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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