Monday, April 30, 2012

Cumulus/Atlanta Set To Make News

Bread and butter, bacon and eggs, peanut butter and jelly, peaches and cream, love and marriage.  They all go together.  Cumulus and All News?  Not so much.  Yet Cumulus is about to launch an All-News operation in Atlanta, one of the few major markets that does not have one already.  So it sounds pretty logical at first.

Getting to the point of making last Friday's announcement was quite a journey.  (No, not that Journey.)  From day one of Cumulus ownership, I have suspected "Atlanta's Greatest Hits" would be short-lived on WYAY-FM (106.7).

My suspicion started with the firing of Randy & Spiff, the two guys most associated with oldies in Atlanta.  It continued when Tripp West filled in during mornings, and Cumulus made no attempt to develop a morning show; and when Tripp's afternoon drive shift was held down by Fred McFarlin.

WYAY seemed to be in a holding pattern.  The word around town was Cumulus would flip the format after the move to the Johnson Ferry complex in March.  The station's air staff was told absolutely zilch, of course.

As the supposed studio completion date approached, the jocks learned that only a new Kicks studio had been built.  WYAY's air talent continued to be the lone wolves at the Interstate North facility.

Cumulus Corporate announced to its Atlanta management that Rock 100.5 (WNNX-FM) would be moving to 106.7.  Rock 100.5 salespeople then repeated this to agency buyers.  A 680 The Fan simulcast seemed a likely possibility for the 100.5 signal.

Meanwhile, SweetJack call handlers moved into the Interstate North space.  ABC Radio Network's operations people were rumored to be relocating from Dallas to the facility as well.

About a month ago, I received a call from a friend who is an Atlanta radio veteran.  He related that Cumulus had been talking with news people from WABE-FM, the market's NPR station.  I dismissed this as being simply rumor.  Then a salesperson at News/Talk WSB commented, "We know they're coming after us.  I know for a fact they've talked to all the former CNN Radio people."

I wondered what was going on but still thought plans for Rock 100.5's move to 106.7 were intact.  But at some point, they apparently changed.

Next I heard that the Cumulus/Atlanta engineering team of Mark LeMuth and Tim Stephens showed up at the Interstate North complex and were hurriedly working to refurbish the former Kicks board, which had been slated for the morgue.

Two weeks ago,'s Lance Venta announced that Cumulus had purchased the domain ""  Later that week, Cumulus reserved similar domains for each of its Atlanta frequencies except 97.9.  The company in all likelihood was blindsided by Venta's acumen and not ready for the word to get out.

Like another Radio-Info poster, I felt reserving the domains had been a head-fake in preparation for the move of 100.5 to 106.7.  In reality, I was the one being head-faked.

Columnist Jerry Del Colliano wrote that Cumulus was thought to be building a news hub in Atlanta, and that an Atlanta staff would replace local personnel at Cumulus news/talk stations around the country.  So that was the reason for talking with the former CNN Radio anchors, I thought.

Suddenly, stockpiles of new equipment and a throng of workers started showing up at Interstate North.  Word leaked out that the pressure was on to have everything up and running by May 1.  And of course, WYAY was still pumping out Atlanta's Greatest Hits.  I had wondered why the format flip had not yet occurred.  I finally came out of my trance and realized this All-News thing was really going to happen.

Next week, I will tell you how I expect the new All-News 106.7 to perform and why.

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, April 23, 2012

B98.5 Makes Itself Whole Again

B98.5 FM has made some adjustments as its quest for women against Star 94 and Q100 heats up.

The Cox AC has been a pretty steady performer over the years.  The station competes for a lucrative audience, and it's always been in the thick of things.  But this year, B98.5 has found itself being the #3 station of the three vying for the demographic, an uncharacteristic position for the outlet.

In the mid-90's, radio in Atlanta was a different world.  Things rarely changed and for good reason.  The market had 9 fewer FM's than now, and consolidation had not yet happened.  With radio ad dollars escalating and an underradioed landscape, owners were raking in the dough.  Even lesser-rated stations had much bigger shares than now.

B98.5 was doing something that I thought strange and not the best idea.  Guided by Program Director Phil LoCascio, the station was in effect running two formats.  During weekdays, it was a highly structured AC station under the close scrutiny of Cox Radio President Bob Neil.  On weekends, it shifted to All 70's or as I called it, "the Donna Summer format."

B98.5 mixed 70's into its weekday playlist, but weekends were different.  Saturday and Sunday had a disco-oriented sound, and I surmised LoCascio wanted to make them different to make them special.  However, B98.5's bipolar disorder resulted in sounding like two separate stations.  But that didn't matter tremendously; Atlanta radio was a fat cat at the time, and B98.5 sat behind Peach 94.9 and ahead of Star 94 in Arbitron.  With its profitable female target audience, B98.5 was earning a healthy living.

In the late 1990's, Star 94 started surging.  A lot had to do with the comeback of CHR music, and some had to do with PD Dan Bowen's arrival at Star.  Bowen cleaned up the formatics and made the station tighter.

B98.5 dropped its 70's weekends, with General Manager Marc Morgan announcing that people would always know what to expect when tuning to the station.  For some time, the new ratings order of the 3 fairly-direct competitors was Star 94, B98.5 and then the former leader, the late Peach 94.9.

In 2010, still in a strong position, B98.5 started presenting some occasional theme weekends, which were fun.  Eventually, every weekend became a Big 80's Weekend.  Like with its 70's weekends years ago, the music was vintage 80's but different from the 80s played during the week.  But I felt it was at least more compatible with the station's weekday sound this time.

By 2011, new Star 94 PD Scott Lindy had led his station to reclaim its position as a ratings leader.  When the departure of Cox's Bob Neil paved the way for autonomy at the local level, PD Cagle brought B98.5 into the modern era, eliminating 70's and adding current product, to better compete with Star.  Its positioner became "your favorite songs from the 80's, 90's and now."

After Star 94 launched its Big 90's Weekend last year, B98.5 started alternating the Big 80's Weekend with its new Retro Weekend, featuring the 80's and 90's.  While the music was distinctive yet compatible with the weekday mix, my feeling was B98.5 was grappling with how to counter Star 94.  Would listeners wonder whether the Retro Weekend, devoid of currents, was the "80's, 90's and Not Now Weekend?"

B98.5's changes, musically pretty dramatic, initially reaped rewards as ratings jumped.  In 2012, however, after a lower Christmas ratings spike than in past years, the station has slid to third place among the 3 main competitors, with its soaring midday numbers keeping it as high as it is.

B98.5's latest moves appear to be a reaction to the ratings and continued uncertainly regarding weekends.  The AC brought back 98 minutes of music at 9AM but is calling it "the Workday Kickoff" rather than its famous former name, "the 98 at 9."

A commercial-free hour was added at 4:45PM, a scant 5 minutes before Star 94 starts its "Commercial-Free Ride at 5."  That reminds me of the old Top-40 strategy of starting the news 5 minutes before the competition; in that case, listeners would leave but return 5 minutes later.

A couple of weekends ago, B98.5 made itself whole again by dropping its themed weekends and becoming "80's, 90's and now" all the time.  Themed weekends in the AC format are a tough row to hoe.

Competition is good, and with consolidation, listeners get too little of it.  We'll see where things go from 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, April 16, 2012

Cumulus Puts Stamp On Kicks

With Kicks 101-5 settled in its new state-of-the-art studio in the Johnson Ferry complex, we now know what the Country station will sound like under Cumulus ownership.  There are pluses and minuses.

The audio sounds incredible.  When I thought about a station's audio, things like processors and exciters came to mind.  I have to admit I never realized what a difference a board could make.  The music, jock talk and commercials on Kicks all have a phenomenal resonance.

Throughout my life, I've been on various kicks, be they a short-term infatuation with a certain car, hobby or anything else.  And for the past few weeks, I've been on a, well, Kicks kick.  I tune in no matter what or who is on just to hear the audio.

Kicks also has a new station voice, straight out of the Cumulus library.  Former Kicks voice John Willyard made the station sound big...and unique.  Though the new voice guy makes Kicks sound like a lot of Country stations, he fits the format to a tee and sounds good.  PD Mark Richards has always been a magician with formatics, and the imaging product sounds terrific.

That said, Kicks' imaging gives the station a contemporary, upbeat sound but not the aggressive tenor that I associate with a Country outlet intent on burying the competition (like 93-7 K Country in Gainesville/Ocala).

The biggest change, and probably the biggest question, has been replacing the local evening talent with the syndicated CMT Live with Cody Alan.  Cody does have some broadcast talent, and listeners get to hear music news and celebrity interviews.  But to me, the show does not have the tightness and energy needed to win.  A significant amount of Kicks imaging is lost.

One interesting fact is Kicks is the only major market station on the Cody Alan roster.  Yes, the station list claims a Chicago affiliate, but that signal, in an outlying area of the TV market (DMA), makes it to nowhere near the Windy City; same with the so-called Mobile-Pensacola affiliate.  Listening levels fall off a cliff after 7PM so CMT Live should not do much to affect Kicks' overall performance.

Shortly after the Cumulus acquisition of Citadel closed, Music Director and imaging wizard Mike Macho was handed afternoon drive.  Kicks now has superior talent in both drive times though mornings have the challenge of winning back younger people who defected to 94-9 The Bull.

Also early on, Cumulus management directed Kicks to incorporate classic Country songs from the past 2 decades.  Approximately 5 or 6 are played each hour.  I like the inclusion of the older product and feel it adds depth.  The positioner remains "Today's best Country hits."

The next change, which appears to be in the works, is the Cumulus hallmark of heavy voice tracking.  In the near future, Kicks 101-5 probably will have 3 live weekday shifts with a possible fourth on weekends.  While Cumulus is the poster child, other stations, even Cox's B98.5 FM, do the same.

Last weekend, afternoon driver Mike Macho also appeared on Saturday evening and Sunday (Easter) morning.  The weekend shifts were likely both tracked.  Kevin Steele, Chris Carter, Rob Lee and occasionally Kim Fitz have been doing live weekend shows.  I wonder whether that will soon be coming to a close.

The Cumulus version of Kicks 101-5 is a good one.  Yet I'm a little disappointed it doesn't have the hawkish drive in its DNA to dominate.  Kicks has the programming and air talent to pull ahead in the Country war but needs a little fire in the belly.

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, April 9, 2012

Lincoln Financial To Add FM Signal

Two rumors were making the rounds last week as 2 applications to the FCC regarding an FM translator at 94.5 came to light.  The first application stated the signal would rebroadcast the HD2 channel of WSTR-FM, and the second was for a move into Atlanta.  The signal is currently owned by Edgewater Broadcasting, which purchased hundreds of FM translators for the express purpose of selling them.

The applications were discovered by poster Rick Rose, who watches the FCC database for changes.  The story was published by and embellished by AJC Entertainment Reporter Rodney Ho in his blog.

The first rumor seemed to be the obvious explanation, that Lincoln Financial would use the 250-watt signal for its AM Sports station, 790 The Zone.  Dickey Broadcasting's 680 The Fan has been solidly besting The Zone in ratings although 790 has remained competitive in the key 25-54 demo during the day.

While 680 The Fan has 50,000 watts in the daytime and 790 puts out 28,000, signal is not really an issue in daylight hours; both stations dispense plenty of power.

Nights are a different story.  Though it misses virtually everyone to the northeast of its Peachtree Corners transmitter and all of north Cobb County, 680 sends a powerful 10,000-watt signal southwest through Atlanta.  The Zone, on the other hand, powers down to 1,000 watts at night with a very directional antenna.  Its area of clear coverage in this time of extra-crowded AM frequencies is very small.

The Fan added an FM translator signal at 93.7 last year.  The 250-watt signal, emanating from the Richland site on Briarcliff Road, does relatively little to fill in areas missed by the AM but provides an option to people who listen only to FM.  In terms of nighttime AM range, The Zone needs an FM far more than The Fan.

The second rumor is that former Radio One programming executive Steve Hegwood is aggressively looking for an FM translator to replace 102.9, which he lost to Radio One in a lawsuit.  Hegwood is the person who traded the 97.9 translator to Cumulus for a class A FM station in Albany, GA.  I have to admire Hegwood.  Several years ago, he lost his radio stations to foreclosure, then lost 102.9, but is already back as an owner.

Hegwood, however, cannot simply obtain a translator signal and broadcast on it.  FCC rules require that a translator "translate" another station.  According to the rumor, Hegwood would lease the translator from LFM and use Star 94's HD2 signal as the main station.

The first rumor sounds far more logical than the second.  I am not totally sure, however.  Lincoln Financial is in the very rare position for a radio company of having no debt.  That means any profit generated by 790 The Zone goes straight to the bottom line.  And despite its low ratings, the station is said to bill some nice cash and throw off millions in profit.

LFM might feel leasing the translator to Hegwood would generate more additional revenue than simulcasting The Zone.  That's a long shot but possible.

Another factor could have an effect on 790 The Zone.  I do not know what Cumulus/Atlanta is planning for the 100.5 frequency, but one reasonable possibility is a simulcast of 680 The Fan.  That could be a game changer.

I predicted a watershed year for changes in Atlanta radio, and so far nothing has happened.  But something will very soon.

WABE Ready for Blast-Off
WABE-FM, owned by the Atlanta Board of Education and the market's NPR affiliate, will be turning on its new 100,000-watt signal in the next 2 weeks.  By moving to the former WPBA-TV position at the top of the original New Street tower, WABE will be increasing both its wattage, from 96,000, and antenna height, from 822 to 1,096 feet above average terrain.

WABE should have as good a signal as any other Atlanta FM.  WPBA-TV, Channel 30, relocated to a new tower next to the original concurrent with the digital conversion.

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, April 2, 2012

WYAY Staffers Get Surprise

Since the Cumulus acquisition of Citadel last fall, air staffers at Kicks 101-5 and Atlanta's Greatest Hits WYAY thought studios for the two stations were being built at Cumulus' Johnson Ferry complex.  About a month ago, the WYAY programming department was blindsided by the announcement that no studio for them had been constructed.  Cumulus had built out the new Kicks studio and a production room.

The WYAY air staff was to stay behind at the Interstate North facility, which has become a lonely place.  Having been told nothing else, the staffers started thinking the worst about their future with the station.  Not unexpectedly, rumors started flying.  The announcement was the impetus behind my column of March 12, entitled The Cumulus/Atlanta shuffle.

What will take place is anyone's guess.  But you can bet something will.  And I expect it to happen by mid-April.  Fasten your seat belt.

Kicks 101-5, meanwhile, has moved into its new studio.  The inaugural broadcast was on Saturday, March 24 at 6AM, hosted by Kevin Steele.  The new board puts out some mighty awesome sound.

Several months ago, I heard that Star 94 would be moving into the former Citadel space on Interstate North Parkway.  That made some sense since it was a fine facility and probably far less expensive than Star's longtime Buckhead home; and because Star 94 GM Rick Mack spent years there as Kicks/Eagle Director of Sales.

I have learned, however, that the space will be reconfigured, and SweetJack, the Cumulus version of Groupon, will settle into part of it.  Speculation regarding the remainder of the facility is that Cumulus will shift ABC Radio Networks operations there from Dallas, TX.  By the way, if I hear that horrendous SweetJack commercial many more times, I just might kick the radio.

Star 94 Kicks It Up a Notch
Joe "The Voice Guy" Szymanski has been handling Star 94's imaging for the past several years.  Now, PD Scott Lindy has added a second voice to his high-flying station, and it's a female counterpart to Syzmanski.  The talent behind the voice is Rachel McGrath, like Lindy a former employee of Clear Channel/Atlanta.

Rachel is sounding great, and the station's male/female balance seems just right.  Of course, a woman's voice blends perfectly into the format of Star 94.

One voice missing from Star 94 is that of Joe Rosati, who had handled Saturday evenings.  Rosati was voice tracked from Detroit, where he was working middays on Channel 9-5-5.

Saturday evenings at Star are now being done by Lloyd the Utility Man.

The Big Gun Starts Talking
WGUN-AM (1010) has been pretty much in a perpetual state of flux.  After dropping its brokered shows and nostalgic music, the station made an ill-fated attempt at R&B oldies, which left WGUN with no revenue.

The Rivers family is now attempting to unload the 50,000-watt station, which is in essence a daytimer.  (It's on at night with 78 watts.)  The family felt the station would be more attractive to prospective owners if it had a talk format.  So WGUN has now converted to Progressive Talk.  Selling the station for any significant amount will be anything but easy.

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: