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.

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

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