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.

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