Monday, December 17, 2012

V-103's Frank Ski Calls It A Morning

They say the years fly by when you get older, and apparently they know.  It seems like yesterday when V-103 threw a client party at Sambuca in Buckhead to welcome Frank Ski and give a send-off to departing morning man Mike Roberts.

When I moved to Baltimore in 1988, Ski was doing evenings on CBS Radio's Urban station, also V-103 (WXYV-FM).  He had come there from his first radio job at Baltimore AM Hip-Hop outlet WEBB.  I did not care for Ski, but someone smarter than I saw something in him and moved him to mornings, alongside current V-103/Atlanta newscaster Jean Ross.

Radio One's 92Q, V-103/Baltimore's Urban competition, went on the attack. V-103, long the market's #1 station, started eroding.  CBS Radio fired Ski, who immediately was picked up by 92Q.  It was not long before 92Q dominated the Baltimore market and pushed V-103 out of the format.

That will not happen in Atlanta, where V-103 has deep roots in the community, a mammoth signal and an air staff the likes of the New York Yankees.  The enormously-talented Ryan Cameron will slide into Ski's chair, and V-103 will not miss a beat.

The station will replace Cameron in afternoons with Big Tigger, said to be a favorite of V-103 PD Reggie Rouse.  Big Tigger worked for years at sister Urban WPGC in Washington but was fired last year.  Rouse has proven a skilled programmer, but hopefully Big Tigger has substance.  Another Rouse favorite, Osei the Dark Secret, did not fare so well in middays on V-103 several years ago.

Talent manifests itself in different ways.  When Ski left Baltimore for Atlanta, I read of the emotional bond that his 92Q audience had with him; that he did his final broadcast outside the building, where listeners expressed their love and wished him well.  When he first opened the mic in Atlanta, I thought V-103 had lost something in the way of talent.

I've always felt Mike Roberts, Ski's predecessor, had much more natural radio talent, meaning voice, delivery and sense of timing.  But Ski more than made up for that in a number of ways.  He was passionate, opinionated and inspirational, and had a work ethic second to none.  He was always out in the community.  Frank Ski touched many lives during his days on V-103.

Ski was both loved and disliked.  And his co-host, Wanda Smith, who started during Mike Roberts' tenure, added hilarity.  That all translated to #1 ratings.

So what's next for Frank Ski?  He reportedly decided to leave V-103 because he felt the time had arrived for the next step in his career, a syndicated morning show.  One thing is for certain: No one station is going to give him the huge platform and salary that he enjoyed at V-103.

How realistic is syndication for Ski?  With the Urban and Urban AC landscape filled with Steve Harvey, Tom Joyner and Rickey Smiley, breaking in could prove difficult.  Some have predicted that with the recent addition of a daytime TV show, Harvey will find doing his radio show a bit of overload.  But I have heard nothing about the subject from Harvey himself.

Tom Joyner is getting older along with his audience.  Yet I am unaware of any retirement plans.  If either Harvey or Joyner did step down, Frank Ski could prove an excellent replacement.  If they did not, Ski's best hope would be replacing Joyner on stations in a number of markets.  I am unaware, however, of the contractual obligations of Joyner's current crop of stations.

Whatever the future holds, I wish Frank Ski the best.  He made a mighty contribution to Atlanta radio and to the Atlanta community.

Merry Christmas and happy New Year.  We will be back in January.

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, December 10, 2012

101.5 Kicks It Up A Notch

The market has talked very little in recent months about Atlanta's Country battle between Kicks 101-5 and 94-9 The Bull.  The competition for big numbers among B98.5, Q100, Star 94 and Power 96-1 has grabbed most of the attention.  And we have seen the end of Dave FM and the launch of The Game.  The Country format in recent years has been relegated to below the top 10 stations, far different than a decade ago.

Kicks and The Bull, nevertheless, are locked in a knock-out, drag-down ratings battle.  Kicks wins Persons 6+, but Adults 25-54, the "money demo," is neck and neck.

After beating Kicks in all but the oldest demos a couple of years ago, The Bull took a little tumble back to the second ratings tier.  Several months later, for no apparent reason, Kicks lost a chunk of its audience while the Bull stayed the same.  The result was Kicks was still ahead but not by much.  And it's been that way since.

Two weeks ago, Kicks 101-5 made some news when Jenn Hobby, who had announced her departure from Q100's Bert Show, agreed to move down the hall for middays on Kicks.  To make room for Jenn, midday personality Sari Rose was released.

When Cumulus took over Kicks following the Citadel acquisition, it ended the relationship with station voice John Wilyard.  I liked Wilyard because he made Kicks sound big and unique.  The speculation was Wilyard's departure happened for financial reasons.  Wilyard's replacement did a decent job but sounded like a cookie-cutter voice you would hear on medium-market Country FM's across the U.S.

Just prior to the Jenn Hobby announcement, Kicks handed its voice duties to the renown Pat Garrett, said to be a favorite of Cumulus SVP/Programming Jan Jeffries.  Garrett, who became a leading imaging talent via the Urban/Hip-Hop route, has clients in virtually all formats.  His delivery on Kicks is a little more reserved than I associate with him, but he brings some distinctiveness back to the station.  Of course, The Bull's voice, Cousin Deke, is likewise distinctive and also entertaining.

The Bull also made a change last week when midday personality Tim Michaels got caught in the latest Clear Channel nationwide blood bath.  The new lineup is Jason & Kristen in mornings; Madison Reeves voice tracked in midday; and Lance Houston, also Music Director, in afternoon drive.  Another master voice-tracker, perhaps Angie Ward, who seems to be on every CC Country station I tune in, will handle evenings.

Among Adults 25-54, Kicks had been comfortably ahead in mornings but was overtaken by The Bull in the October PPM ratings.  Kicks added listeners in November, but so did The Bull.  I feel Kicks, with heritage personalities Cadillac Jack and Dallas McCade, has a bit of a talent edge; though Jason & Kristen on The Bull are talented in their own rite.  I'm wondering if the Kicks morning decline has something to do with where people leave their dials the night before.

Midday is a tough daypart to predict.  Jenn Hobby has never done a music show or even run a board.  Yet I fully expect her to make Kicks sound great.  In her stints as a morning co-host on 95-5 The Beat and Q100's Bert Show, hearing her has been such a pleasant way to start the day.  However, her competition, Madison Reeves, excels as a voice-tracker in multiple formats.  Madison of course could be at a disadvantage for not being live and local, but I doubt many listeners will notice.  Kicks could win the daypart if it capitalized on its live edge.

In afternoon drive, Kicks 101-5's Mike Macho is one of the market's top talents and sounds great on the air.  However, The Bull's Lance Houston, also Music Director, has been no ratings slouch, coming close to Macho in 25-54 average audience and edging him out in weekly cume.

Evenings are the poster children of the Cumulus and Clear Channel syndrome.  Kicks features the syndicated CMT Live with Cody Alan, and The Bull presents a voice-tracked music show.  Listening levels fall off the cliff after 7PM, but I personally much prefer a local-sounding music show, even when it's voice tracked.

In average 25-54 ratings at night, The Bull has been dominating although Kicks comes close in weekly cume.  A voice-tracked music show might give Kicks 101-5 a stronger lead-in to the next morning, but Cumulus is in a dilemma here because CMT Live needs an Atlanta affiliate for national sales.

The cumes indicate most Country listeners tune to both stations.  Keeping them tuned in longer appears to be the challange.

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

Monday, December 3, 2012

B98.5's Tentative Waltz With Christmas

Most everything in life goes through cycles, including Christmas music on the radio.  When I was a kid, stations added a little Christmas music after Thanksgiving and increased the songs as the big day approached.  No one went all Christmas until Christmas Eve.  Then, throughout the 1970s and '80s, few stations played any Christmas music until shortly before the big man in the red suit took flight.  In the 90s, Christmas songs began a comeback, especially on Soft AC stations.

Around 1998, and the exact year escapes me, Atlanta's Peach 94-9 played a lot of Christmas music.  And ratings shot through the roof.  The following year, the station announced it would go 100% Christmas after Thanksgiving.  Again, the results were astounding.  Christmas music brought bigger audiences, which justified higher ad rates.  Advertisers loved it because it put people in a buying mood.

I don't know the extent of the Peach scenario being played out in other markets at the time, but observers around the U.S. took notice.  Within a couple of years, AC stations everywhere went totally Christmas songs.  And ratings hit record levels.  Stations in other formats ran for cover until the season passed and things returned to normal.

Then, the madness began.  In markets with two AC's, being the first to go all Christmas music became a matter of life and death.  The thinking, of course, was that if your competitor went Christmas first, you lost the Christmas audience.

The problem was if you flipped to 100% Christmas too early, you would alienate your listeners.  I clearly remember an October Saturday when the temperature was in the mid-eighties, and Peach 94-9 was having a "Holiday Music Preview Weekend."  Deciding the right time to switch was the stuff that sent PDs to the loony bin.

For a few years, B98.5 just stuck with its regular format and let Peach 94-9 hand it a ratings spanking.  As to why, my guess is former Cox Radio President Bob Neil stayed steadfast to his beliefs in how an AC should sound, at all times.  Suddenly, around mid-decade, B98.5 surprised everyone including its sales staff, who could have been selling it, by going All Christmas.  And it's been that way since then, until this year.

In 2011, we saw an end to much of the insanity.  With the exception of a smattering of stations switching early to get noticed, most AC's went Christmas during Thanksgiving week.  In this market, 104.7 The Fish has also been playing all Christmas music starting just before Thanksgiving.  And The Fish's more religious tint has given Atlanta listeners a nice choice.

This year, the Christmas cycle has been on the downside nationally; Christmas stations number a little less than a year ago.

B98.5 is in an interesting position.  While it's in an all-out race with Q100 and Star 94, neither of those stations is likely to play significant holiday tunes until right before Christmas day. In fact, last year Star 94 felt B98.5's Christmas programming would give it an opportunity to showcase its regular playlist, which it did with surprising success.  Finally, B98.5's 2011 Christmas ratings peaks--and two PPM reports included Christmas weeks--were the lowest in its history.

In walks new B98.5 Program Director Chris Egan to a question just as maddening as when to flip to Christmas in the insanity years.  I have not been privy to Egan's thinking, but the chronology of events suggests some indecisiveness at Digital White Columns.  In late October, a salesperson called me about advertising in B98.5's All-Christmas programming for a Christmas-oriented event that I work on.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, another salesperson informed me that B98.5 would go 50% Christmas on Black Friday and ramp up to 100% over the ensuing weeks.  It's not impossible that the sales staff was not told of programming's plans, but on this important subject, it's hard to imagine they were not told anything.

Right at Thanksgiving, I heard from a reliable source that B98.5 had again changed plans and would initiate its ramp-up with 4 Christmas songs an hour.  This proved to be true over Thanksgiving weekend--but surprise of surprises--the number decreased to 1 an hour last week.  Whether this was the plan all along is possible but does not seem likely.

Any hesitancy notwithstanding, keeping Christmas music to a minimum at this late date was a gutsy decision.  B98.5's ratings have been excellent, and its October PPM numbers were the best in years for regular programming.

Apparently Egan feels protecting his regular numbers is more important than the Christmas audience bumps.  Of course, the danger is that regular AC listeners who prefer the sounds of the season will move to The Fish or even 93.3 The Joy FM.  But with both of those stations leaning a bit more religious, B98.5's bet might prove to be one worth making.

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: