In September, I wrote a column about how Radio One almost magically built an Atlanta cluster from scratch. When I moved here in 1994, none of the company's stations had yet seen the light of day.
Last month, Radio One took another big step forward when it turned on the vastly improved signal at 107.5 (WAMJ-FM). Upgrading Urban AC Majic 107.5 resulted in a twofer for the company. After the long and difficult process of applying, finding a site, reapplying, getting zoning and then FAA approval, building, and receiving its FCC license for 107.5, the R1 engineers traveled across town to Tyrone and boosted the power of Hip-Hop Hot 107-9 (WHTA-FM), now less bound by short-spacing rules, from 27,000 to 35,000 watts.
Radio One's next challenge will be finding a way to turn Praise 102.5 (WPZE-FM), currently a small Class A from Ben Hill, into a full-power Class C facility transmitting from within Atlanta. Accomplishing this would be a huge coup, and Radio One is well into negotiating with the parties involved.
Now that the 107.5 signal is as full bodied as Smuttynose Winter Ale, a couple of questions come to mind. First, the real Atlanta FM's have had an easier time amassing ratings over the years compared to the move-ins. In the Urban AC space, however, move-in Kiss 104 has pretty much dominated Majic, even though Majic plays on two signals, 107.5 and the south-of-town 97.5. Moreover, Kiss' 100,000 watts notwithstanding, its signal has some problems in Atlanta and is not as solid and far-reaching as its less-powerful neighbor across the field, WBZY-FM.
Will Majic's much stronger presence take ratings away from Kiss? I doubt Majic's new big signal will alter ratings significantly. The main reason is Radio One's decision to carry Michael Baisden in afternoon drive. While the PPM prodded the addition of some music, Baisden is primarily a talk show versus a music-intensive Kiss. This is not a knock at Radio One or Baisden, who performs respectably for Majic. But the market has preferred the more consistent and music-intensive sound of Kiss, and that probably will continue.
The second question pertains to the Majic simulcast over 97.5 (WUMJ-FM). I have always felt the simulcast was a waste of a signal. But some OCD on the part of Radio One was excusable, especially since Kiss puts its most potent signal into the areas where 97.5 is strongest and 107.5 was weakest. Now, with 107.5's booming new signal, simulcasting on 97.5 is truly squandering valuable Atlanta spectrum. With 97.5 reportedly on the block, we probably can expect the useless simulcast to continue for a while.
The 97.5 signal is a limited one, putting 60 dBu penetration over about two-thirds of Atlanta. Yet it is the signal that announced Radio One's arrival in Atlanta back in 1995. The original Hot 97-5 demonstrated the prescience of GM Mary Catherine Sneed and PD Steve Hegwood regarding the future of Urban music. It quickly established itself with around a 5% share in Persons 12 and over.
A new station on 97.5 would almost have to target an African-American audience and would have limited format options. It also would have to accept the reality of low ratings and billings potential. One possibly is talk, the format done by CBS' WAOK-AM. If executed properly, likely combining local hosts with syndication, it could make some money. One road to success for such a station could be trying to lure Atlanta radio icon Ike Newkirk out of retirement.
The upgraded 107.5 signal is just the first development in what should be a very active year on the Atlanta Airwaves.
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Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog: http://blogs.ajc.com/radio-tv-talk/