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 ReelRadio.com.  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.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you at roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net.  Follow us on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/atlantaairwaves, and we'll follow you back.

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

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