Sunday, October 21, 2012

Q100 Opens Its Checkbook, Power 96-1 Has A Ball

With Atlanta's CHR war in full effect, we can step back and take in how Q100 and Power 96-1 have positioned themselves.

For Q100, the strategy has been to sound its absolute sharpest, and to give away cash, lots of it.  The music, which also pits Q100 up against Hot AC Star 94 and AC B98.5 to an extent, has stayed the same.  Since Cumulus acquired Q100 and modified the playlist, I had longed for a CHR that played all the hits, and without several Hot AC recurrents in rotation.  Some of the songs notwithstanding, Q100 is a fine-sounding radio station, at least from 6AM-7PM.

When Power 96-1 hit the air in late August, I was excited the market now had a true CHR that played all the hits.  Well, not so fast.  Power does indeed play rhythmic and dance songs that the more-conservative Q100 shuns.  But it separates itself musically from Q100 by staying away from the more adult product, such as Train and Adele, except for massive hits, as Neon Trees, Taylor Swift and Pink have at the moment.  I personally prefer a balance, but Clear Channel has obviously put some thought into its plan of action.

Power 96-1 is going after the younger portion of the CHR demo while Q100 is broader.  I can visualize a help-wanted ad for Power 96-1: "Personality wanted.  Must have just one name."

I've said it before, but while Elvis Duran's morning show works in a lot of markets, it's unlikely to challenge Q100's Bert Show.  It's apparent Clear Channel is serious about turning Power 96-1 into a market force, and they are doing some smart things.  But beating Q100 would have to start with a live, local morning show.  Hopefully Elvis is a placeholder, and Power 96-1 is doing an exhaustive search.

Ryan Seacrest in middays accomplishes two things for Clear Channel: It gives the syndicated show an affiliate in the #9 market and provides free programming to Power 96-1.  Seacrest does well at CHR's with no direct competition and also at New York's Z100.  Z100, however, has huge heritage in that market.  Whether Clear Channel gets away with it here is a question.

In middays, Seacrest slows down the pace of Power 96-1.  Yet it's possible Power's playlist will be enough to draw the demo's younger end.  However, the show has no appeal to me, especially with Jeff Miles going against it on Q100.

Miles, on Atlanta's 95-5 The Beat and then Q100 in its early days, had been displaced on New York's WPLJ-FM and returned to the market a few months ago.  In his time away from Atlanta, Miles became one of the country's premier personalities.  His Q100 predecessor, Brittany, was excellent, but Q100's getting Miles just prior to the 96.1 flip was fortuitous.

Power 96-1 has imported its afternoon and evening personalities, Sonic and Maddox (formerly Lunchbox), from CC stations in San Diego and Florida, respectively.  Both sound good but are a step down from the CHR format's top talent, such as New York's JJ Kincaid and DC's Toby Knapp.

Sonic fits in well, but I much prefer Q100's Johnny O, who has broader appeal.  Johnny O has always sounded very good but almost too straight and authoritative for CHR.  Those traits are what makes him so effective filling in on countdown shows.  But his attempt at personality came across like NBC's Brian Williams telling us about the latest exploits of Lindsey Lohan.  Lately, however, Johnny has been opening up and melding his excellent voice with a conversational style, and sounding his best as a result.

Power 96-1's evening jock, Maddox, fits the evening CHR paradigm but lacks the high energy of the leading CHR night slammers.  He has been interacting with listeners briefly on some subjects but might want to feature nightly topics and take listener calls.  If he was able to master the energy part of the equation, he should be able to compete well against Q100's syndicated Perez at Night.

Power 96-1 did have a major momentum builder fall into its lap.  Jingle Ball, a star-studded concert hosted by numerous Clear Channel CHR's across the U.S., has added Atlanta in December.  And Power 96-1 is riding the wave.

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

Monday, October 15, 2012

Is All-News 106.7 Here To Stay?

The following column was written last Monday evening, the night before the departure of Program Director Marshall Adams was announced.

The opportunity to create an All-News station came at the right moment for Cumulus.  Just as the company was digesting the Citadel acquisition, CNN Radio, based in Atlanta, ceased operation.  That made a lot of quality news people available for a reported cents on the dollar.  Moreover, a Program Director highly qualified to build an All-News station, Marshall Adams, was looking for a new place to ply his craft.

The idea of Cumulus launching a format that's probably the most expensive was a little hard to fathom at first.  We then heard Atlanta would be a hub for feeding All-News programming to Cumulus stations around the country, lowering the format's overhead.  Whether that eventually happens remains to be seen.

My assumption was All-News 106.7 would be an inferior product, but I was wrong.  Marshall Adams did not disappoint and put together an excellent station.  In addition to hiring a fine staff, he's been incorporating outside resources--FOX 5, Radiate Media, ABC News and the Atlanta Business Chronicle--to their maximum effectiveness.

The reality, however, is that All-News 106.7 has so far garnered a PPM 6+ share of 1.5% and skews heavily to 50+.  Its share is unlikely to go much higher in the short term.  Billings are said to be greater than Atlanta's Greatest Hits, the former iteration of 106.7.  But that's not saying a whole lot for All-News 106.7's life expectancy.

On day one of All-News 106.7, Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey came on the air and smugly said Cumulus was not the first company to think of doing All-News on FM in Atlanta, but was the first to get it done.  He added the company planned to launch All-News operations in other markets.  For that to really happen, 106.7 is going to have to generate more in the way of ratings and revenue, even if the plan was to amortize Atlanta talent across the U.S.

Are Lew and John Dickey schizophrenic?  They want to run stations as cheaply as possible to the point of ruining legendary former ABC News/Talk stations.  For example, Sundays on WABC/New York are primarily infomercials.  Then they turn around and create a station with a format that's the most expensive to run.  I doubt they're schizophrenic.  So what was the motivation to start All-News 106.7?

Could Lew and John possibly have big egos?  Cumulus has a prestigious All-News station in its home market.  All-News 106.7 has shaved a little off News/Talk WSB's PPM share, pushing the station off its lofty perch.  In the world of Cumulus, those things are good for the soul.

All-News can be a compelling sell to advertisers.  As opposed to music formats, which can be used as background, All-News listeners pay attention and are more likely to catch what the commercials are saying.  And unlike music stations, where commercials are aired in long stop sets in order to maximize music sweeps, spots on All-News stations are aired much more frequently and accepted by the audience.

All-News stations tend to bill more than their ratings seem to merit.  In fact, according to the latest study by Miller, Kaplan, Arase, which measures radio station revenue, All-News has the highest Power Ratio--percent billings share divided by percent ratings share--of any format, with a 200 index.

All-News is not a format that can be successful when large-scale staff cuts are made.  There is no CMT Radio Live or Perez Nights available for All-News outlets.  And the local side of the news is always of tremendous importance.  It comes down to a choice between doing the format right or not doing it.

The feeling here is that All-News 106.7 ratings and billings will have to increase for the format to stay for the long term.  Cumulus is not known for its patience, and unlike young-oriented music outlets, All-News stations take time to build an audience.  For now, the station seems to be going full speed ahead.  Time will tell whether All-News 106.7 will be a long-term part of the Atlanta radio landscape.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at  Follow us on Twitter at, and we'll follow you back.

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

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Slow, Painful Death For WGST

I remember as a kid, having a conversation with friends about how we would prefer to die.  Yes, boys talk about the strangest things before the years when the subject changes to girls.  But, I recall all of us wanted to die quickly rather than suffer for a long time.

When I moved to Atlanta in 1994, WGST was a very viable competitor.  Just a year or so later, the decline began.  It was a function of improvement in WSB, signal, population changes, the shift away from AM, and a string of bad decisions by management.  In recent years, WGST was left twisting in the wind.

The format change to ESPN Deportes was a good decision, and I'll tell you why later in the column.  If nothing else, WGST as a talk station was finally put out of its misery.

Under visionary Program Director Eric Seidel, WGST was a top-tier station.  Even with the loss of Neal Boortz to WSB in 1992, WGST remained strong.  Seidel had recognized Sean Hannity's potential and hired him from Huntsville to replace Boortz.  The quick-witted and entertaining Tom Hughes anchored the morning news block.  Rush Limbaugh was king of the midday ratings, and Kim "The Kimmer" Peterson kept listeners laughing on their ride home.  Dennis O'Hayer anchored an evening newscast, 60 at 6.

WGST had become the Braves flagship in 1992, the first year following the famous worst-to-first run, replacing WSB, which had not expected the team's ascent.  WGST leased an FM on 105.7 northwest of Atlanta.

In 1994, WSB was edging out WGST in ratings, but WGST reportedly outbilled WSB; the Braves were probably responsible for that.

WGST's decline started in 1994 after Program Director Greg Moceri rebuilt WSB.  Finally getting its act together again, WSB started climbing back to the top.  While WGST was still an excellent-sounding station, it had a major problem; its nighttime AM signal covered little more than Downtown, Midtown and Buckhead clearly.  Atlanta's population had become so spread out that WGST-AM had become virtually a daytime station.  Its saving grace was its small FM, which covered the market's northern environs.

Also in 1994, WGST was dealt another blow by the surging WSB.  The Cox station dug deep into its pockets to outbid WGST for Braves play-by-play starting with the 1995 season, which turned out to be the year that the team won the World Series.  (When WGST announced the change, I remember Tom Hughes joking it was because he refused to wear his hair like Don Sutton.)  So now the market had a vastly better-sounding WSB with a big signal day and night plus the Braves.  By 1995, WGST was sliding but still had respectable ratings.

The next blow to WGST came in 1997, when Sean Hannity resigned to join the brand new Fox News Channel.  Hannity had held his own against Neal Boortz.  However, Hannity's replacement, Ian Punnett, was not able to successfully fill Hannity's shoes.  Around the same time, Eric Seidel was replaced by Nancy Zintak, who had worked for him.

In response to sliding ratings, WGST General Manager Bob Houghton brought in acclaimed ad man Joey Rieman to create a new image for the station.  Rieman came back with "Planet Radio."  A news staff cutback and talent revamp accompanied the new moniker.  Punnett was moved to mornings with co-host Trevor Johns, replacing the fired Tom Hughes.

The ratings disaster that followed was blamed on the Planet Radio imaging, but I wonder how much it really had to do with the tremendous improvement in WSB, the loss of the Braves and Sean Hannity, and the new schedule that kicked off the day with a weak morning show.  The Planet Radio moniker was quickly dropped, and Fox 5 sports anchor Jeff Hullinger took over mornings; WGST saw a small rebound.  Morning anchor Tom Hughes was rehired 3 years later.

With WSB now dominating the market, WGST was holding its own in the second ratings tier as an AM-FM combo with still salable numbers.  But, then came the knockout punch.  Now a Clear Channel property, WGST was able to move its FM antenna to Sweat Mountain in Marietta, improving the signal.  The move could have led to making WGST more competitive again.  But Clear Channel, under Market Manager John Hogan, drooled over having another profit center and split the FM off from WGST-AM in 2001.

The split left what was now primarily a daytime station on AM.  This is when WGST started its years of withering on the vine.  The fact is an AM station that for all intents and purposes is day only cannot be left on its own.  As ratings and revenue sunk to all-time lows, WGST shedded its local personalities, as Tom Hughes and Kim Peterson ended their careers.  The station later hired Randy Cook to anchor mornings, but the dye had been cast.

The last bad decision regarding WGST was made about 2 years ago.  Management apparently did not understand that WGST-AM did not have the tools, an FM or at least a full-market night signal, to go it alone.  Clear Channel invested in live and local talent in both drive times, with Rob Johnson and Dave Merlino in mornings, and Rusty Humphries in afternoons.  At the time, I wrote that unless WGST added an FM, the result would be more expenses with the same ratings and revenue.

With ESPN Deportes, WGST is bolstered by an FM partner.  Whatever small audience it picks up could be added to El Patron's numbers and sold as a combo for a slight increase over El Patron's rates or provided as bonus.  In any case, WGST will serve a purpose and be very inexpensive to run.

We do mourn the loss of WGST as a News/Talk station.  It has a rich history in the Atlanta market.

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

Monday, October 1, 2012

92.9, 97.1 & 100.5 Look for Male Companionship

It's too bad eHarmony does not allow radio stations to sign up.  The website's compatibility test would be a big help to 92.9 The Game, 97-1 The River and Rock 100.5.  All three stations are trying to pick up men, many of whom became available when they and their favorite station went their separate ways.

Not that the market's females are exactly settled in.  With all the recent changes, the instability of relationships for Atlanta's women has been on the rise.  But their uncertainty pales compared to men.

92-9 Dave FM had the most dual audience of the stations in the Rock genre, with men and women divided about equally.  Where are the former Adult Album Alternative listeners likely to settle?  It's difficult to say, but based on music, I would not be surprised if both genders landed on Star 94.  In fact, I think that Star 94, during its revival as a Hot AC, put the nails in Dave FM's coffin.

Star's playlist was heavy on the Nickelback, Train and Kings of Leon type of sound, acts that straddle the Hot AC/AAA border.  For a while, Star 94 was doing its Big 90s Weekend, which brought over a lot of men under the radar.  The sweet spot for both 92-9 Dave-FM and Star 94 is 35-54 so both men and women could be moving 1.2 megahertz to the right.

Luring some former Dave-FM listeners is not out of the question for 97-1 The River.  Though The River is older and more male than Dave, both stations are on the softer side of Rock.  The River does, however, throw in an occasional Led Zeppelin or Def Leppard.  Its classic hits have had little in common with Dave FM's AAA except for a fit of experimentation early this year by former Dave-FM PD Scott Jameson.

Rock 100.5 has seen a lot of iterations in its 5-year life but seems to have finally perfected the recipe.  The station is Classic Rock based, with a harder edge than 97-1 The River.  And the Classic songs include an occasional 80s heavy metal band, such as Metallica.  Added to the mix are some titles from the 2K decade and the 90s.

Rock 100.5's music has little similarity to either Dave-FM or Project 9-6-1 though it leans a little toward the Project taste.  And like Project 9-6-1, Rock 100.5 has a compelling morning show.  Just the availability of unattached men and the market's limited Rock choices could benefit the station, which has been on a ratings upswing.  Of course, Cumulus created 98-9 The Bone to grab disenfranchised Project 9-6-1 listeners, and whether they run to fetch the small FM translator signal remains to be seen.

Where 92.9 The Game will get its audience will be interesting.  Undoubtedly, the All-Sports share in the Atlanta market will increase.  And CBS has done too well with the format to fail, especially on that big signal.  So from where will The Game's audience come?

What portion of its First Preference listeners will come from the All-Sports AM's, 680 The Fan and 790 The Zone?  I expect The Game's PPM shares to exceed The Fan and The Zone combined, and if I turn out to be correct, many probably will come from WSB, the Rock stations and other places.  The All-Sports format has a higher male audience composition than any other format; 89% of 680 The Fan's listeners are male, as are 88% of 790 The Zone's audience.

With WGST's former listeners now added to the mix, watching the market's new relationships will be more intriguing than speculating about Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel.  How things ultimately shake out is anyone's guess.

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