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.
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Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog: http://blogs.ajc.com/radio-tv-talk/.
Atlanta Radio Insider: http://atlradioinsider.blogspot.com/.