Monday, January 28, 2013

Holiday PPM Drops Hints, Raises Questions

The annual Holiday PPM throws things a bit out of whack because of Christmas music's success.  In fact, two 4-week reports include Christmas music weeks, the December PPM and the just-released Holiday PPM.  I prefer Arbitron published just one report spanning Thanksgiving week through Christmas week, but doing that would not work with the PPM's continuous 4-week cycles.

One firm conclusion from the Holiday PPM is the Christmas strategies of both B98.5 and 104.7 The Fish worked beautifully.  B98.5 decided not to go all-Christmas but to play 4 holiday songs an hour, still positioning itself as "Atlanta's Christmas music station."

Program Director Chris Eagan apparently was concerned about ceding AC listeners to the competition and was willing to accept less than the historic Christmas ratings highs, to protect the station going into 2013.  And while the regular playlist consumed most of each hour, many people did indeed perceive B98.5 as their Christmas destination, driving the station into the #3 ranking among Persons 6+.

Salem's 104.7 The Fish had been getting a slight lift from holiday sounds in years past, but was coming nowhere near B98.5's December dominance.  That was of course due to The Fish's somewhat more serious and religious selection of Christmas tunes.  However, without a totally-Christmas B98.5, The Fish, already very competitive in non-holiday months, bolted to its highest PPM share ever.

The Christmas ratings performance of B98.5 and The Fish left the super-hot race for Atlanta's young women in some disarray.  One thing that seemed to break through, however, is that Power 96-1 is for real.  Gauging the station has been a little difficult since CHR quickly attracts a lot of trial.  The station has been in its current incarnation for almost 6 months, and its young audience was probably not attracted to Christmas music in significant numbers.

Many were surprised that Clear Channel jumped into the war already being waged among B98.5, Star 94 and Q100.  But the company does the format well, and PPM is good to CHR.  Clear Channel, long frustrated in the Atlanta market, made a decision to go for it.

Wild 105.7, CC's Rhythmic CHR, which had been crawling toward the Rhythmic/Mainstream line, was making ratings hay with young listeners, suggesting hunger for a younger CHR than Q100.  Apparently that hunger was voracious, as Power 96-1 has been working its magic despite the syndicated Elvis Duran in mornings and On-Air with Ryan Seacrest, both shows that my ears will never go near.

One question as 2013 begins is how long Clear Channel will allow Wild 105.7, which has been bleeding listeners to Power 96-1, to go on.  Why not let Power take virtually all of Wild's listeners and become a dominant station?

The Holiday PPM probably should not be of great concern to Star 94 and Q100.  The Christmas music stations likely borrowed far more of Star's and Q's listeners than Power 96-1's.  Yet, B98.5 finished the pre-holiday weeks strongly and figures to be a tougher competitor for Star and Q than in prior years.  Chris Eagan has made some positive changes and likely will make more.  At the least, we know that someone permanent will be installed in afternoon drive following the exit of short-term host Mike Shannon.

Star 94, which will move to its new Interstate North studios in the Spring, peaked earlier last year and has been on a small slide.  The station, which had struggled for a few years, was hoisted back up in 2011 by PD Scott Lindy, who has since been perfecting the formatics.

Star enjoyed some unexpected good fortune as its Big 90s Weekend in 2011 snared substantial numbers of men for the historically female station.  But the themed weekend experienced some burnout.  In an effort to keep the male numbers up while stemming the burnout, Lindy kept some 90s on weekends while emphasizing Star's regular Hot AC playlist.

When Star 94's mini-slide began last Fall, a rumor swirled that a family logging many hours of Star had left Arbitron's PPM panel.  Recently, Star's top swing person and weekend jock, Rachel Logan, left to accept middays at CBS Radio's Hot AC in Baltimore, Mix 106.5, in her home state of Maryland.

Star is an excellent-sounding station, and Scott Lindy is one of the industry's elite PD's.  Jimmy Alexander, who recently joined as morning co-host, was a terrific hire.  We'll see what else Lindy has up his sleeve to counter the growth of B98.5, which still holds the advantage of being the station perceived as right for offices and retail businesses.

Q100 has been getting away with trying to be a Mainstream CHR while playing Hot AC recurrents designed to pull audience from B98.5 and Star 94.  And that was the right strategy when the market had no young-skewing CHR.  It was also the reason that the poor-signaled Wild 105.7 was able to attract as many youthful listeners as it did.

So far, Q100, programmed by Rob Roberts, is sticking with the muddied playlist for which Cumulus SVP/Programming Jan Jeffries is so well known.  I still wonder whether Power 96-1 will force Q100 to stop swinging both ways.  Or will Jeffries bury his head in the sand?

Next issue, I will continue squinting through the haze of the Holiday PPM numbers and providing my thoughts about Atlanta radio in 2013.

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

Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog:
Atlanta Radio Insider:

Monday, January 14, 2013

Cumulus/Atlanta: Das Radio Cluster

I am told that many years ago, General Managers of radio stations came from the programming ranks.  Since I have been watching the business, however, radio sales has been the conduit to running a station.  Occasionally, someone sharp who excelled as a programmer makes it to the top, such as Atlanta's Mary Catherine Sneed, but it's rare.

Now, a new path to radio station GM has opened, manager of an auto dealership.  Between Christmas and New Years, radio columnist Jerry Del Colliano reported that Cumulus/Atlanta had hired the former General Manager of Gossett Volkswagen as Market Manager, overseeing 4 FM stations and 2 FM translators.  This was something he could not have made up if he had tried.

Cumulus Co-COO John Dickey told the Atlanta staff that new Market Manager Brian Bove was a friend from whom he had purchased several cars.  I can't imagine a more perfect background for running a cluster of radio stations.  I am still checking out the rumor that on his first day, Bove headed for the production studio, wanting to record a message to media buyers saying, "If you bought time on another station, you paid too much!"

It might not be quite as crazy as it sounds.  Dickey supposedly brought in Bove because he built and ran a successful sales operation, something Cumulus wants and needs.  Programming probably takes its cue from Corporate.  And, Chief Engineer Marc Lehmuth likely needs little direction.  I know, it still sounds crazy.

Almost immediately after Market Manager Paul O'Malley's move to Cumulus Corporate and Brian Bove's arrival, 10-year Kicks 101-5 PD Mark Richards was shown the door.  Why did this happen?  Richards has a reputation as an excellent programmer.

Mark Richards of course no longer had the protection of Paul O'Malley.  But keep in mind that O'Malley inherited Richards, who had been hired by former Kicks GM Victor Sansone.  And it's unlikely that Operations Manager Rob Roberts, to whom Richards reported, has his fingerprints on this.

While this is conjecture, it's been reputed that Cumulus SVP/Programming Jan Jeffries feels Kicks' ratings should be higher; that the station should be soundly beating The Bull.  Moreover, Jeffries is said to favor programmers of the malleable ilk who just implement his directives.

Interestingly, a couple of years ago when Cumulus hired Mike McVay and gave him the same title as Jeffries, word was that Jeffries was being put out to pasture in Chicago.  But we have heard very little recently from McVay, who is said to be unhappy at Cumulus.

Significantly increasing Kicks 101-5's ratings, no matter the PD, will not exactly be a piece of cake. The station actually sounds excellent, with some of the market's best talent--Cadillac & Dallas, Jenn Hobby and Mike Macho--from 6AM to 7PM.  Jeffries recently brought in imaging star Pat Garrett as the station's voice.  And Mark Richards was one of the best when it came to formatics.

Kicks has a few inherent problems.  The first is the Country format's relatively small share in this market, quite a change from 15 years ago.  And Urban radio's dominance is not going to end anytime soon.  That the popularity of younger women's pop will wane at some point is possible, but it's not likely to happen tomorrow.  Atlanta also has some powerful Country signals coming in from its far corners, notably South 107 and 106.1 WNGC.

Kicks is also saddled with CMT Live with Cody Alan in evenings, syndicated by Cumulus Media Networks, which needs an affiliate in market #9.  Although radio listening drops off after 7PM, people tend to leave their radios on whatever they were listening to the prior night.  If they switched to The Bull to avoid Cody, Kicks' morning ratings could suffer.

Q100 has of course been the cluster's star performer, helped tremendously by The Bert Show.  Even in the face of the new competition from Clear Channel's Power 96-1, I expect Q100 to remain successful.  Rock 100.5 has been growing by virtue of a music makeover by Rob Roberts and adding audience displaced from 92-9 Dave FM.  And Kicks, despite its ratings decline, is still a very viable money maker.

The one big question is the potential and sustainability of All-News 106.7.  That Cumulus of all companies was undertaking the format was difficult to fathom.  Doing it right is expensive, and going against the news image and product of WSB is akin to the Georgia State Panthers playing the Falcons.  This signal is the one our eyes will be on most in the coming year.

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

Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog:
Atlanta Radio Insider:

Monday, January 7, 2013

The New Year Dawns For B98.5

The following column was written before Friday's announcement that afternoon drive host Mike Shannon has left the station.

When I was a kid, WPGC in Washington DC, then a Top-40 station, had a contest.  The W in WPGC was stolen, which meant the jocks and the jingles could refer to the station only as PGC.  For the required hourly ID, the "thief" called in and gave the full call letters since only he could say them.  Clues were aired until a listener guessed where the W was hidden, which turned out to be the sign on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

Late last year, I tuned to the station I had always known as B98.5 FM.  But the personalities and imaging said only B98.5.  Being a creature of habit, I grabbed my pad and pen, and sat by the radio waiting for the next clue.  However, no clue ever came, and I eventually realized the shorter name was part of a remake being engineered by new Program Director Chris Eagan.

In fact, Eagan has already changed the tenor of B98.5.  I am a Jon Carter and Buffy O'Neil fan, and felt B98.5 had lost something when it replaced them as the station voices, with what sounded like cheap imitations.  Now Eagan has replaced the budget couple with a female voice.  He's also streamlined the imaging.  (By the way, when I hear "80s, 90s and now," it somehow seems like a decade is missing.  And I realize other stations use "80s, 90s and now" or "80s, 90s and today."  Why not "the 80s to now?")

Eagan also has smoothed out the music.  Former PD Cagle brought B98.5 into the new millenium 2 years ago by adding current songs.  But the music mix was a little too all over the place.  Gone are the Rhythmic currents that never should have been there.  And Eagan has given the liner-reading jocks a little leeway for personality.

B98.5 has gone through a bunch of programmers: Phil LoCascio, Tom Paleveda, Paul Ciliano, Jeff McHugh and Lee Cagle, kind of surprising for a station whose PDs, up until recently, just followed the road map of former Cox Radio President Bob Neil.  When Cox/Atlanta management made the decision to let Cagle go, Chris Eagan, well connected within the Cox radio family, was brought in.

The station now better captures the essence of a state-of-the-art AC.  But Eagan is in a luxurious quandary.  So far under him, the station has been earning its highest ratings in years, and he could relax and enjoy his situation.  Yet, the changes he has implemented make me wonder whether Eagan is on a mission to turn the station into a first-class operation.

B98.5 has what I call a Lego morning show.  It's two pieces put together, but the totality is just not there.  Steve & Vikki were a morning team as were Kelly & Alpha.  Both Vikki Locke and Kelly Stevens are talented pros, but the show lacks chemistry.  I wonder whether Vikki & Kelly will make it through the year.  If I were a betting man, I would wager they will not.

When Kelly McCoy, one of my favorite voices on Atlanta radio, ended his 27-year run in afternoon drive last year, B98.5 replaced him with Mike Shannon, long a personality for Cox/Louisville.

I have nothing against Mike except his name.  Couldn't he have come up with something more imaginative?  Seriously, he's acceptable; I can listen to him now that he's calmed down.  But he is not the caliber of Kelly McCoy.  Ratings have been good, and maybe that's all he needs.  But afternoon drive is another daypart where despite the numbers, B98.5 is weak from a quality standpoint.

I find it strange the station goes into automation from 7 to 10PM and then has a personality, Kara Leigh, from 10 to midnight.  I guess automation is PPM friendly, and Cox is the company that pioneered long-term automation back in 1999 with The Beat.  It took that station about 15 months to have all live jocks.  But Atlanta is a top-10 market.  Couldn't they find someone to voice track?  I hear Kate McCarthy is still wandering the halls.

Kara Leigh is fine for late night, and Eagan could probably get away with starting her show at 7PM.   Yes, even K-Dub would be better than automation.  I'm not sure Leigh will ever be ready for prime time.

So what path will Chris Eagan travel?  Will he prop his feet up on his desk, collect his paycheck and enjoy the satisfaction of having quickly guided B98.5 into the ratings elite?  Or will he be driven to make some major and possibly risky changes to mold B98.5 into one of the country's top AC's?  We will get our answer in 2013.

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

Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog:
Atlanta Radio Insider: