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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