Monday, December 19, 2011

Atlanta's Station of the Year: Star 94

Selecting the Station of the Year proved difficult again this time.  A few weeks ago, I had virtually decided on B98.5 FM.  After all, the station dusted itself off and dashed forward in a display of programming smarts by PD Cagle.  Taken off its leash by Cox corporate, B98.5 made some much needed and pretty dramatic changes.

I also could have made the case for Q100.  While B98.5 and Star 94 were trading barbs and places in the ratings, PD Rob Roberts was deftly guiding Q100 through the morass with hardly a PPM blip.

When I started the award 2 years ago, however, I established the criterion to be the station that made the biggest difference, good or bad.  And Star 94 bounced back from 3 years of gloom to jump from around a 3% share in total persons 6+ into the high fours.  When you compare the numbers versus a year ago, Star is the one station that looks dramatically different.

People tell me that I write too much about Star 94, and perhaps that's true.  But Star 94 has been an interesting case study over the past 4 years.  When Steve & Vikki were not renewed after 17 incredible years--and whether that was a good decision is another debate--Star had the right morning show, Cindy & Ray, before its eyes and did not see it.  The station probably could have made that move and seamlessly continued its ratings glory.

Management somehow worried that moving Cindy & Ray from afternoons to mornings would mess up both dayparts.  And speaking of mess, Star's new "Morning Mess" was too young for an Adult CHR.  To compound the mistake, the station adjusted the rest of the day to mirror the more mainstream CHR tenor of mornings, driving away hoards of longtime listeners.  Furthermore, Cindy & Ray, not a show for a straight-ahead CHR in afternoon drive, remained there.  And to really make things difficult, Q100 moved to the powerful 99.7 signal.

Star 94 started regaining its composure in 2008.  JR Ammons replaced 10-year PD Dan Bowen, and the station went back to Adult CHR.  The Morning Mess was fired and replaced with Cindy & Ray.  One of the tenets of marketing is it's easier to retain current customers than get them back.  Growing Cindy & Ray would be a long process.

Although ratings showed some signs of a rebirth, they were still in a funk.  Star hoped that Ryan Seacrest, whose career was born at Star 94, would reignite the station with his syndicated show.  Star went as far as to put it in afternoon drive.  It was a move that did not work.  The station then decided it made more sense to shift slightly to Hot AC, and not go directly against Q100, whose Bert Show made winning a CHR war a difficult proposition.

In Fall 2010, Star 94 received a gift on a silver platter.  Scott Lindy became available and was already in Atlanta.  Lincoln Financial Media SVP Programming John Dimick, who had known Lindy for years, and General Manager Rick Mack pounced.  Lindy became the new PD at Star 94.

Scott Lindy had a vision and implemented it.  Ratings jumped, and for a couple of months even surpassed a 5% share in persons 6+.  What makes this accomplishment even more commendable is that Lindy did it despite a handicap, mornings.  Cindy & Ray scored excellent ratings in afternoons but faced the challenge in mornings of bringing back listeners from the Bert Show among other places.  Yet, canceling the show would have made things worse.  Cindy & Ray have been doing fairly well but still rank lower than the rest of the station.

While ratings are very good, is Lindy likely to take Star 94 above a 5% share again?  Several months ago, he added imaging squarely aimed at Q100's Bert Show.  While that's still running, more of Lindy's imaging zings are now directed at B98.5, whose ratings fortunes seem to be most closely tied to Star 94's.  The fight for young women should remain in high gear during 2012.
Congratulations to the management and staff of Star 94 for being Atlanta's Station of the Year for 2011.
Past Winners: 2009 - V-103;  2010 - 94-9 The Bull

Thanks for reading.  Have a wonderful holiday and happy new year.  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, December 12, 2011

The Clear Channel/Atlanta Jigsaw Puzzle

I used to enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles.  They are the kind of activity that takes your mind off the stress of life.  But not everyone enjoys challenges when there's no real competition, or prize for that matter.

Readers of this column know I have advocated that El Patron 105.3 and Wild 105.7 switch frequencies.  That was a simple puzzle in which Clear Channel/Atlanta had no interest.  A year ago, when WGST hired Rob Johnson in mornings and Rusty Humphries for afternoons, I wrote that the station would see its salaries increase but not its ratings unless it simulcast WGST on an FM signal.  Clear Channel was not interested in that puzzle either.

A rumor has surfaced, however, that Clear Channel/Atlanta is suddenly interested in putting together a puzzle. The reason is there is a prize, possibly a lucrative one.  It's called political revenue in an election year.  Rumors happen all the time but over the past week, this one has been getting louder and louder.  In fact, last week I heard variations of it from two respected people in high places, a program director and a general manager.  That does not mean it's true, of course.

News/Talk stations can take in a lot of revenue in a full-blown election year.  Many music stations accept only federal political advertising, as required by law, but not state or local.  News/Talk stations, given their political on-air environment, are probably more likely to accept state and local races.  And candidates like News/Talk because the format's listeners are involved.

A News/Talk station attracting political advertising is not necessarily a given, especially with ratings like WGST's.  A significant part of WGST's ratings ailment is a result of its poor nighttime signal, which is almost non-existent in many parts of the market; and of a News/Talk listening base that has partially migrated to FM, led there by the WSB simulcast.

Until around 1999, WGST simulcast on 105.7.  But when that signal was marginally upgraded, Clear Channel decided it wanted another profit center and destroyed WGST as a viable station in the process.

WGST has just turned on its new FM translator on 92.3.  It transmits with 99 watts from the original Richland tower on Briarcliff Road.  The signal is really bad, however, and seems to have a sharp null to the east.  The new FM does not portend a stash of election cash.  WGST needs another road to riches.

While the rumor varies, the gist of it is that WGST will add an FM simulcast at the powerful 105.3, current home of El Patron.  El Patron will then move to the 92.3 translator and simulcast with 96.7, a weak signal south of town.  Of course, we don't know if the rumor is true at all, much less that this will be the exact scenario.  That said, I'm not sure this is the best way to assemble the pieces.

WGST will never get close to WSB in ratings or revenue, but the 105.7 signal made the station quite marketable years ago.  It concentrates its coverage in Atlanta's affluent northern environs.  I would tend to put WGST on both 105.7 and 96.7, using the southern signal to cover attractive demographics in such locales as Tyrone and Stockbridge.  The only bastion of wealth where WGST-FM would be weak is Buckhead, an area where its AM signal is satisfactory even at night.

I would then move Wild to 105.3, a signal that blasts from south of Atlanta as far as Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and Marietta.  That station's potential is not being realized on 105.7 because of its iffy signal south of the top-end Perimeter.  El Patron would be relegated to 92.3.

Doing it that way would of course assure virtual destruction of El Patron.  Frankly, even giving it a 96.7 simulcast would add little to it.  To resurrect WGST, something would have to give, and Hispanic dollars from major advertisers are in a lull.

Thinking about what the rumored scenario or the one I suggested would do to El Patron makes me wonder if any of this will happen.  While the Latino ad market is in a slump, El Patron is a virtual automatic for every Hispanic buy.  That might not be the case if 92.3 became its main signal, especially with a La Raza 102.3 simulcast rumored to be coming on 101.1 from a 250-watt FM translator on Stone Mountain.

Last week, El Patron terminated Brenda Bueno, co-host of the morning show.  For now, El Tigre is going it alone.  This might mean one of two things.  Word is the station felt that Bueno, who came from the former Viva, was not well suited to the Regional Mexican sound; and the station is looking for exactly the right talent mix for mornings.  If that's true, the rumor might not come to fruition.

If the real reason for Bueno's dismissal was to pare down the budget for a signal with less potential, a legitimate WGST simulcast could be in the offing.  One sure thing is that Wild will either stay where it is at 105.7 or move to the bigger 105.3 signal.  At Clear Channel/Atlanta, success is relative, and they consider Wild a success.

If the rumor is true, fitting the puzzle pieces together correctly will be the key to the cluster's destiny in 2012.

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, December 5, 2011

Clear Channel's CHR Strategy

The holiday season is a time of sharing, and Clear Channel has the spirit.  The company definitely believes in sharing air talent among markets.  I drove to Maryland for Thanksgiving this year and listened to Clear Channel CHR stations in Baltimore, Washington DC, Richmond, Greensboro and Charlotte.

CHR is a format in which Clear Channel enjoys a lot of success.  And in light of Arbitron's PPM, where big cumes usually translate to average-audience success, CC has not been at all timid about flipping stations to CHR, a historically high-cuming format.

I was disheartened but impressed by what I heard.  Clear Channel puts a fair amount of thought into its approach in each market.  In some large markets, CC has great stations, such as New York's Z100 and Los Angeles' 102.7 KIIS FM.  Frankly, I thought DC's Hot 99.5 bordered on being a great station.  On the other hand, I thought Z104.3 in Baltimore sounded horrendous but was well designed for that market.

Z104.3 in Baltimore is targeted to the very young.  That makes sense because CBS owns a station in the market with a very hot, Hot AC format, Mix 106.5.  Z104.3 is voice-tracked to the hilt.  Even the morning show is voice-tracked; it's done by Jackson Blue, who also does afternoon drive at 99.7 DJX in Louisville and evenings at Kiss 108 in Boston.  I guess never hearing any news or weather, let alone a temperature, doesn't faze the station's budding audience.  Nor does giving away money on the 10's and never announcing the winner.

That you can be in two places at one time is proven in middays by Nicole Shay, who in her live body is Shamara, middays at Philadelphia's Power 99.  This brings to mind another aspect of Clear Channel's strategy for its very young CHR's, CHR names.  Z-104's staff consists of Jackson Blue, Nicole Shay, Mick Lee, Staxx and JoJo Wright.

Still another part of Clear Channel's strategy for its very young CHR's is for the jocks to have a distinctive young CHR "accent."  And as bad as it sounds to me, most of the Z104.3 jocks nail it, and it apparently works.   The combination of a very young playlist, jocks who really sound the part and names that fit the lifestyle have led to ratings success among the 12-34 demographic; and the ratings combined with the heavy use of voice-tracking probably convert to some nice profitability.

In Richmond, Q94 used to be a great station.  For years and years, it was #1 or #2.  Of course, to be #1 or #2, you have to be a mass-appeal station.  These days, Q94 is a niche station using Clear Channel's very young CHR approach, and ranks #8 in total persons 12+.  I wonder, however, whether the profit margin is greater now at #8 than in the glory days.

Q94 also makes minimal use of live, local talent but in a slightly different way than Z104.3.  The Richmond CHR relies on CC syndication, kicking off mornings with Elvis Duran.  Then it's On Air with Ryan Seacrest, meaning the first regular music show starts at 2PM.  I listened to Q94 during a couple of shifts.  Jackson, on from 5-8PM, sounded live and local.  Kash, who follows him, sounded voice-tracked.  The CHR names are part of the deal; other jocks are Randi, Sisane and Boy Toy Jesse.  And the music is young.

In Greensboro/Winston-Salem, Clear Channel has taken on 107-5 KZL, long the market's sole CHR provider.  105.7 NOW is another very young CHR that deploys Clear Channel's profitability techniques, including a morning show simulcast in Charlotte and Chicago as well as liberal use of voice-tracking. Of course, the youthful CHR jock accents are there as are the names--Maxwell, JoJo and Nick D in this case.  Surprisingly, 105.7 NOW has given fits to KZL, despite a not-as-good signal or processing, and the fact that KZL has a heritage morning show.

In Charlotte, Channel 9-6-1, which has gone through a couple of metamorphoses in the past few years, has unabashedly taken on Kiss 95-1, one of the best CHR stations in the U.S.  Channel 9-6-1 sounded somewhat broader and more conservative in terms of music and presentation than Clear Channel's very young Baltimore, Richmond and Greensboro CHR's.

In a rare situation for a Clear Channel CHR, Channel 9-6-1 is getting clobbered by Kiss 95.1 after showing some initial promise.  Some predict Ace & TJ, Kiss 95.1's star morning show for years, will replace current Channel 9-6-1 wake-up host Brotha Fred, estranged son of legendary Top-40 jock Charlie Van Dyke and originating in Chicago, and once again challenge Kiss.  And that's possible since Ace & TJ are still in Charlotte and already syndicated on 4 Clear Channel stations.

With very young CHR's in Baltimore, Richmond and Greensboro, and a somewhat broader one in Charlotte, Clear Channel has the broadest of the five in Washington.  Hot 99.5 is #2 among total persons 6+ in the PPM ratings.  It has the best personalities of the 5 stations, but that does not mean the famous Clear Channel profitability measures are not in place.  Its live and local Kane Show in mornings is heard on 7 other stations.  Following Kane comes On Air with Ryan Seacrest.  Hot 99.5's live and local afternoon host, Toby Knapp, is one of the best.  He has a CHR accent tempered for dual appeal among somewhat older folks.  And as if I have to tell you, he also performs on other Clear Channel stations.

When all is said and done, Clear Channel does an excellent job of basing which type of CHR station goes into a market based on the competitive landscape.  And CC makes maximum use of its profitability tactics, syndication and voice-tracking.  CHR is a format that Clear Channel executes as well as anyone and makes some much-needed money with.

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