Atlanta's brand new All News station, 106.7 (WYAY-FM), is headed our way. Predicting its ratings success is difficult since there is a lot that we do not yet know. I do have some questions, however, the answers to which will help me better predict.
On the surface, Atlanta has a gaping hole for the All News format. Yet in this age of focus groups for everything, has Cumulus actually researched the station's potential success? I ask this for several reasons.
Local TV news in this market is basically apartment fires and shootings. Will All News 106.7 have the staff to cover those things? As far as national and international news, I wonder about the market's appetite for this. Yes, WSB's political talk shows get big ratings, but is that the same thing?
News/Talk WSB has the news image in the market and has held it for more years than I care to think about. Yes, I realize that after Atlanta's Morning News shuts down at 8:30, WSB becomes mainly a talk station. However, news is done live and local for 24 hours.
WSB does not have the number of news people it once had, but it has enough to send reporters to local stories. And under the Cox Media Group umbrella, the station has additional resources with WSB-TV and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Will 106.7 be able to overcome the WSB news mystique?
NPR station WABE-FM is not exactly a slouch when it comes to news, with which it fills the two drive times. Although national product consumes most of the news blocks, WABE has very able local news anchors in Steve Goss for mornings and Dennis O'Hayer in afternoons. Can 106.7 lure Atlanta's true opinion leaders away?
Successful News and News/Talk stations tend to have first-rate, well-known morning hosts, and WSB's Scott Slade is one of them. Within a day's drive from Atlanta, Harley Drew on WGAC/Augusta and Jim Turner on WDBO/Orlando are other examples. Of course, WSB's mornings are tremendously enhanced by folks such as Bob Coxe, Marcy Williams, Captain Herb Emory and Kirk Mellish. Will All-News 106.7 be able to establish, or be willing to pay for, a top-notch AM drive show?
Is Cumulus putting All News on the right signal? The 106.7 signal is much bigger than 100.5. But 106.7 transmits from about 30 miles outside Atlanta, and a lot of that signal goes over sparsely-populated terrain. While 106.7 can be received in cars over a much larger area, 100.5 has at least as strong a car signal in places where the All News audience tends to drive.
What about delivering listeners at work? No, All News 106.7 will never be the station voted #1 for the most music while you work. But All News would be a top listening choice in certain types of businesses, types that have an affinity for steel buildings. And 100.5 gets into buildings in Downtown, Midtown, Buckhead and Perimeter much better than 106.7.
How successful will the sales staff be? A funny thing takes place in radio. Music stations with older demos have a heck of a time selling to agencies; hence we have almost every station going after 25-54.
With All-News, however, AM stations like WCBS and WINS, and WTOP-FM lead the country in billings, their mature skew notwithstanding. That has a lot to do with the prestige of these stations among management types. If any station in Atlanta comes close to this scenario, it's WSB. I wonder whether 106.7's older demos will make the station a hard sell.
Cumulus has announced that entertainment will be part of the programming. When Merlin introduced All News FM stations in New York and Chicago, the company tried to do an "All News Light" thing to attract younger people than traditionally listen to All News.
The result was a disaster, and the stations are still scrambling to create a product competitive to their All News rivals. Of course, we know nothing about how All News 106.7 plans to integrate entertainment into the format.
Maybe all of the above is just a smokescreen for my true underlying reason for skepticism. Cumulus owns the station, the same Cumulus that runs everything as cheaply as possible. CHR might be an easy format to voice track; All News is not. According to the company, the station will be live 24/7. In this case, that should be affordable since the rumor is the same Atlanta people will anchor the news on Cumulus News/Talk properties around the country.
The successful All-News brands around the U.S. have a drive for excellence and go at it with great fervor. And they employ a big staff to attack every story aggressively. They pay attention to little things like which background music plays behind each type of report. And they invested years and lots of money before the product grew to what it is today.
Is Cumulus capable of pulling this off? I'm just askin'.
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Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog: http://blogs.ajc.com/radio-tv-talk/