Monday, September 24, 2012

Power Surge Hits Q100

Q100 had been Atlanta's only CHR station, and since moving to 99.7 early in 2008, has been a ratings steamroller.  Yet, Q100 in the eyes of many is not a true CHR station.  Its delivery leans adult, and it mixes in softer recurrents with today's CHR hits.  If you like Coldplay's Paradise and Jason Mraz's I'm Yours, you'll probably love Q100.  Conversely, the station doesn't play some of the hip-hoppier CHR product.  Q100's music overall has had more of a CHR identity in recent years than in its early days under current owner Cumulus.

What's behind this strategy for Q100?  A couple of reasons are plausible.  The station pretty much held the market's young people captive; they had nowhere to turn for the more rhythmic CHR product until recently.  So with little chance of losing the young, why not pick off some older folks from Star 94 and B98.5?  That would add more attractive and therefore more lucrative demos while increasing overall ratings, which made perfect sense.

Another likely reason was that's how Cumulus SVP/Programming Jan Jeffries designs CHR stations.  Recurrent is the byword.  Jeffries installed the same kind of sound at Houston's KRBE, a pure, high-energy CHR before Cumulus took over.

After Cox's 95-5 The Beat was eliminated in August, 2010 in favor of a WSB simulcast, Clear Channel brought The Beat's successful CHR/Rhythmic format to 105.7 and later added 96.7 south of town.  Wild 105.7/96.7 got respectable ratings but not as high as The Beat.  That was to be expected since Wild was on signals that were hardly listenable in major parts of the market.

When JB Wilde joined Wild as PD in 2011, he started moving the music toward mainstream CHR.  As the station became more and more Pop yet retained a Rhythmic tint, ratings increased to surprisingly high levels given such meager signals.  Wild's audience growth sent a message that the market's young people wanted a pure, high-energy CHR that played all the hits.  Clear Channel apparently picked up that message and launched Power 96-1.

With Power 96-1 in its formative stage under PD Rick Vaughn, it's hard to say how it will perform.  However, Q100 has little to worry about for now.  Power 96-1's syndicated morning show, Elvis Duran, will never come close to beating The Bert Show in this market.  And mornings set the course for the rest of the day.  I have to believe that Clear Channel knows this and is thinking about a local morning show, but hiring one that works will be dicey.  And getting mornings right will be critical to Power's success.  This is not Project 9-6-1, and not being a top-10 station would mean failure for a full-power CHR.

Power 96-1 might get away with the syndicated On-Air with Ryan Seacrest in middays (although I can't listen to it) if the show is surrounded by great content.  Clear Channel runs Seacrest on many of its successful CHR's.  In Atlanta, Seacrest is opposite one of the best midday personalities in the country, Jeff Miles, on Q100.

Listening to Q100 makes me think that PD Rob Roberts has been working with Miles and afternoon driver Johnny O to add personality to the station, a welcome change.  Q100 has also countered the Power launch with its Mad Money contest.

Afternoons and evenings on Power 96-1 have a quintessential CHR sound, contrasting with Q100, which sounds excellent in its own rite.  The shifts are being voice tracked by JJ Kincaid and Mo Bounce, respectively, who handle the same slots on New York's Z100 (and sound much better on Z100).  Clear Channel is rumored to be hiring live Atlanta-based talent for these shifts.  (Today, afternoon drive is being voice tracked by Sonic of Channel 933 FM in San Diego.)  Live and local in evenings could give fits to the syndicated "Perez Nights" on Q100.

Both Clear Channel and Cumulus are employing a roadblock strategy, using flankers to own more of the CHR base.  Clear Channel has removed the mainstream material from Wild 105.7/96.7 and apparently plans for the station to coexist with Power 96-1 as a Hip-Hop outlet aimed at suburban white kids.  Cumulus has added The Q100 20 on its 97.9 translator, ostensibly to protect Q100 from Power by having a very tight playlist of youth-oriented hits, some of which are too rhythmic to get airplay on Q100.

When things settle down, here is what I expect to happen early on:  Power 96-1 will pick off some of the 12-34 demographic from Q100, and a good deal of the very young demos from Wild 105.7.  The 12-34 group tends to move quickly after a format change, and Wild is constantly promoting Power on its air.

I believe that Power 96-1 will trail Q100 badly in mornings and middays, and Power's numbers will become somewhat competitive in afternoon drive and evenings.  Of course, all bets are off if Power 96-1 hires the right morning show.  And while Power 96.1 probably will steal from Q100 and its own Wild the most, the fact that another big signal is going after almost the same audience will likely cause some erosion at Star 94 and B98.5.

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

Monday, September 17, 2012

Power 96-1 Blasts Off

The week of August 27 was full of surprises for Clear Channel's Atlanta staff.  First, they learned the cluster was getting a new boss, Matt Scarano.  Matt had been Director of Sales at Clear Channel/Chicago and at one time was General Sales Manager at Kicks and Eagle here in Atlanta.  Then, maybe not quite as much of a surprise, WKLS flipped from Active Rock Project 9-6-1 to CHR Power 96-1.

With the launch of Power 96-1, Atlanta finally has something that virtually every other large market has, something Atlanta has been missing for the past 7 years, a high-energy CHR that really plays all the hits.  CHR has been my favorite format throughout my radio-listening life, both for its excitement and its music; I still get mesmerized by those hooks.

Clear Channel is serious about this one.  They put Power 96-1 on one of their two major signals and moved a blue-chip program director from Chicago's 103.5 Kiss FM, Rick Vaughn.  They added state-of-the-art CHR imaging by Scott Matthews and Melody Sharp.

Last week, I talked about how Atlanta's Wall of Women, the ratings fortress constructed by Star 94, Q100 and B98.5, probably kept CBS's WZGC away from a flip to CHR.  Did Clear Channel just decide to forge ahead without much thought, similar to the company's launch of 94-9 The Bull 5 years ago?

Atlanta has been a market of frustration for Clear Channel, especially for CEO John Hogan, who made his name here.  CC has two super (full class C) signals in Atlanta, 96.1 and 94.9.  Yet with the exception of a brief stay there by 94-9 The Bull a couple of years ago, Clear Channel has not been able to get these stations near the top 10.  Maybe that was reason enough to go for it with a format that's been flying high in other markets.

While the Wall of Women has been standing tall, a look at the PPM reveals an undercurrent.  Clear Channel's Wild 105.7/96.7, which had been moving from CHR/Rhythmic toward CHR/Pop over the past year, was grabbing Total Persons shares in the mid-3s despite signals that are hardly listenable in many places.  In fact, an average of the July, June and May PPM's put Wild in a tie for #7 among women 18-49, just a smidgen behind the Wall-of-Women stations.

That accomplishment on weak signals suggested that Atlanta was starving for a real CHR on a major station.  Q100 has enjoyed the luxury of attracting both the lower and upper ends of the CHR demo by melding current songs with recurrents such as Breakeven by the Script and It's My Life by No Doubt.  Conversely, Q100 leaves out some CHR songs that it feels could drive away older listeners.  And Q100 has a more adult delivery, with the exception of evenings, compared to a typical high-energy CHR.

Now, it's a little hard to be objective since I had been repenting for whichever of my sins had caused the market to have no real CHR.  Yet the above two points seem to justify Clear Channel/Atlanta's entry into the format.

Will Power 96-1 win?  How is Q100 likely to react?  And what will be the effect of Power 96-1 and Wild 105.7 coexisting?  I don't know the answers but have opinions, which I will tell you in the next issue of Atlanta Airwave Action.

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

Monday, September 10, 2012

WZGC & Atlanta's Wall Of Women

Why it took so long is anyone's guess.  But CBS Radio finally ran out of music-adjustment options for its floundering 92-9 Dave FM (WZGC) and announced a flip to All Sports.  Why All Sports, and was it a prudent decision?

This year, it's been "keep it simple" for CBS Radio.  Under President Dan Mason, stations that needed a format change have flipped to either CHR or All Sports.  CHR has been soaring, which I attribute to the PPM and the current popularity of the music.  And it's a format that lends itself to syndicated morning shows, voice tracking and other money-saving devices.

The All-Sports format got going in 1987 at WFAN-AM in New York.  I don't know who was the Thomas Edison of the All-Sports format, but he deserves to be richer now than he probably is.  The format was destined for a high power ratio, meaning percent of ad dollars relative to audience share.  What has made the format so powerful is that big ratings are not necessarily needed for big billings.

All-Sports radio is a natural for beers, certain cars, shaving supplies and other manly goods because of its pure audience. And the format sells listeners who live the sports lifestyle, lending itself to advertising packages that incorporate sports-oriented promotions.  In the late 90s when 790 The Zone was billing huge despite small ratings, much of its revenue came from promotions that accompanied the on-air component.  Moreover, sometimes All-Sports stations have big men 18-49 or men 25-54 ratings that are masked by a low 6+ number.

Top management and owners of companies tend to be in the heavy sports demographics.  Even management at larger, sophisticated firms, who should know better, want All-Sports stations on their buys for the ego injection they get when they hear their commercials on the radio.

All Sports on FM is a fairly recent phenomenon, and CBS Radio has led the charge.  In a format whose AM's have often lacked big ratings, All-Sports FM's have bucked that trend.  In Detroit, CBS's WXYT-FM is #1 or #2 in Persons 6+; in Boston, Entercom's WEEI-FM is #8 while CBS's WBZ-FM is #12; the 2 stations combined would be #2 with a 7.6 share.  In the Pittsburgh market, CBS's KDKA-FM comes in at #6 with a 6% share.

With CBS Radio doing well in both of its format flip options, which was right for Atlanta?  I have no inside knowledge of the decision process.  But I have to guess that when CBS looked at the market, the company realized that with CHR, it would plow head-first into Atlanta's Wall of Women, the female fortress made up of Star 94, B98.5 and Q100.  Only Q100 is defined as CHR; Star 94 is Hot AC while B98.5 straddles the border between Hot AC and AC.  But the three stations fight tooth and nail for the lucrative women 25-54 demographic.

Does that mean CBS could not win with CHR?  Not necessarily.  CHR tends to be a little younger, and Q100 is programmed to capture both the lower and upper ends of the young women demo.  A strictly CHR playlist and delivery might have forced Q100 to adjust one way or the other.  However, trying to break through the Wall of Women could have been a very expensive war with an uncertain outcome.

Is All-Sports a slam-dunk for WZGC?  Many consider Atlanta to have a far less rabid sports base than the cities where the format enjoys big ratings.  That reputation probably comes from Atlanta's support of its professional teams; college seems to be a different story.  And Atlanta's sometimes lackluster attendance for its pro teams could result from so many residents hailing from other markets.  Succeeding with All-Sports might simply mean hitting the right balance of professional and college programming.

WZGC's All-Sports competition is on AM with the exception of 680 The Fan's translator at 93.7.  But other markets have shown that in All News, News/Talk and All Sports, being on FM does not always mean beating the long-established AM's in the format.

We wait with anticipation as CBS Radio rolls out the market's first full-power FM All-Sports station in October.

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