Monday, March 25, 2013

92.9 No Walk In The (Ball) Park for CBS

Six months have passed since CBS Radio introduced its newest entry to Atlanta, 92-9 The Game (WZGC-FM).  And so far, we are seeing little sign of ratings traction.

CBS took quite a risk by installing the expensive All-Sports format in this market.  Succeeding would require that the format's audience share grow significantly.

Until 92-9 The Game's sign-on, the shares of both Sports stations together hovered around 2 to 2.5 in Persons 6+.  The Game would need to increase that share to 4 or so, and hope either 790 The Zone or 680/93.7 The Fan threw in the locker room towel.  That would give 92-9 very competitive shares in its target male demos.

CBS Radio has done just that in several markets, doing it in Pittsburgh with a product created by The Game's PD, Terry Foxx.  The two glaring exceptions are the Dallas market, where an AM station, 1310 The Ticket, dominates the CBS FM entry, 105.3 The Fan; and DC, where CBS's 106.7 The Fan (WJFK-FM) and Red Zebra's WTEM-AM slug it out for small shares.

Atlanta sometimes gets a bad rap as a sports town, and that's been hammered into the mindset of many residents.  So the idea of a successful FM Sports station here met with some skepticism.

This is not Pittsburgh, Boston or Baltimore, home of rabid fans and, not coincidentally, markets where ratings of Sports FMs have soared.  So I wondered whether 92-9 The Game could increase the format's slice of the pie.  But, I never thought the new station would have trouble jumping over The Zone and The Fan.

Six months after its launch, however, WZGC is #3 out of the 3 Sports stations, getting beaten by two AMs, one of which simulcasts with a low-power FM translator.  The other, 790 The Zone, throws an interference-free signal over a very small area at night.  Moreover, the total Persons 6+ share of the 3 Sports stations in February was 2.5, just about where it had been with 2 stations.

Several months ago, I wrote a column on 92-9 The Game's prospects.  I commented that Sports radio fans are passionate about the format, including the hosts.  For that reason, I suspected pulling The Zone's and The Fan's bases away would take more time than in the music station world, but that eventually, WZGC's powerful FM signal would win out.

Although The Game's small share was basically carved out of the other two Sports stations, I expected a little more of 92-9 by now.

While I am more of a music radio person, I've listened a lot to 92-9 The Game and think the product is good.  The format was well thought out, and the hosts are of high quality.  In the early weeks, I found the afternoon drive show hard to listen to.  The hosts seemed to be stepping on each other.  But I tuned in recently, and the problem had been eliminated; the show was much more listenable.

The complaints that I have heard from others are the hosts do not sound like they are rooting for the Atlanta teams, and too much coverage is devoted to out-of-town organizations.

That occurred to me a couple of weeks ago during late evening host Jim Murray's lengthy lament about New England's loss of receiver Wes Welker to Denver.  However, I enjoyed Murray's honesty.  Formatically, the only thing that makes me wince is the annoying sweeper that another Sports Flash is coming up in minutes.

With 92-9 The Game entering its second 6 months, I have both good and bad news for 680 The Fan and 790 The Zone.  The good news is the daylight hours are increasing, enabling them to keep their more powerful and less (and non) directional daytime signals on longer.  And the Braves season is fast approaching, providing The Fan with a shot in the arm.

The bad news is that 92-9 The Game is not going away any time soon.  CBS has invested so heavily in the station that it has no choice but to be very patient.  Its 24/7 live-and-local boasting has required paying for a personality at 4AM on Sunday morning.  I can imagine every iteration possible being tried before any thought of a format change enters anyone's mind.

With warm weather coming, The Game plans to showcase its talent with personal appearances around town.  And some tweaks are probably on the way.  The Braves and then the Falcons are about to become hot topics again.  The rest of the year will be telling for 92-9 The Game.

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, March 18, 2013

94-9 The Bull, Atlanta's New Voice-Tracked Leader

You knew it would happen.  A full-power Atlanta FM station would be voice-tracked for almost its entire broadcast day.  And you guessed it would be a Clear Channel property.  Well, that day has come for "Atlanta's new country leader," 94-9 The Bull.

Lance Houston, The Bull's APD/MD and afternoon personality, departed to accept the Program Director position at Clear Channel sister WPOC-FM in Baltimore.  But, Lance is still on the air in afternoon drive here in Atlanta via the wonder of voice tracking.

The concept is not exactly new, of course.  Back in 2005, The Bull's predecessor on 94.9, Lite FM, had a live morning show with Randy & Spiff, followed by Steve Goss from 9 to noon.  Then came the voice-tracking with Heather Lorenzo (Randy West) from North Carolina and JT (Jeff Tyson) out of Birmingham.  They were followed  by the syndicated Delilah and automation overnight.

Even worse are the "Jack" stations, or whatever male name they are christened.  They run automated with a business model based on mediocre ratings coupled with low operational costs.  Who knew?  The combination of debt and technology created this.

At 94-9 The Bull, Jason Pullman and Kristen Gates start the day with Caffeinated Radio, live from the Peachtree Street studios.  At 10 o'clock, the control room lights go out, and Madison Reeves, Lance Houston and Angie Ward voice track the hours until midnight, when the syndicated "After MidNite" with Blair Garner cranks up until dawn.  Just a year ago, The Bull was live and local from 6AM until 7PM.

So will things ever get back to the way they were?  Some radio aficionados hope big debt will eventually force the main offenders, Clear Channel and Cumulus, to sell off legions of stations.  But would even that change things?

There are a number of inherent problems.  For one thing, listeners likely do not notice.  Lance Houston can still host the "Top 6 at 6."  Voice-tracked shows can still air calls from "listeners."  And voice-tracked jocks can still list their favorite Atlanta restaurants on The Bull's website.  As long as the ratings of voice-tracked stations are comparable to their live competitors, rationalizing that voice tracking is bad radio will be difficult.

Is this an opportunity for direct competitor Kicks 101-5 to steal listeners from The Bull?  Could Kicks, which itself is hamstrung by its carriage of CMT Live with Cody Alan in evenings, promote that it's live and local?  Could the station make middays with Jenn Hobby and afternoons with Mike Macho more interactive to emphasize its difference from The Bull?

What if Kicks was successful in instilling the fact it's live and local while The Bull's jocks are recorded and out-of-town?  Would listeners really care?  My guess is they would not.  And Kicks could be taking a chance of damaging its sound with too much extraneous content.

Clear Channel gobbled up lots of small and medium markets in its initial buying spree following deregulation.  Cumulus built its original business in small and medium markets.  At this point, both companies probably would be happy to dispose of many outlets outside the majors.  Would that get a lot of stations back to their community roots and live broadcasts?  Probably not.  Technology has made the allure of bigger profits too tempting.

Another manifestation of voice tracking is it's keeping talented young people away from radio.  The decline in jobs could make developing future stars difficult.

All told, the only thing that would bring live and local back to radio would be listeners tuning out en masse.  That would force radio companies to change things. But technology is powerful.  In the music-driven world of PPM, stations can sound good and get ratings without the live and local elements that made radio so magical when I was growing up.

I find this all very sad.  But it seems to be a fact of life.

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, March 11, 2013

Q100 Standing Its Ground

Atlanta radio reminds me of the Middle East, especially the stations targeting women or African-Americans.  The companies do not like each other, but they continue doing what they do.  And there is a fragile peace.  I understand Jimmy Carter is standing by just in case of a flare-up.  And no, I don't mean the Jimmy Carter who appears on the Kicks morning show.

When Israel carved out its land in 1948, its neighbors did not exactly shower the new country with welcoming gifts.  And when Power 96-1 staked its claim in the already hotly-contested women's space, B98.5, Q100 and Star 94 did not roll out the red carpet.

After the original Power 99 went away in 1992, Atlanta was without a straight-ahead CHR station for 9 years.  Star 94 was an Adult CHR and in the late nineties started dominating.  Then in 1999, Cox launched 95-5 The Beat as a CHR just a bit to the Rhythmic side.  In 2001, Q100 signed on from a new Atlanta signal at 100.5, finally giving the market a real CHR again.  That pushed The Beat to full-scale Rhythmic CHR.

The Beat and Q100 at 100.5 hurt Star 94 at the edges, but the station held strong in its core of women 25-49.  Cumulus' acquisition of Susquehanna in 2006 again made Atlanta a market with no mainstream CHR that played all the hits.  Under the cloud company, Q100 shifted to an Adult CHR, in some aspects bordering on Hot AC territory.  In 2008, Q100 moved to the powerful 99.7 signal.

With Q100, Star 94 and B98.5 presenting different shades of the music that young women in several demos favor, Clear Channel jumped into the fray last August with Power 96-1, Atlanta's first true CHR in 6 years.  The company had already been attacking at the younger end with success on weak-signaled Wild 105-7/96-7, and now decided to go full force.  We can also add The Fish, which has been cooking as of late, to the mix.

When Power 96-1 launched last year, I penned my thoughts.  On one hand, Atlanta had been starving for a real CHR, as evidenced by the ratings of Wild 105-7, a signal that's hardly listenable in a lot of the market.  And Power's closest competitor, Q100, was a haven for recurrents, a trait of the Hot AC format, and even occasionally threw in older product, such as Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol.

Power 96-1 was competing against one of the best morning shows on radio, the Bert Show on Q100, with the syndicated Elvis Duran at least initially.  Moreover, Power was further cheapening its sound by filling middays with the syndicated On Air with Ryan Seacreast.  I wrote at the time that Q100, despite spanning the spectrum from young CHR to Hot AC, should be fine unless Power 96-1 hired a live and local morning show.

Its non-local programming in mornings and middays notwithstanding, Power came out of the box strong, even edging out Q100 and Star 94 at the end of the year.  How much of that was sampling is hard to say.  Well, Q100 still plays Viva La Vida, Hey Soul Sister and My Life Would Suck Without You.  And they play individual hit songs for months on end.  In the January PPM, however, Q100 and Star 94 both edged out Power.

Power 96-1 PD Rick Vaughn reached out to potential morning talent for their packages a few months ago.  But Elvis and his New York processing remain for now.  It's kind of like Iran.  Are they building up to a local morning show, or are they just enriching their knowledge of the kinds of shows out there?  Hiring a good local morning show would likely ignite a war for Atlanta's women.

Speaking of Power 96-1, Sonic in afternoon drive sounds decent, but he could do so much more than just send shout-outs.  In evenings, Maddox has been getting better but is not at the level of energy and command that I expect from CHR night slammers in major markets.  I like the station's imaging and rhythmic-leaning music selection.

If Power 96-1 stays as it is, the uneasy peace among the competitors will probably remain in place.  But, if Power continues to develop, including adding a local morning show, repercussions among the stations could be substantial.  (With Wild 105-7 and Power 96-1 being somewhat redundant, a format change at Wild could have the same effect.)  Jimmy Carter would be on his way.  And Hillary Clinton would probably be close behind.

Thanks for reading.  AAA will be back in 2 weeks.  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, March 4, 2013

Fun In The Morning & Madison All Day

When I was a kid, I learned in school that James Madison was the fourth president of the United States.  So in those days, that was what the name Madison meant to me.  I have to admit I wondered how his wife Dolly had so much time to bake those treats my mom used to buy for us.

Early in my advertising career, I read about the huge ad agencies on New York's Madison Avenue and later worked there.  At the time, that's what Madison would bring to mind.  But, Madison as a first name has soared in popularity.  In fact, it was the 8th most popular female name in the country as of last May.

In the radio world, the name Madison seems to mirror the name's popularity in the real world.  Atlanta radio now has two major personalities using the Madison name.  In fact, you can listen to Madison in middays and in afternoon drive.

The newest Madison in the market is Madison James, who joined B98.5 for afternoons on February 12.  (I'm starting to think maybe I do believe in reincarnation.)  She has worked for Cox in Atlanta before, filling in at the former 95-5 The Beat.  She also did a lengthy stint in Greenville, SC and most recently handled middays at Cox's Rock 96-5 in the Richmond market.

B98.5 Program Director Chris Eagan's exuberance over landing her heightened my expectations.  During her first week, Madison sounded good but a bit self-restrained; her delivery seemed to blend with the music.  Yet I detected some potential star power in her somewhere.  I listened again last week, and she was beginning to break out and sound better.

How high is up for Madison James remains to be heard.  The other interesting aspect of this is that B98.5's mic on weekdays is, well, manned by women in all dayparts.  And yes, Mr. Kelly Stevens does co-host mornings with Vikki Locke.  In his short time in the market, Eagan has already demonstrated programming smarts and logic so I am looking at this with an open mind.

As I have expressed before, I doubt what we are hearing, as good as it is, is Eagan's final product.  I still find strange that early evenings are automated and then followed with a jock, Kara Leigh, at 10PM.

The other Madison has realized her star power and is voice-tracked in middays on 94-9 The Bull.  If NBC could do a "Where in the World is Matt Lauer?" contest, Clear Channel could certainly air a "Where in the Clear Channel system is Madison Reeves?" contest.  She is one of Clear Channel's master voice-trackers and has always sounded great.

Clear Channel could run the same contest with Angie Ward, voice-tracked evenings on The Bull.  I give Clear Channel credit for disproving a basic rule of physics, that you can't be 2 places at 1 time.

During Sari Rose's lengthy stint at Kicks 101-5, first on weekends and then in middays, I thought she sounded like a small-market jock.  Most of that was a result of her seeming lack of a controlled delivery, allowing a hick, undisciplined sound to come through.  After Rose was let go in favor of Jenn Hobby, Sari was picked up by Star 94 for weekends and swing.

What a difference a station makes.  Rose recently subbed for Star middayer Heather Branch for a couple of weeks.  I thought she sounded good.  She has a pleasant voice and loads of personality, and her delivery sounded controlled; the southern accent came through, but the hickishness did not.

Congratulations to Lance Houston, APD/MD at 94-9 The Bull, for accepting the PD position at Clear Channel ratings monster WPOC-FM in my hometown of Baltimore.  According to reports, Lance will continue his afternoon shift on The Bull via voice tracking.  Lance is not a fan of my opinions yet has been exceptionally nice to me regarding those and in other communications.  I wish Lance the best.  He's about to find out how a real crab cake tastes.

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: