Monday, November 12, 2012

Clear Channel/Atlanta Leaves Us Hanging

Clear Channel/Atlanta has given me the same feeling I had watching the crane in Manhattan dangling from its lower half after Hurricane Sandy.  How will this thing end up?

Clear Channel made a bold move about 6 weeks ago, flipping 96.1, one of its two big Atlanta signals, to CHR.  The move was questioned in many quarters.  After all, it put CC on a collision course with Atlanta's Wall of Women, the fortress constructed by B98.5, Star 94, Q100 and even 104.7 The Fish.

I can see Clear Channel's point-of-view, however.  The company has 2 big signals here, 96.1 and 94.9, and neither had been able to crack the top 10 in Persons 6+.  CHR is a PPM-friendly format that has the potential to lead the ratings pack.  At this point, with CC/Atlanta having played a distant second fiddle for years, why not go for it?

There also was the undercurrent, the groundswell of popularity for Wild 105.7/96.7 as that station was crawling from Rhythmic toward mainstream CHR.  And this was being accomplished on signals that were hardly listenable in highly-populous parts of the market.  Young people were ripe for the picking.  Moreover, Q100 leaned to the adult side of CHR.

Power 96-1 is a Rhythmic-leaning CHR that doesn't touch the more adult hits unless they are huge.  That begged the obvious question: What's next for Wild?  How could a Rhythmic-leaning CHR and a CHR/Rhythmic co-exist in the same cluster?

Concurrent with the launch of Power 96-1, Wild purged its playlist of the more pop material.  Yet it still plays some songs also aired by Power.  Cases in point are Rihanna's Diamonds, Chris Brown's Don't Wake Me Up and Flo Rida's Good Feeling.

Let's take a look at Wild 105.7/96.7 in its current form.  Its format is pure CHR/Rhythmic with no mainstream pop product.  It competes with a powerful Rhythmic-leaning CHR within the same cluster that plays some of the same songs.  It gave its morning show to its new competition, and it promotes that competitor on the air.  Its afternoon personality Joe Breezy was blown away, and it lost 45% of its average audience in the month since Power launched.

The official Clear Channel position is that Wild is still #5 in its core 18-34 demo, and that it will complement Power 96-1, giving CC ownership of the 18-34 audience.  But, I have to wonder.  For one thing, if the 96.1 flip was intended to get a CC property into the market's ratings elite, why not allow Power to pick up Wild's listeners?

I'm anxious to find out whether Clear Channel/Atlanta has taken any smart pills.  I've long advocated a move of El Patron from 105.3 to 105.7 based on the novel concept that a station should have a good signal where its target audience lives.  Back when Viva first signed on, the station was on 105.3, and management moved it to 105.7 for the purpose of competing in Gwinnett County.  Viva, a station with the wrong Hispanic format for Atlanta, had ratings far above what El Patron does today on 105.3.

That would leave 105.3, an excellent signal in most of the market, open for a new format.  Given its considerable full class C competition, 105.3 would need to take on a somewhat niche format and be run economically.  But Clear Channel could add a successful operation to its roster if 105.3's new format was selected and run wisely.

Time will tell whether current Clear Channel/Atlanta management will transform the long-underperforming cluster into a winner.  A lot of us are wondering whether another shoe will soon drop.

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

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