Monday, April 29, 2013

92.9 & 106.7 Stabilizing Atlanta Radio . . . For Now

When I arrived in Atlanta in 1994, the radio market here was a unique one.  It had far fewer stations on the FM dial than virtually all other markets its size.  On AM, it had the big sound of WSB but for the most part was the king of low-fi signals.  The move-ins that were made possible by FCC rule changes in the 1980's had started.  FM's on 97.1, 104.1, 104.7 and 106.7 were now covering the market.

"Underradioed" was a word that Webster somehow missed but was frequently spoken in Atlanta radio circles.  In fact, the word became associated with Atlanta to the extent that I heard an Arbitron representative use it when speaking at an ad club luncheon just 3 years ago.

Being underradioed was not the only thing that made the market unique back then.  Dollars were pouring in to radio stations at a record clip.  According to reports, Atlanta was the country's hottest market in radio revenue growth.

The results of all this were some very happy radio execs and complacent-sounding stations.  Format changes were non-existent.  Why flip when you're rolling in cash?

When you have a party like that, everyone wants to crash it.  And they did.  In the next 10 or so years, 9 new FM's and 1 AM announced their presence on the dial.  Moreover, the record billing was not going to last forever.  And what revenue came in would be shared by many more players.

The huge increase in competition and the end of the days of easy riches changed the market's complexion.  The party crowd exceeded capacity, and someone had to be squeezed.  Someone, or a couple of someones, would not be doing well and become the subject of format change rumors.

In December 2011, I wrote that 2012 could be a watershed year for changes in Atlanta radio, and it was.  Since then, things have settled down for the most part.  The ironic thing is the only two FM's doing poorly, at least so far in their young lives, are stabilizing the market.  And both have invested so much that they have no choice but to keep going for the near term.

All News 106.7 (WYAY-FM) has been around for almost a year.  Its share among total persons 6+ was 1.6% in the latest PPM monthly.  My guess is that's pretty much where they will max out.  The station's owner, Cumulus, is well known for running things as cheaply as possible.  Yet with the exception of putting infomercials on weekend mornings, a move that resulted in the departure of original PD Marshall Adams, Cumulus continues to plow money into the product, hiring still more people.

I didn't believe what I was hearing when the all news rumor surfaced last year.  It's probably radio's most expensive format, and while Cumulus lucked out by hiring staffers displaced by the CNN Radio shutdown, the company is paying plenty to keep things running.  This puzzles me although the reputed egos of Lew and John Dickey might be outweighing their fiscal sense in this one case.  Whatever the reason, Cumulus has thrown too much money into it to turn back any time soon.

92-9 The Game is another expensive proposition.  The station is live and local at all hours.  Owner CBS Radio has launched All-Sports stations in other markets and expanded the format's share.  But after 6 months, The Game has shown no sign of burying its AM competition, much less bringing new people into the format.  CBS is dug in for the long haul, but the point at which some adjustments may be necessary is close at hand.

So for now, PD's and air talent can relax a little and enjoy the spring weather.  They won't last forever, but for now, the gifts of 92.9 and 106.7 are giving big time.

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, April 15, 2013

Star 94 Working On Workdays

Have you heard B98.5's sweeper saying more people are listening to B98.5 than any other Atlanta station?

That probably sounds dishonest to a lot of people who look at the Arbitron 6+ shares online.  But it's totally true.  While B98.5 is #3 in average share, the Cox AC station is #1 in cume, the number of different people who listen to the station over a week.  Most media buyers pay more attention to average quarter-hour than cume, but puffery has long been a part of advertising and promotion.

Contemporary music stations have always had large cumes and high turnover ratios, meaning the size of the cume compared to the average quarter-hour.  In the 1960's and 1970's, many markets had out-and-out wars between two Top-40 stations, and their young listeners were notorious "dial twisters."

All News is another format that has always had a high turnover ratio, and for an obvious reason.  The old WINS/New York slogan of "You give us 22 minutes, we'll give you the world" explains why.

When Arbitron launched its Portable People Meter, AC stations showed up with huge cumes.  And a big reason for that was listening in the workplace.  With the old system, people listening to a radio at work would report their station in the diary.

With the PPM, however, if someone other than the Arbitron respondent has a radio loud enough for the respondent's meter to pick up, that station will receive credit.  Moreover, if a station is played on an office-wide speaker system with enough volume, it will be recorded even if the PPM carrier does not consider himself or herself to be listening.

The at-work hours have always been important to stations for a couple of reasons.  First, radios in the office tend to stay on one station for the day, adding substantial Time Spent Listening.  Second, diary keepers in cubicles adjacent to a radio might write down the station they heard in the survey.  With the PPM's advent, however, at-work listening became an even higher-stakes game.

In the January and February PPM's averaged together, B98.5's weekly cume exceeded Star 94, #3 in cume, by 37%.  (V-103 was #2 and closer in number to Star 94 than to B98.5.)

There are some good reasons for that.  B98.5 is played in offices, restaurants and retail businesses far more than any other station.  AC is the format that does not offend anyone, as the stations like to say.

Jordan Graye has been the bedrock of middays on B98.5 for years, and her delivery seems just perfect for places of business.  Importantly, B98.5 is widely perceived as the station appropriate for employees and customers alike.  B98.5 does not even need the faux election that we all used to make fun of several years ago.

Here's something to think about, however.  Only 3 stations in the market have a cume of at least a million a week, B98.5, V-103 and Star 94.  So looking at the numbers without thinking about the reasons makes Star 94 look like it's within striking distance.

Star 94 PD Scott Lindy knows workplace listening is the big advantage that B98.5 has over his station.  While the above factors probably will keep Star 94 from ever beating B98.5 at the office, anything Star could grab would help narrow the gap in both cume and, greatly impacted by cume, average quarter-hour.

Star has long promoted workplace listening with sweepers telling employees that they are listening to "Star 94 at work."  In recent weeks, however, more aggressive attempts to increase listening on the job have hit the air.  Workday ticket giveaways have been featured, such as "Maroon 5 Monday."

The call-in times for Star 94's major promotion, a chance to win a designer purse with a prize inside, are spread out to keep people tuned in through the entire workday.  The contest strategy includes some quarter-hour maintenance, with the mystery prize in the next purse revealed 30 minutes prior to the giveaway.

Lindy has programmed Star 94 into an excellent-sounding station, in many minds at least as good as B98.5.  With the station's sound in place, aggressively going after workplace listening is a smart and logical next step.

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, April 8, 2013

Clear Channel/Atlanta Picks The Best Alternative

It's hard to imagine that Clear Channel thought CHR/Rhythmic Wild 105.7/96.7 was going to coexist with its new CHR, Power 96-1.  Atlanta is not New York, where CC pulls off that kind of thing with Z100 and 103.5 KTU.

CHR/Rhythmic attracts a lot of Hispanic listeners, and Wild was the market's #2 station for Latinos.  Yet its Hispanic numbers were not nearly enough to propel the station's ratings, as that audience does for KTU in the heavily-Latino New York market.  And when it came to most other listeners, they were going to choose the big Power 96-1 signal over Wild's slightly more rhythmic format that was a hard pickup inside the Perimeter.

Prior to Power 96-1's launch, Clear Channel had seemed to recognize that Wild's soaring 18-34 ratings, as Wild evolved closer to the Rhythmic/Mainstream border, indicated a hunger for a full-power CHR.  Consequently, CC created a Rhythmic-leaning CHR, and Wild constantly promoted its new sibling.  Why not help Power 96-1 move into the ratings elite by eliminating Wild and attracting its former listeners?  Yet it appeared Clear Channel felt Power and Wild could both succeed.

As Wild 105.7/96.7's ratings continued to slide, it was just a matter of time before Rhythmic/CHR would be ditched in favor of something else.  That happened the week before last when Radio 105-7 was born with an Alternative format.

Format change decisions can be tough or easy.  Clear Channel took a risk when it flipped 96.1 to CHR, throwing it into a fray with powerhouses B98.5, Star 94 and Q100.  Ratings frustration, the company's success with CHR in the PPM era and Wild's growing audience were probably behind that move.  And Power 96-1 has shown some good early results.

The choice of Alternative for 105.7 was, well, easy is being kind.  No brainer is more like it.  It's analogous to Rock 100.5 adding Active Rock to its mix following the demise of Project 9-6-1.  The changes at 92-9 Dave FM and translator 99X left the FM band devoid of Alternative product.  The one market sector that 105.7's signal does forcefully penetrate is the northern environs, which has a high incidence of the Alternative demographic.

While not knowing exactly how Radio 105-7's playlist will ultimately shape up, we are guessing it will emphasize current product along with a healthy dose of gold from the 90s and 2000s.  In its initial days, the station concentrated on highly familiar gold and recurrents with a spattering of songs now charting, in order to build fast cume.

In the niche world of music radio, format labels are sometimes blurry.  Today's Alternative format consists of straight-ahead Alternative (Thirty Seconds to Mars) and Adult Album Alternative (Mumford and Sons).  A lot of AAA eventually makes its way to Hot AC and even CHR stations.  Examples are Radioactive by Imagine Dragons and My Songs Know by Fallout Boy.  I personally think of Portland, Oregon's Live 95.5 as Hot AC with a slight lean to Modern AC.

Radio 105-7's framework is adult oriented.  Atlanta is fortunate the Clear Channel station has 3 live and local jocks in this day and age.  The best news is Aly, formerly middays on Project 9-6-1, has been hired and will handle morning drive.  She's one of the market's very best personalities.

The stations that might forfeit audience to 105-7 are those that picked up former Dave FM and 99X listeners by default, 97-1 The River, and to some extent Rock 100.5 and even Star 94.

Will Radio 105-7 amass big ratings? No, but it could show up decently in 18-34 and possibly 18-49.  Moreover, the station can do very well without big ratings.  First, the signal does not have the dollar value of a full class C, such as 96.1.  So the station's somewhat smaller revenue should be proportionate to its monetary worth.  Second, Radio 105-7 has format exclusivity.

Would the station achieve better ratings if it were on the more powerful and larger-reaching 105.3?  I ask this realizing the thinking was that the Alternative audience tends to reside in the northern suburbs.  But, my answer is still yes to an extent.  Would El Patron get higher numbers if it moved from 105.3 to 105.7, which throws a strong signal into Hispanic-heavy Gwinnett?  Most definitely.

I guess now is not the time to execute two complicated and confusing moves, when Hispanic ad billings are still way down.  Despite those thoughts, the flip to Alternative was an excellent decision by Clear Channel, which has now made two major and prudent format changes in 6 months.

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:
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Monday, April 1, 2013

107.5 Hoping To Keep That Afternoon Majic

Majic 107-5's ratings have been a lot better than its spelling.  In the February PPM, the Urban AC ranked second in the market behind V-103 for Persons 6+.  Majic, which has been winning the 25-54 money demo over its direct competition, Cox Media Group's Kiss 104, opened up some daylight in the overall 6+ numbers.

Majic 107-5/97-5, a Radio One station, has not been controlling its own destiny as much as Kiss, however.  While both stations have syndicated morning shows, Majic with Steve Harvey and Kiss with Tom Joyner, Majic has been airing the syndicated Michael Baisden in afternoon drive while Kiss presents live local programming hosted by Art Terrell.

Said another way, 62% of Majic's prime hours (Mon-Fri, 6AM-7PM) contain syndicated product while 69% of Kiss 104's prime hours are live and local.  And frankly, Majic likes it that way.

The past year has not been without scares for Majic.  When Steve Harvey moved to Chicago and started a daytime TV show, respected blogger Kevin Ross predicted Majic's star morning host was not long for the radio world.  Harvey quelled that idea by signing a new long-term deal with Clear Channel in January.

Two weeks ago, Michael Baisden announced his show would be ending due to not reaching new contract terms with Cumulus Media Networks.  Cumulus was not happy it was Baisden and not the company who made the announcement, and reacted by locking out the host for his last 9 days.

Michael Baisden's story is one of tremendous determination.  After driving across the country selling his self-published books from the trunk of his car, he did an afternoon drive show for New York's 98.7 Kiss FM at no salary.  The station's ratings soared from #9 to #1, and Baisden was rewarded with syndication.

Syndicated radio host has been Baisden's bully pulpit for furthering African-American causes.  He campaigned for President Obama on and off the air.  His show was popular and carried on about 50 stations.

In Atlanta, Majic 107.5/97.5 routinely beat Kiss 104 in 25-54 during Baisden's shift.  However, Baisden was reputed to be difficult to deal with, clashing with Cumulus brass for years.  In recent months, stations in Detroit, Los Angeles and Philadelphia dropped his show in favor of local talent.

Baisden's departure forced a decision on the part of Majic 107-5/97-5 regarding the future of afternoon drive.  On one hand, the station could find another syndicated show.  On the other, it could go music intensive, perhaps shifting Carol Blackmon from middays or Si-Man from evenings into the slot.  Both are Atlanta radio icons who successfully hosted drive-time shows in the past.

Majic opted to carry Skip Murphy, the new show being launched by Cumulus Media Networks and Reach Media to replace Baisden.  Murphy, who will work with co-host Jasmine Sanders, appears to have the right pedigree.  He has jocked in major markets for years and won a slew of prestigious awards.  And his resume includes a hint of the activism that made Michael Baisden a household name.

So did Radio One make the right decision?  My opinion is yes.  Either course would come with risks.  But Majic has been performing exceptionally well with a national show in afternoon drive that was more talk than music.  It's a major point of difference from Kiss, and Majic's listeners expect such a show.

While Majic's local shifts are expertly programmed, they are still the bigger unknown in afternoon drive.  Given the new host's credentials and the daypart's success, repairing what's broken rather than replacing it seems the better solution.

We will find out.  Skip Murphy's show kicks off today, April 1.

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: