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

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