country.

In recent months, Star 94 and we listeners got quite a surprise when B98.5 started incorporating currents.  In fact, B98.5 reinforces that by going out of stopsets and other "80's, 90's and now" sweepers with a current song.  B98.5 Program Director Cagle is showing he can compete with the best of them and has led his station past Star 94 in the PPM ratings.  His latest wrinkle is humorous sweepers that sound a lot like those Scott Lindy created for Star 94 and The Bull.

Star 94 has been quick to react.  After racking up ratings with its Big 90's Weekend, including men who stayed for the rest of the week, the station detected some burnout in the September PPM.  Moreover, Star 94 might have felt that B98.5's themed 80's and Retro weekends have given Star a chance to demonstrate that Star is the station for new product.  The result was Star 94 went back to playing mainly current product during the weekend with some 90's songs thrown in.

That brings us back to Star 94's Christmas wish.  Is Star perceiving that B98.5's Christmas music will be a terrific opportunity to win back listeners by showing Star is the station for new music?  Star has added sweepers subtly knocking the older songs still played by B98.5, showing its strategy is to reinforce its position as the current music station.  If that is indeed Star 94's wish, it's a 180-degree swing from the Christmas madness of a couple of years ago.

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, October 24, 2011

A Bigger Tent For Praise

In a recent column, I wrote about how Radio One created a major Atlanta cluster from scratch and has continued to enhance its signals.  A new rumor has it that Radio One will not be finished after the signals of 107.5 and 107.9 are increased in the coming months.

Praise 102.5 (WPZE-FM) has done wonders with its class A 3,000-watt signal.  Though the smallest of Radio One's Atlanta signals in terms of radius, it is located in exactly the right place for its Gospel format, on a tower behind the Ben Hill fire station.  That throws strong penetration over the Praise target audience, and the station consistently lands in the Arbitron top five.  Radio One does the same thing with the strategically-located small signals of Urban AC's WMMJ-FM in the DC market and WWIN-FM in Baltimore.

In 2007, the rumor first surfaced that Radio One wanted to move the Praise transmitter into the heart of Atlanta.  The company supposedly had offered Columbus (GA)-based Davis Broadcasting money to move Gwinnett's La Raza 102.3 (WLKQ-FM) farther from Atlanta.  La Raza's billings had recently exploded, and Davis reportedly turned down the offer.

These days, another rumor is making the rounds, that Radio One again wants to move 102.5 into Atlanta and increase its power to a full class C operation.  I was told Radio One has offered much bigger bucks to Davis this time to move 102.3 out of 102.5's way.

Now, still another rumor is swirling around.  According to the scuttlebutt, Radio One has offered its Charlotte cluster to Davis Broadcasting as a carrot to make the Atlanta deal.  The stations include two Class A's, Urban AC My 92.7 (WQNC-FM) and Gospel move-in Praise 100.9 (WPZS-FM).  An interesting part of this is Davis sold these properties to Radio One about 10 years ago.

Competing on these two signals is not exactly a walk in the park.  Praise does pretty well; it's a market-exclusive format that gets decent ratings.  Things are tougher for My 92.7, which goes against powerhouse V-101.9 (WBAV-FM), owned by CBS Radio.  V-101.9 has 16.5 times the power and 3 times the antenna height of My 92.7.

About 5 years ago, My 92.7 blindsided V-101.9 when it managed to steal Tom Joyner.  For awhile, 92.7 took a big lead over its Goliath competitor, which had lost its composure.  Nevertheless, when V-101.9 grabbed Steve Harvey's syndicated show a year later, the station leaped right back on top.  Still, operating a cluster with no debt would virtually guarantee a money-making operation for Davis.

Knowing I probably would not get an answer, I decided to call Davis Broadcasting CEO Greg Davis and ask him.  I was correct about not getting an answer, but I got a little more than I expected.  My first question was whether the rumor of Radio One offering significant dollars to Davis in exchange for a 102.3 move was true.  Greg's response was, "I can't comment."  My second question was whether Charlotte was tied to the deal.  Greg's reply was the same.  He did not deny either rumor.

Greg then added, "It's too premature.  But if anything is consummated, I'll be happy to tell you."  So it sounds like something is going on, and observers expect the deal to happen.  The rumored time is next Spring.

I would not expect the big increase in coverage to substantially grow Praise 102.5's audience.  Atlanta's Gospel listeners seem to have found the station.  And with Gospel still a format that some major advertisers avoid, a signal increase could put Radio One into the sticky situation of billings not being proportionate to station value.

When all is said and done, a class C station covering the full market simply brings more value to the cluster.  Radio formats are far from forever, and things could change.  And a bigger signal would attract more dollars in a sale.  So whatever pain that Radio One could suffer if the move was made would be overshadowed by the station's boost in value.

As far as La Raza 102.3 is concerned, the station could conceivably move anywhere that it would still put a 60 dBu signal into Gwinnett.  The great majority of its audience resides in the county.  Losing strong coverage in southern Gwinnett, however, could irreparably harm the station.

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, October 17, 2011

The Fan's Rude Awakening Is Anything But

Christopher Rude has long been one of Atlanta's best radio personalities.  When I arrived in the market during 1994, I was immediately hooked on his morning show on 96 Rock (WKLS-FM).  Adding to the show's depth were Beth Kepple and Jeff Hullinger, aka "the Hull Man."  I was incredulous when the station, newly owned by Clear Channel, suddenly axed the show while Rude was vacationing in 1996 and replaced it with the syndicated John Boy & Billy out of Charlotte.

I was happy when Rude was re-hired several months later, albeit for afternoon drive.  By that time, listeners had let 96 Rock know how they felt through the mechanism known as Arbitron.  96 Rock became great again, this time anchored by The Regular Guys in mornings.

After a few years, Rude was not renewed.  It was not the time within the Clear Channel system to be a high-paid personality, quality notwithstanding, in a music-intensive daypart.

In its second christening around 2000, 680 The Fan used ESPN Radio's syndicated Mike & Mike for its morning show during its early years.  The direct competition, 790 The Zone (WQXI-FM), proved surprisingly resilient at first.  The Zone had a local morning show.

Persistent rumors that The Fan would bring in a local morning host came to fruition when Christopher Rude was hired in 2002.   He was not a sports guy by trade, but he immediately added a terrific presence to morning drive with that great voice and personality.  And he now knows enough sports to be a very effective anchor, tossing the mic to experts who surround him for more in-depth analysis.

Rude's hiring was a win-win-win.  It gave Rude a stable place in Atlanta radio in a marketplace that is not kind to top talent beyond their youthful years. It gave listeners an entertaining local morning show.  And it gave Dickey Broadcasting a blue-chip morning man at probably a nice salary but one that likely does not break the bank.  Rude and The Fan have since flown past 790 The Zone in the ratings.

Living life well is a matter of balance between work and play, tasty and healthy, expensive and frugal.  Morning shows are like life in that regard, balancing such aspects as male and female, funny and serious, music and talk.  But I can't help but wonder if 680 The Fan tries to balance The Rude Awakening between good and bad, meaning the host is really good so the co-host should be really bad.

That was a little harsh; I would not say that Perry Laurentino is really bad.  He does know his stuff.  But he somehow grates on me, and some of his logic leaves my head spinning.

One classic example happened about a month ago.  The Braves were sinking quickly, but the prior night, an off-day for the Braves, the Mets had come from behind in the 9th inning to beat the surging St. Louis Cardinals.  Laurentino proclaimed, "The Mets have just given the Braves a berth in the playoffs."  Rude, sounding somewhat skeptical, said what I was thinking: "But the Braves still have to win."  "But they will," insisted Laurentino, citing how the loss had injected energy into the Atlanta team that would thrust them to the League Series past what had to be a deflated Cardinals squad.

Sandra Golden, another member of the cast, does a decent job reading the hourly updates and occasionally puts forth an opinion.  Former Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone chimes in with a few words now and then.  But Rude is the man who makes the show a great listen.

Need A Morning Show?
Pete & Brenda in the Morning is heard on 93.5 Life FM (WSRM-FM), a Christian Contemporary station in Rome, GA, owned by Rome Radio Partners.  But the show actually comes from the West Coast.  Pete & Brenda is family-friendly, as the couple lives "life and marriage out loud."

Pete & Brenda is perfect for medium and small-market stations that cannot afford a local show in this challenging radio economy; and is very reasonably priced.  It's syndicated but doesn't sound like it.  Pete Michaels and Brenda Bissett have years of experience in major markets.  In fact, Brenda handled middays on Atlanta's B98.5 for 2 years.

Pete & Brenda can be contacted at; or by calling 503-762-1723.  Of course, their website is

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, October 10, 2011

More Shoes To Drop At Cumulus/Atlanta

Less is More was the name of a highly-touted Clear Channel initiative to get advertisers to purchase 30-second spots instead of 60's.  The whole thing made little sense and pretty much died.  But the concept of less is more can aptly be applied to Kicks 101-5 (WKHX-FM).  The station has gone through two cutbacks.  The first was the Citadel massacre of February 29, 2008, and the other happened a week ago following the Cumulus takeover.  And both times, Kicks emerged stronger in one of its drive times.

The 2008 debacle meant the end of the line for the country format on 106.7.  Eagle morning legend Rhubarb Jones left the business, but his co-host, Dallas McCade, joined Cadillac Jack on Kicks.  The pairing made the Kicks morning show a formidable force.  Last week, Kicks afternoon host Tim Michaels was caught in the downsizing.  However, Mike Macho, a much more talented personality, was awarded the shift.

I have long wondered why Macho, the music director, was not used more on the air.  I assumed his music chores left little or no time.  But Kicks made a considerable upgrade as a result of its cutback.

The removal of Randy & Spiff from mornings on Atlanta's Greatest Hits 106.7 (WYAY-FM) can be read a few different ways.  I wonder if the station in its current state has a future after management dismissed the guys synonymous with the format in Atlanta.  Others see it differently, saying mornings needed fresh blood.  Still another possibility is that Greatest Hits will stick around but on one of the cluster's lesser signals, where potential ad billings will not support a local morning show.

Tripp West has taken over mornings on 106.7, but I get the feeling that's temporary.  Tripp's a blue-chip personality, but his show does not have the elements of a full morning program.  I do predict Tripp will stay within the cluster.

I believe we are a long way from seeing what the new Cumulus cluster will look like 6 months from now.  We do know a couple of things:  Q100 and Kicks will remain at 99.7 and 101.5, respectively.  With the rumored separation from SVP/Programming Jan Jeffries, Q100 could evolve slightly, but it's too successful for anything but minor tweaks.  And 99X will likely stay put on the 98.9 translator.  Anything else is anyone's guess.

Will Atlanta's Greatest Hits be eliminated altogether?  Will it be moved to a lesser signal?  Cumulus has a couple of options.  AGH could shift to the 100.5 signal, where Rock is not succeeding.  Or it could replace Journey on the 97.9 translator.

Journey could move to 100.5 or even 106.7, but it would be jumping into the thicket of an expensive AC fray on either frequency.  And with the separation between Cumulus and Dickey Broadcasting as thick as the wall between two rooms at Motel 6, could one of those spots on the dial become a simulcast of 680 The Fan?  Of course, if that happened, Dickey's 93.7 translator would be open to another Cumulus occupant.

The entire question of how to make money with translators is a challenging one.  They give Cumulus more Atlanta FM's, but their small signals handicap them from competing at the same level as the full-power stations.

What about the management levels?  Will both program directors, Cumulus' Rob Roberts and Citadel's Mark Richards, hold onto their current assignments?  Both are seasoned PD's with long and successful track records, and they could certainly co-exist.  But will the always-tight Cumulus budgets preclude that from happening?

How about the General Sales Manager level, where 3 GSM's--Chris Murray, Vickki Shelton and Mary Gordon--are in place?  With Murray adding the Cumulus rock stations in the top 25 markets to his responsibilities, he likely will stay.  There is room for all three, but what will budgets dictate?

More job cuts around the cluster will probably happen.  With Citadel's Paul O'Malley now in place as VP/Market Manager, the staffers eliminated are as likely to be Cumulus as they are Citadel people.

What we do know is lots of surprises are in store.  People, formats and signals are in play.  Creating the end product will be a puzzle for O'Malley and his bosses.  It will be thing of anticipation and fascination for the rest of us.

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, October 3, 2011

Will Our CHR Deprivation Roll On?

The past two true CHR stations in Atlanta were owned by Susquehanna.  Of course, Q100 (WWWQ-FM) remains a CHR under Cumulus but not quite of the ilk favored by the format's avid fans.

Being CHR-deprived is nothing new to Atlanta.  The market was without the real thing from 1992 to 2001 and has been again since 2006.  It's unusual in this age of the PPM for a market not to have a true CHR.  And it seems especially odd for a company that does the format so well, Clear Channel, to own two full-powered Atlanta stations that rank below the top 10 yet have no CHR.

Life is more satisfying with the glass half full so I look at a few recent developments with a glimmer of hope.  Cumulus owns CHR's around the country, but the product is pretty bad in the eyes of purists like me.  Legitimate dance and hip-hop hits are ignored, and the airwaves are full of 5-year-old Nickelback, Daughtry and Justin Timberlake.

In truth, Q100's music has made some big strides in the past 2 years and seems its most current since the Susquehanna days.  Cumulus inherited one of the country's best morning shows, The Bert Show, but has a sound not usually associated with CHR the rest of the time.  Call it bland or call it adult.  The pleasant-sounding Brittany handles middays, and the mechanical yet effective Johnny O holds forth in afternoon drive.  Evenings feature the Cumulus super-saver, the syndicated Billy Bush.  Fortunately for Q100, evening CHR listeners do not have a ton of choices.  Propelled by Bert, Q100 is a huge ratings force in the money demos.

Radio people tend to blame the uninspiring sound of Cumulus' CHR's on SVP/Programming Jan Jeffries.  He has a certain way of programming CHR's, and it's pretty distant from say New York's Z100.  Since the recent hiring by Cumulus of much-honored consultant Mike McVay, whose title is the same as Jeffries', a rumor has surfaced that Jeffries will be relegated to programming head of the company's new Chicago cluster, part of the Citadel acquisition.  Two weeks ago, Jeffries' move to the Windy City was announced but so far, stations have been told he will remain involved with Cumulus' CHR and Rhythmic formats.

If the Jeffries rumor is true, which I believe it is, CHR devotees could breathe a sigh of relief that Cumulus might not destroy the excellence of the former Citadel CHR's, such as 95SX (WSSX-FM) in Charleston, SC.  I'm hoping it would signal a Cumulus shift to the new Cox paradigm of returning autonomy to the local level.  But don't be surprised if Charleston is soon grooving to the sounds of Billy Bush.

Q100 in truth might be wise to stick to what it's doing.  Although B98.5 and Star 94 edge it out in 18-49 and 25-54 during middays and afternoons, Q100 dominates in mornings, making the total station a viable option for buys targeting those demos.

To demonstrate dissatisfaction of Q100 among youngsters, Rhythmic Wild 105-7/96-7 hovers not far from straight-ahead CHR these days.  That it's doing so well among 18-34's is impressive given the weakness of its signal where much of its available audience resides.  Q100 could easily erase Wild by moving younger but probably would sacrifice adults at the same time.

One thing that would really shake things up--and that's a tremendous understatement--is a format flip of Clear Channel's 96.1 to CHR.  Over the past 2 years, I have advocated first getting 94-9 The Bull (WUBL-FM) into the top 10 before even thinking about a change at Project 9-6-1, which does well among the men 18-34 crowd.  But the way things are looking, The Bull is not about to hit ratings pay dirt again any time soon.

The Bert Show itself could scare off such a flip.  Clear Channel would have the difficult task of finding someone who could compete.  Q100 could react by sliding younger.  Program Director Rob Roberts proved himself in the format during his lengthy tenure at Miami's Y100.

Stay positive is my mantra.  At this point, I grasp onto any straw that makes me think real CHR might be returning to Atlanta.

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: