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:

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