Monday, June 24, 2013

Changes Hit Star 94 & B98.5

It seems like just yesterday when we considered Star 94 and Q100 to be direct competitors.  B98.5 was out there somewhere doing its own thing.  Then B98.5 added current material, and things began to evolve.

These days, Arbitron's PPM shows Q100 as the youngest of the 3 stations, with its women 25-49 pretty evenly dividend between 25-34 and 35-49.  Both B98.5 and Star 94 are top heavy on the 35-49 side.

B98.5 has held the upper hand over Star 94 in the battle for women during recent months.  And it has not helped Star 94 that Power 96-1 makes a decent showing in the 25-49 demo.

To my surprise, B98.5 had planned to retain the Vikki & Kelly morning show.  The station extended Kelly Stevens another year about 4 months ago, with Vikki Locke's deal set to be renewed by July 1.  However, a few weeks ago, Vikki gave notice of her resignation and will move back to Ohio to be with her ailing dad.  Station brass decided against pairing Kelly with someone new so he will be leaving morning drive on B98.5...for the second time.

While B98.5 searches for a replacement show, I do not expect the bottom to fall out.  The Cox Media Group outlet has been playing 10 songs an hour in morning drive, and the PPM will likely continue to smile upon the station.  B98.5 has been through a slew of morning shows in my time here, but ironically, I feel the duo most effective in injecting personality while staying within format confines were Kelly (Stevens) and Alpha (Trivette).

B98.5 finally filled its 7-10PM slot with Cami LeBlanc.  I think Program Director Chris Eagan discovered Cami addressing her graduating class at a middle school.  (That was a joke.)  She had been a traffic reporter for 104.7 The Fish.

The usually steadfast Star 94 has had its share of tremors in the past 2 months.  First, evening jock Orff was mysteriously canned and replaced with Sari Rose.  Then Chase Daniels, a key piece of the station's foundation, resigned and is headed to mornings in Indianapolis, where he will reunite with his former boss at Star 94 and WAPE in Jacksonville, JR Ammons.

A major accomplishment for PD Eagan is he has smoothed out B98.5's music.  When former PD Cagle shifted to "80s, 90s and now," some of the "now" songs went too far to the rhythmic side.  B98.5's current-song playlist is similar to Star 94's, and the station augments with music test winners from the 80s, 90s and 00s.

The music adjustments combined with some formatic alterations has B98.5 sounding its best in years.  Some of the formatic elements, including the top-of-the-hour ID, the sweepers and the stop-set timing, make me wonder whether Star 94 PD Scott Lindy feels like he's programming two stations.

B98.5, Q100 and Star 94 all vie for the market's women in the money demos, with B98.5 presently winning, Q100 not far behind, and Star 94 in a little slump.  As I think about the respective playlists of the three stations, I have to conclude that Star 94's is the most conservative and borders on boring.

I like the aura of "the mom's station" that Star 94 has created.  Along with its positioning of "today's hits without the rap," however, I wonder if Star has gone too far to avoid any hint of Rhythmic.  The today portion of B98.5's playlist seems adventurous compared to Star's.

Going back a couple of years, I remember trying to figure out why Star 94 was not playing David Guetta's Without You.  Yes, it's a Rhythmic leaning song but nowhere near offensive to a mainstream female audience.  And there are other upbeat songs that I feel would be acceptable to Star's listeners, such as Don't You Worry Child by Swedish House Mafia.

There is Usher--and I realize the name alone conjures up thoughts of Rhythmic and Hip-Hop.  But I see nothing in DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love that would sour Star listeners.  I remember the station, which then leaned more toward CHR, played Usher's first hit, Yeah, back in the mid-2000s.  Another boat that I think Star 94 is missing is Hall of Fame by The Script.  Okay, I know the song contains rap, which Star says it doesn't play, but it's not rap rap, if you know what I mean.  And Star already plays the Irish group's Breakeven in its recurrents.

B98.5 has a huge advantage in that it's widely perceived as the station to play in offices, stores and restaurants, producing a significant PPM windfall.  Star 94's playlist is similar to other Hot ACs, but I feel its music needs to pop a little more to compete with B98.5.  I do recognize that Star 94 Program Director Scott Lindy and Music Director Michael Chase see music research to which I am not privy.

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Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog:

Monday, June 17, 2013

It's All About The Music For Power 96-1

Power 96-1 (WWPW-FM) burst onto the scene last August with an abundance of promise.  Atlanta had been without a real CHR station since Q100 slipped into the hands of Cumulus several years ago.

Q100 was a pretender according to CHR purists; it was trying to have its cake and eat it too by leaving out Rhythmic product and adding material designed to snag people at the demo's upper end.  A huge hole seemed to be there for playing all the hits and only all the hits.

Power 96-1 seemed hamstrung from the start.  It carried the syndicated Elvis Duran morning show, which does well for Clear Channel in a lot of markets.  But Q100 has the Bert Show, one of the best in the country and one that's spent years cultivating a loyal audience.  Power also had On-Air with Ryan Seacrest, carried by many leading CHR's around the U.S.  It appeared Clear Channel thought Power would come in and roll over Q100, but the two syndicated shows back-to-back were not a good omen.

Power surged into the ratings elite really fast; CHR listeners are known for moving to the newest flavor.  In Total Persons 6+, it hit the top 10 and broke a 4 share.  Since then, the station, which has been criticized as too Rhythmic, leaving out important hits and playing its powers a gazillion times, has settled down in the 3's, out of the top 10 stations.  Meanwhile, Q100, the station it was going to bury, has its highest ratings in quite a while.

The Power 96-1 brain trust recently decided the station needed a point of difference, and that would be the music.  WWPW started repeatedly playing "another song you won't hear on regular Atlanta radio," whatever that means.  It also touted songs that Power played first, at least according to the station.

A few Saturdays ago, I punched the Power 96-1 button in my car and quickly heard an intro for a song "you won't hear on Q100."  Power quickly aired several more of these sweepers mentioning the Cumulus CHR giant.  I listened the following day and occasionally caught Q100 references, but they were few and far between.  But Power was incessantly playing the "you won't hear on regular Atlanta radio" and "heard it first" intros.

I started to think about what I was hearing.  Power 96-1 said Q100 was not playing Selena Gomez, but Q100 was playing Selena Gomez.  Same with Demi Levato.

Then I heard an even stranger claim.  It went something like, "Power 96-1 plays this new music:" Jennifer Lopez/Pittbull Live it Up hook; "and:" Ed Sheeran Lego House hook.  Interestingly, however, neither song was or had been in rotation on the station.  In fact, given Power's Rhythmic lean, I am not surprised the station stayed away from Ed Sheeran.  But why did Power claim to be playing it, especially since the song conveys a music image different from Power 96-1's?

And then, lucky me.  I was treated to an "A-Town Exclusive," except I am not sure which A-Town was being referred to.  Albany?  Augusta?  The song was Mariah Carey's #Beautiful, which was also being played on Q100 but with less spins.  On Monday of last week, the AJC's Rodney Ho tweeted, "No idea why Power 96-1 is calling Blurred Lines an ATL Exclusive because I just heard it a few minutes earlier on Q100!"

Power 96-1 does take chances on new Rhythmic-leaning music but does not play acts such as Fall Out Boy and Ariana Grande.  And it does not help Power that CHR has swung back toward straight-ahead pop material in recent months.

It's not that Q100 is the ideal CHR.  It's taken the station an eternity to add some major hits, including Don't You Worry Child, The A Team, Thrift Shop and others.  Such markets as Charlotte, Orlando, Nashville and Jacksonville have CHR's that are far superior musically to those in Atlanta.  Whether Q100's music will change with playlist decisions moving away from Jan Jeffries is hard to say.  If it did not, I would not blame Q100 one bit given its ratings.  And I am not sure song selection for the company will affect a station's music clock.

So we sit at an interesting juncture, with two CHR's having virtually identical signals from the same transmitter site.  My guess is Clear Channel expected more in the way of ratings at this point.  Its former Rhythmic CHR Wild 105.7 was getting good numbers with a poor signal and a Rhythmic orientation.  Yet Power 96-1's current music direction is not winning, especially when combined with the burden of hours of syndication.  And is making fictitious claims to set the station apart musically helping or hurting?

With Jan Jeffries, the man who takes the blame for the conservative playlists at Cumulus CHR's, out of the music selection picture, will Q100 cut off Power by moving more to the CHR center?  As always, the war for Atlanta's young women continues to be interesting.

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Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog:

Monday, June 10, 2013

Quixie & Atlanta's Rich Top-40 Legacy

I caught this radio obsession disease at a young age, while I was in junior high school.  In those days, Billboard, the famous music industry magazine, covered radio in a big way.  When I found that out, I would do almost anything to get my hands on a copy of Billboard.  I started learning about markets across the U.S. with an emphasis on my favorite format, Top 40.

One of the markets covered was of course Atlanta, and one week Billboard showed the lineup at WQXI-AM, Quixie in Dixie.  Paul Drew was listed as the evening personality.  When I saw a picture of Drew, he did not look like I would have expected; in other words, some attractive young guy with wild hair.  Drew wore a coat and tie, and also a dress hat.  I also learned about Kent Burkhart, then the General Manager, and followed his career to head of Pacific & Southern, and then to one of the most successful consultants in radio history.

I never actually heard Quixie until the Cruisin' Series was released in the 1970s.  Each Cruisin' vinyl was a recreation of a show on a major Top-40 station.  One of the Cruisin' discs featured Dr. Don Rose on WQXI.  By that time, I was well familiar with Rose because he was the morning star on WFIL in Philadelphia.

Around 1967, I remember reading in Billboard that Paul Drew was leaving Quixie to install Bill Drake's Top-40 format, which was taking the country by storm, at Detroit's CKLW.  But I was not aware at the time that Drake and Drew had become friends and fellow radio strategists when they both worked at WAKE-AM in Atlanta.

I also followed Drew's career, which soared to tremendous heights.  I recognized that he had one of radio's best programming minds.  His recent passing made me think about WQXI and the impact that it had on this market.

In recent years, I have heard numerous Quixie airchecks on  Atlanta did not have a lot of stations, but Quixie still sounded great.  And while a large number of stations would seem to have prodded each competitor to bring its A game, I suppose the low number of choices and the mass appeal of Top 40 in those days motivated WQXI to go after the market's real giant, WSB, sometimes successfully.

When I first saw WQXI's little transmitter site on Cheshire Bridge Road, a bit of cognitive dissonance set in.  Yet what was really hard to grasp was how that little signal, especially at night when it was a highly-directional 1,000 watts, was able to dominate this market's youth as it did.  I suppose it was a combination of the market being much less spread out combined with it being the era before the FCC allowed so many additional stations, resulting in interference much closer than previously.

I arrived in Atlanta in 1994, more than a decade after FM took over.  Yet Quixie's size and influence had been so great, that being in advertising and writing about radio has resulted in my crossing paths with many people who were part of that legendary station.  I have become either friends or acquaintances, or have done business with them.  And I have met others at the annual Georgia Radio Hall of Fame banquet.

Top-40 these days, also called Contemporary Hit Radio, is not the same format it was in the WQXI era.  In those years, it was mass appeal, playing the Beatles and Frank Sinatra in the same hour. Top-40 stations sometimes had 50% or more of the market's share of listening.  Top-40 still plays the hits, but the proliferation of FM music stations and fragmentation of music has forced formats to serve niches.  As a result, Top-40, which has always served the young, now skews very young and female.

In this day of the PPM, with which ratings are driven by cume, historically a strength for Top-40, the format has seen a resurgence.  The roots of today's CHR are embedded in the great AM Top-40 stations of the 60's and 70's, and Atlanta had one of the best.

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Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog:
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Monday, June 3, 2013

Atlanta's Radio Icons - 1994 To Now - Part 4

Welcome to part 4 of our series on Atlanta's Radio Icons from 1994 until now.  In part 3, we completed naming 31 of Atlanta's best, all from the FM band.  This week, we wrap things up with our honorees from the AM side.

Scott Slade - Scott cut his radio teeth on the Top-40 format, programming and jocking at WAYS in Charlotte and WAPE in Jacksonville.  His first job at WSB was doing traffic, and for more than 20 years, he has been anchoring Atlanta's Morning News.  Over that time, Scott has developed into one of the best in the business, with a terrific voice and relaxed delivery.  He always sounds totally in command.  Of course, you could hear him just about anywhere from Channel 30 to your neighborhood Kroger store.

Neal Boortz - Recently retired after a long career in Talk radio, Neal understood what buttons to push to get emotion out of his listeners and callers.  A self-professed Libertarian, his audience was sometimes surprised by his points-of-view.  He really put himself into his show every morning and built a syndicated network.  Neal's radio career began in the 70s at the former Ring Radio.  He then moved to WGST before WSB lured him away in 1992.

Mike Kavanagh - Mike's authoritative news voice boomed out over WSB's airwaves during two stints over many years.  For a short time in the late 90s, he moved to WCNN-AM, which was then a Talk station in a Cox LMA with Dickey Broadcasting.  Mike was also a practicing financial adviser, expertise he brought to WSB on Atlanta's Morning News and a Sunday morning call-in show.  Mike passed away in 2008.

Clark Howard - Clark is not a natural radio talent, but he has excelled on the radio.  He has the trust of the public and is revered for his advice on consumer matters.  He also has authored books and owns his show, which is syndicated to markets across the U.S.  He recently added being a regular on an HLN evening show every weekday to his repertoire..

Captain Herb Emory - Captain Herb has the perfect sound to lead News/Talk WSB's traffic team.  He's authoritative and good humored, and he makes it sound so easy.  And he's been at it for a long time.  Years ago, he worked for Quixie.

Kirk Melhuish - Kirk is a vital component in News/Talk WSB.  He knows weather, and Atlanta knows he's the consummate expert.  His familiar voice is not typical of a newscaster so he complements the rest of the airstaff nicely.  Somehow, I had imagined Kirk as a very serious person without a sense of humor.  But that notion was quickly dispelled when Kirk delivered his acceptance speech at the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame in 2010.

Tom Hughes - Tom is now retired but anchored Atlanta's First News in the days when WGST was giving WSB a run for the money.  He mixed his effective anchoring skills with some very creative humor.

Kim Peterson - The Kimmer was Tom Hughes' counterpart on WGST in afternoon drive.  He delivered information but also entertained.  He had his audience in stitches on many a day.

Christopher Rude - Chris is on the list of FM icons, based on his lengthy run at 96 Rock.  Of course, he now anchors mornings on 680 The Fan.

Beau Bock - Beau has long been associated with sports broadcasting in Atlanta.  Turner Broadcasting and the old Top-40 Z93 were his early stomping grounds.  At the start of 790 The Zone in 1997, Beau was the man tasked by original owner Andrew Saltzman to write the station's business plan.  And Beau anchored the morning show with Steak Shapiro for years.  After retiring, Beau returned to the Zone about a year ago to host a Sunday morning show and do commentaries as "The Dean."  He knows sports as well as anyone and is still top notch at conveying his points of view.

Steak Shapiro - Everyone has his or her own taste, and Steak's style is not my preference.  However, there is no way that I could deny Steak is an icon in this market.  He was one of the original owners, along with Andrew Saltzman, of 790 The Zone parent Big League Broadcasting.  And he has anchored mornings on the station from day one.  Now he has branched out into TV, hosting a restaurant show on CBS 46.

Dimino & Cellini - Chris Dimino & Nick Cellini now work alongside Steak Shapiro on 790 The Zone's Mayhem in the AM.  Chris and Nick have also been paired in other dayparts.  They have tremendous longevity in the market.  Chris has also worked at 680 The Fan and even done weekend shows on WSB radio.  Nick went in my mind from being Vince's brother to being one of the sharpest wits in Sports Radio.  The duo does some of the best Sports Talk in the business as well as analysis for WGCL-TV.

That ends our list of Atlanta's Radio icons from 1994 to today.

Recapping all of our honorees, they are as follows: Mara Davis, Art Mehring, Steve & Vikki, Craig Hunt, Rob Stadler, Sandy Weaver, Dale O'Brien, Kelly McCoy, Jordan Graye, Christopher Rude, Willard, Kaedy Kiely, The Regular Guys, Emperor Searcy, The Morning X, Steve Craig, Randy & Spiff, JJ Jackson, Bert Weiss, Moby, Cadillac Jack, Mike Roberts, Frank Ski, Leslie Fram, Ryan Cameron, Larry Tinsley, Kevin & Taylor, Art Terrell, Rhubarb Jones, Si-Man, Crash Clark, Scott Slade, Neal Boortz, Mike Kavanagh, Clark Howard, Captain Herb Emory, Tom Hughes, Kim Peterson, Beau Bock, Steak Shapiro, Chris Dimino and Nick Cellini.

Many of the above greats have already been inducted into the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame, including Steve McCoy & Vikki Locke, JJ Jackson, Moby, Randy Cook & Spiff Carner, Scott Slade, Neal Boortz, Clark Howard, Mike Kavanagh, Kirk Melhuish, Rhubarb Jones, Captain Herb Emory and Tom Hughes.  Three others have been nominated for a Career Achievement Award at this fall's ceremony.  They are Kelly McCoy, Kaedy Kiely and Mike Roberts.

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: