Monday, February 27, 2012

Kicks, WYAY Studio Move Imminent

The new studios for Kicks 101-5 and WYAY-FM in the Cumulus complex on Johnson Ferry are nearing completion.  The air staffs of the two former Citadel stations should be in their new digs shortly after March 15.  All non-programming employees have been there for several months.

The complex was built by Susquehanna in 2001 for 99X and Q100.  It's now packed to the gills with Q100, Rock 100.5, 680 The Fan, Kicks 101-5, Atlanta's Greatest Hits WYAY and the translators, 99X and Journey 97.9.

Once all the Cumulus folks are together, we should start to get an idea of the company's plans for its expanded Atlanta cluster.  A rumor making the rounds is that Kicks will make changes to its evening lineup concurrent with the move.  Cumulus SVP/Programming Mike McVay seems to have his hand firmly affixed to Kicks, WYAY and Rock 100.5.

Some Bovine Creativity
It's great to hear some creativity in today's world of homogenized radio.  So kudos to 94-9 The Bull for coming up with a very clever promo for its Green Solo Cup party on March 16 at Wild Bill's.  It's sung to the tune of Toby Keith's Red Solo Cup, and I love hearing the promo as much as the song.  Of course, The Bull also has some ingenuity on the air in the form of the station's imaging by Cousin Deke.

Speaking of The Bull, a jock calling himself Boxer has been doing weekends, and filled in for Lance Houston in afternoon drive last week.  Boxer, whose full radio name is Joe Boxer, is the morning man for Clear Channel's Country station in Washington, WMZQ.

Boxer must be a model Clear Channel employee because he also voice tracks on several other CC Country outlets.  So if you're in Columbus (OH), Jacksonville, or any other Clear Channel Country market, you just might run into Boxer on the radio.  I like his unique sound for a morning show.  However, he's not my taste in other dayparts.  But he certainly earns his keep.

Patience the Byword at Cox Media Group
Since August 2010, News/Talk WSB has been simulcasting on 95.5 FM.   Long before that, the CMG/Atlanta engineering brain trust, led by Charles Kinney, had been skillfully moving pieces around to position 95.5 for a move to the New Street tower, home of B98.5, V-103 and Star 94.  The current 95.5 transmitter site is near Chateau Elan, far northeast of Atlanta.

Everything is set from Cox's side; the application was long ago filed with the FCC.  The delay is due to an FCC cross-ownership rule that states an owner of radio, TV and newspaper in a market cannot add stations that would increase city-grade contour service.  Initially, Cox requested a waiver, saying the station, then CHR/Rhythmic The Beat, did not target the same audience as the AJC.  Now, however, the FCC seems to be moving toward exempting the top 20 markets from the rule.

Although 95.5 will likely be cleared for the move, this is a change that would not normally be permitted by the FCC.  The station, however, is immune from the short spacing rules since it was on the air prior to 1964.  A local engineer has wondered aloud to me whether 95.5's relocation into Atlanta will cause reception problems for 94.9, 95.5 and 96.1.

Steve Harvey's Radio Future
Success in mornings with syndication has certainly spread to CHR, with the likes of Elvis Duran and Kidd Kraddick.  But Urban was the original format in which local stations found it difficult to compete with syndication.  Tom Joyner was the first to become a formidable force with a nationwide morning show.

About 6 years ago, Steve Harvey became a savior of sorts.  Already a big name in entertainment, Harvey's entree into the syndicated arena enabled stations getting creamed by Joyner to get back on their morning feet.

Perhaps the most notable example was longtime Urban AC giant V101.9 in Charlotte.  The CBS-owned station was blindsided by little WQNC-FM, which snagged Tom Joyner away during a contract dispute.  Despite a big signal advantage, V101.9 could not compete against Joyner with a local show.  A couple of years later, when Steve Harvey became available, V101.9 grabbed the program and quickly regained its domination.

Steve Harvey's show, like Joyner's, is intended for Urban AC stations yet some Urban (contemporary) outlets carry it.  Kevin Ross, editor of the newsletter Radio Facts, has been predicting for a few weeks that Harvey's new TV projects will soon make continuing his radio program impossible in terms of time.  This is strictly Ross' take, and whether he is correct will be interesting.  If Steve Harvey did end his radio show, the manifestations on Urban radio would be considerable.

Steve Harvey's show originates from his home studio here in Atlanta and is carried by Majic 107.5/97.5.

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

Monday, February 20, 2012

LFM Denies Sale Speculation

Inside Radio addressed the rumor that Lincoln Financial Media would soon be sold, following Lincoln's recent financial call to analysts.  As I mentioned last week, columnist Jerry Del Colliano has been speculating that Cumulus is readying to purchase LFM.

The article starts by reiterating what former Lincoln Financial CFO Fred Crawford told Wall Street in February, 2010.  Crawford said the insurance company was in no hurry to sell its well-performing Atlanta, Miami, Denver and San Diego clusters at depressed prices. With a strategy of waiting for the market to turn before making any decision, no sale was imminent.  Current CFO Randal Freitag recently commented to analysts that little has changed since then.

We all lament the dumbing down of radio, which of course is why we panic at the thought of Cumulus buying LFM.  Technology is allowing the debt-ridden consolidators to cut corners by voice tracking and sending out "local" programming from centralized control centers.

A major problem for proponents of live and local radio, however, is the public at large apparently does not notice...or care.  For the most part, ratings of heavily voice-tracked stations do not differ to any great extent from ratings of stations that lean more live and local.  Do weekend listeners mind when weather forecasts leave out how many "Bgrees" are on the thermometer?

Over-the-air Radio has been facing an onslaught from, well everywhere, in the form of Satellite, iPods, Pandora and more.  And while the all the new cool stuff has hurt radio, the audience loss thus far does not correlate with the widely-forecast doom and gloom.  Radio is still very, very strong.

Radio has such an advantage over everything else.  It's available everywhere; it's free; no buffering is required.  If Radio was ever seriously damaged by the new consumer options, it could immediately adjust its programming and climb back on top.

Ideally, live and local stations would take the lion's share of audience.  That would put pressure on voice-tracked and largely syndicated operations to make a change.  But that's not what is happening in most markets.  Even when cheapening the product has harmed ratings, such as what Cumulus has done at San Francisco's KGO-AM, operating costs are lower, increasing profit margin even with lesser audiences.

Like everything else in a free market, radio companies will do as much or as little as needed to attract business and make money.  That means unless competition forces them to do otherwise, the Cumulus Medias of the world will continue to voice track and cut corners where they can get away with it.  So the question becomes whether we want radio to fail so that the product is forced to become better.  The logical answer is no.

If the consolidators are able to maintain ratings, generate a profit and service their debt, we are not likely to get more live and local radio any time soon.  If alternative music delivery sources did grab a significant chunk of radio's audience, radio would quickly adjust and get better.  Radio's delivery system is just too superior to not win the ultimate fight.

27 For Kelly McCoy
Kelly McCoy has completed 27 years in afternoon drive on B98.5 FM, and he's still going strong.  Has anyone been on one station longer?  When I recently mentioned Kelly to former V-103 morning legend Mike Roberts, Mike's comment was, "He's always been one of my favorite voices in Atlanta radio."  A few weeks ago, I found myself having dim sum with the executive assistant for Cox/Atlanta's top radio executives(The friends who invited me were also friends with her and her husband.)  I mentioned Kelly, and she immediately commented on what a terrific person he is.

I bring up these instances because they are typical of what I hear when I mention Kelly McCoy.  He is at the top of the charts as a talent and a person.  Congratulations, Kelly.

Boomer Still Needs Our Help
Steve Boomer Sutton, who has entertained Atlanta at Power 99, Star 94 and other area stations, is getting closer to his goal of raising enough money to get a new kidney and stay alive.  Boomer's second annual Benefit Golf Outing will be held on Monday, April 18 at the Callahan Golf Links in Waleska, Georgia.  The cost to play is only $100 per person.  Pre-register here:

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, February 13, 2012

Lew Dickey's Wish List

When it comes to high finance, some things are beyond my comprehension.  I do know that if I didn't pay my bills, I would be in trouble.  Banks would not extend a lot more credit to me.

That seems to hold true for most companies.  For example, Citadel and Regent had to file for bankruptcy when they could not service their debt.  Yet somehow, Cumulus seems to be exempt from all of that.

In 2005, Susquehanna, one of radio's most revered companies, put its stations up for sale.  Many observers thought a Susquehanna employee group, led by President David Kennedy, would win the stations, and the company would continue its greatness.  After all, the group had bid $900 million, about what the properties were judged to be worth.

Cumulus, up until then limited to small and medium markets, offered $1.2 billion for Susquehanna with assistance from two holding companies.  One had to wonder whether overpaying to the point where the operator could not afford to breathe was at all related to ego.

Cumulus, weighed down by debt, lost money and employees for the next several years.  Then in 2011, the company obtained financing to purchase Citadel, including the collection of once-classy ABC-owned stations, which had just emerged from bankruptcy.  In the bankruptcy process, Citadel had shed its once enormous debt and owed virtually nothing.  By purchasing the debt-free group with good cash flow, Cumulus reduced its debt to a smaller percentage of its assets.

Cumulus became a profitable and growing company, and now finds itself a darling of Wall Street.  CEO Lew Dickey is reported to have a goal of owning more stations than Clear Channel, even more than the number of women in his cell phone's address book.

Lincoln Financial Media is one of the last great radio companies.  LFM has outstanding people from top to bottom, starting with CEO Don Benson.  Its stations are live and local, and tend to be near the top of the ratings.  Two weeks ago, LFM's Miami stations were hit with a major layoff, and unconfirmed smaller cutbacks were said to have occurred in Atlanta and Denver.  Miami's 101.5 Lite FM, a market leader for years, dropped local programming in evenings for John Tesh's syndicated show.

In 2006, after picking up the media properties through its acquisition of Jefferson-Pilot, Lincoln Financial attempted to sell them.  The company did sell its three TV stations and TV production division.  On the radio side, however, LFM sold only its Charlotte stations, including former JP flagship WBT-AM.  LFM's other markets, including Atlanta, were put on hold.

I love reading Jerry Del Colliano's column, Inside Music Media.  Jerry is a great writer.  He's also a real radio guy who bemoans what has happened to the industry.  And he has a good pulse on the business.  Sometimes, however, I wonder whether he runs with juicy stories without knowing their accuracy.

A month ago, Jerry reported that Cumulus was preparing to acquire Lincoln Financial Media.  Now, that would be truly depressing.  Following the cutbacks 2 weeks ago, Jerry wrote that LFM had trimmed its sails for the acquisition.  Back to the subject of ego, LFM's Star 94 (WSTR-FM) has been Cumulus' arch enemy for the past 7 years; taking over that station would create one of life's magic moments for the Dickey's.  (Yes, Cumulus probably would have to divest itself of 100.5.)

So is the LFM rumor true?  Hopefully it's just the usual scuttlebutt that permeates the radio business.  Jerry could be correct regarding the layoffs.  On the other hand, they were mostly (if not entirely) done in Miami and could have been just a function of that market's P&L.  Jerry has also predicted that Cumulus will acquire Townsquare Media, Clear Channel stations in smaller markets and possibly some CBS properties in lesser cities.

It must be nice to have a wish list of radio companies.  My list is pretty much limited to cars that I wish I owned.

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, February 6, 2012

Atlanta's Shaky Rock

Rock radio has seen better days.  In the era of the PPM, Rock on Atlanta radio is splintered into several iterations.  Not one station under the Rock umbrella made it into the top 10 among Total Persons 6+ in December.

The overall Rock genre includes Project 9-6-1 (WKLS-FM), 97-1 The River (WSRV-FM), Rock 100.5 (WNNX-FM) and 92-9 Dave FM (WZGC-FM).  Two of these stations are doing okay: In its target demos of men 18-34 and men 18-49, Project 9-6-1 is in a first-place and fourth-place tie, respectively.  In morning drive, it's in the fourth and seventh spots, respectively.  While its strength in those demos will not produce quite the revenue associated with such a giant Atlanta signal, it's likely making good money.  And given Clear Channel/Atlanta's current posture of trying to keep things calm and build a respectful operation, keeping it as is makes perfect sense.

The River makes it into the top 10 for men 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54.  It's been held back a little by mornings, but it's done decently since its launch.  Although it has a huge signal, its distant transmitter location near Chateau Elan causes some holes in the Atlanta area.  But the Atlanta signal is not bad, and Cox Media Group is hoping to move the tower to Sugar Hill, closer to Atlanta.

The other two stations in the genre, Rock 100.5 and 92-9 Dave FM, are really in the ratings dumps.  I will mention that The Regular Guys, Rock 100.5's morning show, does respectably in its target demos at #6 in Men 18-34 and #8 in Men 18-49.  Outside of mornings, Rock 100.5 is pretty much on life support.  And 92-9 Dave FM is near the bottom of the barrel across the dayparts.

When should a format get blown up?  Ratings are a factor, but sometimes it's possible to resurrect a station.  However, when listeners become confused about what the brand stands for, it's hard to mount a comeback.  And I am one confused listener when it comes to Rock 100.5.  The station came out of the gate with much promise early in 2008, especially in light of grabbing The Regular Guys for mornings.  But that promise never was realized.

In terms of music, Rock 100.5 has had one constant; it's been Rock.  It launched with a mix of Active and Classic Rock, moved to "Quality Rock"--kind of AAA--and then to Classic Rock and then Mainstream Rock.  Last weekend, the station was Active Rock with different imaging, was Mainstream Rock on Monday and then shifted to Classic Rock on Tuesday, where it remains.  In fact, the station's new positioning is "Atlanta's Classic Rock."

Although I wonder whether Cumulus will live with the poor performance of Rock 100.5 and 106.7 WYAY, the company faces some challenges.  New Senior VP/Programming Mike McVay has been visiting the Interstate North facility, where the Kicks 101-5 and WYAY talent have been stranded on the island, and Johnson Ferry, home to Q100, Rock 100.5 and almost everyone else.  McVay has been getting to know his programmers and talent, giving them guidance and making some tweaks.  I get the impression that he's trying his best to make the current programming, or variations of it, work.

Changing a format is expensive, and so soon after its Citadel acquisition, Cumulus is in a cost-cutting mode.  Then there's the little matter of The Regular Guys having just signed a new 3-year contract.  TRG could work with only so many formats, all of them male-oriented.  The show does bring in money, but what about the rest of the day?  Some people blame the signal, but while it's not one of the huge Atlanta blasters, it covers virtually all areas that need to be with enough strength to penetrate steel buildings.

Over at Dave FM, where the ranking among Adults 25-54 wallows in the teens, I have to wonder how long Market Manager Rick Caffey and CBS Radio are going to allow this to go on.  Program Director Scott Jameson knows the best way to keep his spirits up is to concentrate on his work.  And his current mission is to come up with ideas to build a morning show around Steve Craig.

Cumulus apparently has cast Rock 100.5's lot to Classic Rock for now.  The type of Rock played by the station has been more unpredictable than what Newt Gingrich will say in a speech.  I have to believe that something will happen with 92-9 Dave FM.

So we wait.

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