Monday, March 26, 2012

The Many Lives of Dave-FM

Do you believe in reincarnation?  I've never been able to come to terms with the idea that I may someday be a cow.  But I have to say that 92-9 Dave FM is starting to make me wonder.

How many different forms can Dave FM take?  When the station launched in 2004, it was Rock Without Rules.  Next came Radio Without Rules.  Then suddenly, it was just plain Dave FM.  Last fall, it borrowed from Chicago's 93XRT and became Atlanta's Finest Rock.

We have witnessed a parade of program directors.  It started with the highly-regarded Michelle Engel, who crossed the country from Seattle hoping to guide the new Dave FM to great things.  Next arrived another well-thought-of and experienced PD, Mike Wheeler.  And now, Scott Jameson, with more than 10 years of rock success in Indianapolis under his belt, guides the ship.

The music has been all over the place.  It started with a bright mix of Rock targeting adults and kind of veered to Michelle Engel's personal favorites.  (She loved The Police.)  Mike Wheeler gave Dave FM some direction and made it a Triple A station.  Then Scott Jameson installed an AAA playlist similar to the country's leading stations in that genre.  Toward the end of last year, currents were decreased, and a perplexing mix of Classic Rock going back to the 60's was intermingled.  Now Dave has returned to a more typical AAA playlist.

We certainly cannot leave out the cavalcade of morning shows: Barnes & Firfer, Holly Firfer (with her studio announcer Orff), Orff & Firfer, Orff, Zakk Tyler, Orff, Jimmy Baron, Jimmy & Yvonne, The Steve Show.  And of course, mornings have gone back and forth between personality and music intensive, not that any of the personalities had that much leeway.

What does the Dave FM brand mean to listeners?  Could they be confused?  Why does the station seem like the Eveready Bunny?  That signal is too big for Dave to be mired in the high teens among adults 25-54, its good qualitative notwithstanding.  Put bluntly, isn't it time to blow up the station and start from scratch?

CBS Radio Market Manager Rick Caffey seems to make big decisions when he has to.  So why is Scott Jameson still programming Dave FM?  I attended a luncheon at which Caffey told clients that after an exhaustive search, he found the best person to program Dave in Jameson.  Had he told his bosses that and therefore is reluctant to fire Scott?  Does each new music modification buy Jameson some time?  Is V-103 billing so much that it compensates for Dave?

Several months ago, Caffey dismissed Dave FM's General Sales Manager, John Riemenschneider.  Would terminating both his sales and programming heads put Caffey directly in the line of fire?  Does he feel firing Jameson would make no sense when 92.9 might flip in the near future?

92-9 Dave FM does boast the Rick Caffey hallmark of personalities in all dayparts.  Steve Craig, Mara Davis, Sully and Margot all entertain.  Mara is one of the market's premiere personalities, and Margot makes the station sound like a real AAA.

In mornings, which Dave has never been able to get right, Steve Craig is able to make a music-intensive show sound like a personality one through his incredible knowledge of music.  Adding news and bringing in Mitch Evans, one of the market's top sports talents, have been a plus; but I doubt it's enough to lift ratings in mornings.  Dave would need to create a real morning show, a huge challenge.

So life and Dave FM go on, with Steve Craig wondering whether he has a job; and me wondering how long CBS will allow 92.9 to languish at the bottom of the barrel.

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

Monday, March 19, 2012

V-103's Common Thread

Today, Egypt Sherrod debuted in middays on V-103, replacing Ramona Debreaux, who moved back to weekends.  My question was why.

Egypt Sherrod is a master juggler of many vocations: radio personality, TV correspondent, motivational speaker, real estate agent, philanthropist.  And she recently became a mom.  Sherrod is also a host of Property Virgins on HGTV.  She could be on her way to becoming the next Russell Simmons, or Dick Clark for that matter.

The 10AM-2PM shift on V-103 has been uncharacteristically unstable.  It's gone through a string of personalities in recent years: Magic Man, Porsche Foxx, Elle Duncan and Debreaux.  Yet the star power of V-103 has carried whoever was on the air.

Following Porsche Foxx's dismissal from the station for a second time, Ramona Debreaux filled in for quite a while.  I thought she fit the slot really well.  She had some marketplace awareness from her midday stint at Hot 107-9 and weekends on V-103.

Although Program Director Reggie Rouse does not return my calls, he did attend the Arbitron breakout luncheons that CBS Radio held twice a year.  He had no security to prevent radio writers from walking up to him and asking a question, which I have done a few times.

After Ramona had been subbing for a while, I questioned Reggie about his plans for middays.  He responded that V-103 would be making an announcement in the next week or so.  I put in a good word for Ramona, saying I thought she sounded great.  But of course, Reggie was not showing his hand.

Surprise, surprise.  The Ryan Cameron Show's Elle Duncan was announced as the midday winner.  I actually liked Reggie's decision, feeling it was a bit gutsy.   Many thought Elle was too weak for the shift, but I liked that she had a different sound from a typical personality.  Eventually, Elle moved to be the sports voice on the Frank & Wanda Show in mornings.  Ramona Debreaux then reclaimed middays, and ratings have been just fine.

So why spend the bucks to bring in Egypt?  The answer is probably something that I absolutely love about V-103.  At a time when the rest of radio seems to be downsizing as much as possible, V-103 continues to think and act big.

V-103 has been the New York Yankees of Atlanta radio, with Frank Ski, Ryan Cameron and Greg Street.  Even on weekends, V-103 has Kenny Burns, a star of sorts.  It goes without saying the station is live and local, even in overnights with Bubby Love (nice guy, terrible name).

I wonder how long Egypt Sherrod will stay at V-103, and I'll miss Ramona Debreaux in middays.  But I love the attitude at the station.  Some people in the radio business still realize you can make money by spending money, and their names seem to be (GM) Rick Caffey and Reggie Rouse.  And that's a wonderful thing.

The one area on V-103 that I question is The Quiet Storm from 10PM-2AM.  The show has been jockless since longtime host Joyce Littel departed about 3 years ago.  In this case, the absence of a personality may not be related to savings.  Reggie Rouse might feel continuous music establishes the mood of the show.

On certain occasions, however, such as the death of Whitney Houston, weekend personality Terry Bello has appeared on The Quiet Storm.  Bello is not quite a New York Yankee, the usual V-103 requirement.  However, he is capable, and his more mellow sound is consistent with the slot.  He has filled in on V-103 during the day.  I would like to see Bello become the station's late-night host.

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, March 12, 2012

The Cumulus/Atlanta Shuffle

Do you know the steps to the Cumulus/Atlanta Shuffle?  Not many people do because it has been shrouded in secrecy.  I can only take some educated guesses.

The former Citadel programming department is set to move to the Cumulus complex on Johnson Ferry Road next week.  At that point, the entire expanded Cumulus/Atlanta cluster will be under one roof.  The odds are good that some significant fireworks will follow the move.

First, what I do know:  Q100 will be left alone; it's too successful to mess with.  By the way, Cumulus' recent divorce with Billy Bush was a positive development.  A voice-tracked Adam Bomb is light years better than a syndicated Billy Bush.

Kicks 101-5 will stay pretty much as is subject to tweaks.  Rumors have been swirling that evening personalities Kim Fitz and Rob Lee will depart.  We now know Kicks will carry the syndicated CMT Radio Live with Cody Alan.

That is about all I know.  Everything else is subject to the shuffle.  I have some thoughts about what could happen, however.

Last October, shortly after Cumulus closed on the Citadel deal, Randy & Spiff were let go as the morning show on Atlanta's Greatest Hits 106.7 (WYAY-FM).  Ever since Cumulus terminated the two guys synonymous with Oldies in Atlanta, I have wondered how serious the company was about keeping the format.  Then again, economizing could have been the firing's objective.

Tripp West then moved from afternoon drive into mornings.  Tripp is one of the market's best jocks, but Cumulus has not given him the support to do a morning show.  Mornings became music intensive, which made me feel another shoe would eventually drop.  But so far it hasn't.  Is this an indication that Cumulus envisioned a format flip?  Or was the company waiting for the move to Johnson Ferry to embellish mornings?

Concurrent with Tripp's move to mornings, 106.7 brought in Fred McFarlin, a journeyman personality, for afternoon drive.  In this case too, I sensed that something was not quite right, or not quite permanent.

When I put all these things together, I have to wonder whether Atlanta's Greatest Hits will get lost in the Cumulus Shuffle.  On the other hand, Cumulus SVP Mike McVay has made adjustments to the 106.7 music mix, which could suggest a desire to get it right.  We will soon know.

The next question is what's in store for the other underperforming Cumulus signal, Rock 100.5.  Since its 2008 debut, the station has had two constants, rock music and The Regular Guys in mornings.  The rock music, however, has been all over the place.  For the past few weeks, following a strange weekend of Active Rock, the station has settled in as Classic Rock, which of course has been tried before.

I see this as somewhat different from the 106.7 situation.  Morning ratings for The Regular Guys have been respectable.  Moreover, the TRG cast was recently signed until 2014.  That all suggests that Larry, Eric, Southside and Tim are bringing in some nice bucks.

I've heard it theorized that The Regular Guys could do mornings on a 680/100.5 sports simulcast with Christopher Rude shifting to afternoons.  I do not think this is a likely scenario.  The Regular Guys are not sports people, and Rude, while he has learned a lot during his tenure at The Fan, is not either.

I think it's more likely that Rock 100.5 will stay around in some shape or form.  I am just not sure what that shape or form will be.

If Atlanta's Greatest Hits did get shuffled away, my math tells me that one frequency would need a format.  If that were the case, several options come to mind.  Among them are a 680 simulcast on FM, a promotion of 99X from translator to full FM status or an AC leaning a little soft.  I doubt Cumulus would consider Journey 97.9 ripe for a promotion to the big leagues.  In fact, the presence of Journey would seem to make an AC an unlikely choice for a full FM.

This will be interesting to watch.  My gut tells me to get braced for a shuffle.  How the cards will be dealt is far from certain.

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, March 5, 2012

FCC Fantasies Shape Atlanta Radio

Have you paid attention to legal ID's near the top of the hour?  If so, you know Star 94 identifies as Smyrna/Atlanta.  That means its city of license is Smyrna.  And why is that?  Star's transmitter is in Atlanta, and its signal penetrates the full Atlanta metro.  Moreover, Star 94 programs to all of Atlanta.

That 94.1 started years ago as a little signal serving the Smyrna environs means nothing these days.  But in the FCC's mind, the station's move to a powerful Atlanta signal should in no way impede its main purpose, providing radio service to the poor little town of Smyrna.  Of course, it makes no sense, but the FCC is a stickler for protecting the people for whom a station was originally intended.

Kicks 101-5, which ID's as Marietta/Atlanta, is in the same boat.  If Marietta was dropped as the city of license, can you imagine how Marietta residents would be shaken?

In 2001, the 100.5 signal was lifted from Anniston, AL and moved into the Atlanta market.  The process had been started over 10 years prior by station broker Tom Gannon and was later revived by Susquehanna.  Here's what I'm not getting: The FCC was ultimately willing to take a station away from Anniston but would not allow it to be licensed to Atlanta.

Susquehanna was able to show the FCC that College Park, GA had no radio station.  The FCC was therefore willing to license 100.5 to the suburb near the airport in order to rescue the town's radio-deprived citizens.  But here's the kicker: The station, licensed to College Park, located its antenna atop the Westin Peachtree Plaza in the heart of downtown Atlanta, with the FCC's approval of course.

Praise 102.5 is another type of example of the FCC not seeing the forest from the trees.  The people of Mableton are lucky to have such a good Gospel station.  I'm kidding of course; we all know that Praise competes for ratings across the Atlanta market, and does so very successfully.

Years ago, the FCC established Class A FM's, which were lower-powered stations--then up to 3,000 watts and now up to 6,000 watts--to serve cities with a small population.  How did potential station owners react?  They complied with the rules by applying for stations in small towns, small towns in the shadow of big cities.

Class A FM's popped up in places like Bethesda, MD (Washington, DC) and Glen Burnie, MD (Baltimore).  In other words, owners found a way to locate in a small community yet get major market ad dollars.  Praise 102.5, licensed to Mableton, is such a station.

The example of FCC foolishness most pertinent to Atlanta, however, is the move-ins (or rim shots), the result of an FCC rule change in the 1980's.  Atlanta, whose FM frequencies were allocated back when our city was small, had a lots open space on the dial.  And, the market was of great appeal to broadcasters salivating for riches.

The relaxed FCC rules contained just one little hitch: Any station moving to serve Atlanta had to still cover its original market with a city-grade signal.  So when 97.1 moved to the Atlanta metro, for example, it still needed to penetrate Gainesville.  And when 104.7 moved into the market, it had to maintain a local signal over Athens.  This limited how far stations could move and hindered their Atlanta signal.

But of course still covering the original city makes sense, right?  Well, when was the last time you heard anything about Gainesville on 97-1 The River?  And how recently have you noticed 104.7 The Fish saying good morning to its listeners in Athens?

In taking comfort that it had not deprived a community of a radio station, the FCC created an Atlanta dial consisting of the haves and the have-nots.  Atlanta holds the record for number of move-ins with 9, not counting 100.5 (a relocation), and 102.5 and 107.5 (new sign-ons).  The market now has 8 more FM stations than when I moved here in 1994.

What is the effect of a station now targeted to Atlanta being forced to keep its original city of license?  While it's silliness on the part of the FCC, it really has no effect.  However, what is the effect of limiting how far a station targeted to Atlanta can move so it can still cover its original town?  The answer is a major effect since the station has a signal disadvantage in Atlanta while its programming is now irrelevant to the original market.

If I were a member of Congress, I would introduce the "FCC Should Stop Kidding Itself" bill, and I bet I could drum up bipartisan support.  Part one would stipulate that stations could identify themselves simply by the city they target.

Part two would give stations that move into a market the freedom to relocate to where they would have a fully competitive signal unless--and it's a big unless--moving closer to the new market would be impossible from an interference standpoint.  And the missing piece of information here is how many of the move-ins, if any, could have moved fully into the market from an engineering perspective.

Come to think of it, if my recommendations were adopted, I probably would be taking away hours of pleasure from engineers, who enjoy the challenge of working through the FCC's useless regulations.  Folks like Littlejohn would never forgive me.

So in the words of Emily Litella . . . never mind.

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: