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.

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

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