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: http://blogs.ajc.com/radio-tv-talk/.