A radio person in town suggested I do a list of the top radio stories of the entire decade. I’ve been covering radio here since September, 2001, so I did this off the top of my head. Feel free to add your own stories of the decade. This is not in any particular order and I’m sure I forgot a few things.
The Bert Show and Q100 overtaking Star 94. Back in 2000, dominant CHR station Star 94 was already facing competition on the young end via 95.5/The Beat. Then the Bert Show arrived in the spring of 2001 on new top 40 rival Q100. With straight man Bert Weiss, ever rational Melissa Carter (and first openly gay on-air host in Atlanta), snarkmaster Jeff Dauler and ditzy gossip queen Lindsay Brien, the show began to gradually slice away Star’s 18-34 female demo. (Jenn Hobby eventually took over Brien’s role.) The program focused on Springer-like relationship nonsense and used bits such as “War of the Roses,” in which a man was offered free roses and send them to a mistress instead of his wife/girlfriend/fiance. Sure, some of it may have been staged, but the audience ate it up. The Bert Show is now a top 3 show and is the key reason Q100 is now a ratings powerhouse vs. Star 94.
The rise and fall and rise and fall and rise of the Regular Guys. The Regular Guys saw the highs and lows of radio life this decade. Building a huge audience among guys on 96rock, the duo of Larry Wachs and Eric Von Haessler were riding high until Janet Jackson’s exposed breast at the Super Bowl in early 2004. To mock the heightened censorship on the airwaves, Wachs planned to air verbal porn backwards. But it accidentally aired in real time over a car ad. (Yes, I heard it.) They were quickly taken off the air. Eventually, they were given a second chance. But the cloud of management distrust hindered the show. When they teased a sister Spanish station’s morning show, they were canned again in 2006. In early 2008, they were given a third shot on Rock 100.5. Though they haven’t quite reached the heights of their peak popularity, the show (which now includes Tim Andrews and Southside Steve as bonafide “Regular Guys”) is the only viable element on the station.
The fall and death and revival of oldies. By 2000, Fox 97.1 was already losing steam in ratings and revenues. The music mix had become stale but the implication at the time was that the listeners were getting too old for advertisers. Cox pulled the plug in 2003. Clear Channel quickly picked up the oldies flag with Cool 105.7 and even hired Fox’s Randy & Spiff as morning hosts. Cool didn’t perform as well as expected, and the station lasted only two years. From 2005 to 2008, Atlanta had no oldies at all until Citadel surprised the city by dumping Eagle 106.7 last year and creating True Oldies. The key: a syndicated programmer Scott Shannon, who embraced variety. With a new measurement system this year, True Oldies became a much stronger performer than expected. And Randy & Spiff are back.
The fall and death and revival of 99X. Four stations that were huge in 2000 remain huge in 2009: V-103, Kiss, Kicks and WSB-AM. 99X was in that top echelon in 2000 but watched its drawing power slip precipitously as alternative rock lost its cache. By 2008, the station was a shadow of its former self and Cumulus pulled the plug on its FM life at 99.7. It moved Q100 to 99.7, a stronger signal than its original home at 100.5. Earlier this year, 99X did come back — at 97.9.
The dissolution of local radio on WGST-AM. WGST-AM, once a genuine rival to WSB-AM in the news/talk department, began the decade as a simulcast, with its FM side steadily growing in ratings. But Clear Channel got rid of the FM simulcast and GST never regained momentum. Frequent management shifts didn’t help. In late 2006, the station dumped local legends the Kimmer and Tom Hughes. They tried a couple of local morning shows but then gave up a few months ago. Its saving grace: a decent syndicated lineup of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Dave Ramsey helps give the station a pulse but sadly, its local presence has been snipped and news staff trimmed to the bone.
The success of the 2 Live Stews. 790/The Zone tried these two brothers, Ryan and Doug Stewart, out in 2001 at nights, where they honed their craft. Management gave them steadily better time slots and their unique urban take on sports resonated. They soon nabbed a syndication deal, recognition in Sports Illustrated and deals on ESPN. They are now the strongest show on the Zone.
This market can handle two sports stations. The 2000s proved that Atlanta, despite a reputation as a spotty sports market, has enough listeners to support two sports stations, the Fan and the Zone. Despite modest overall ratings, both stations reach that tough-to-access 25-54 male demo that certain advertisers embrace. And fans of those stations are loyal.
The continued domination of V-103. V-103 is the New York Yankees of Atlanta radio. They generate huge revenues and can spend accordingly on talent up and down the schedule. Frank Ski, Wanda Smith, Greg Street and Ryan Cameron are pure personality and power. The comings and goings of Porsche Foxx had no effect on the station. And V had no trouble fending off Hot 107.9, Kiss 104.1 and Majic 107.5, to name a few, to remain the No. 1 station in town for most of the decade.
Z93/Dave FM’s continued struggle to find a morning show. This rock station has gone two decades without finding its own version the Regular Guys or the Bert Show. It had no more luck in the 2000s as it did in the 1990s. Fortunately, the one constant has been its mid-day host Mara Davis (who was one of the morning shows, too, for a moment.). She’s the heartbeat of the station, which shifted to a more current, more alternative format in 2004 but remained a rock station.
The arrival of Fish 104.7: In 2000, Atlanta got its first metro-wide Christian pop station. The Fish has proven to be a draw for suburban moms who find B98.5 too racy. And its morning show, Kevin & Taylor, is one of the few that has lasted since 2000 at the same station. Consistent ratings and revenues have kept the Fish a player since day one.
The addition of FM gospel. In late 2001, Radio One launched Praise 97.5, which quickly became one of the biggest FM gospel stations in the country. Although its religious audience is not necessarily embraced by all advertisers, it has drawn a big enough audience to become a well-established part of the Atlanta community. A move to 102.5 this year has not hurt the station.
The addition of FM Hispanic. Viva came on board in 2004, Atlanta’s first metro-wide Hispanic music station, playing Spanish contemporary. It was a huge hit, so much so that Clear Channel added El Patron a couple of years later. Unfortunately, El Patron cannibalized Viva’s audience. Viva died this past fall, leaving behind El Patron’s regional Mexican mix.
And for those of you with a good memory, here’s a sampling of stationt that came and went in Atlanta this past decade:
105.3/The Max: (2002-2004) The 80s station was clearly a short-term solution. Obviously, there are only so many times you can hear “Come on Eileen.”
Real Radio 105.3. (2004) A talk station that went nowhere fast, lasting a whopping six months. It was Atlanta’s first FM talk station, at least during its weekdays. Scott Ferrall, now on Sirius/XM, was the only local jock. M.J. and Todd Schnitt (the same person) manned mornings and late afternoons.
Mix 105.7 (2000-2003): It was kind of like Z93 in terms of its music mix, which was redundant. Chris Rude, now at 680/The Fan, briefly did mornings there while also working afternoons at 96rock.
Cool 105.7 (2003-2005): As noted earlier, this station replaced Fox 97.1 as Atlanta’s oldies station but on a relatively weak signal didn’t really bring in the bucks Clear Channel had hoped.
Viva 105.3/105.7 (2004-09): Also noted earlier, Viva opened big, ended not so big.
Jamz 97.1 (2003-05) – In a rather bizarre move, Cox created this R&B/hip-hop station and tried to take on V-103 with a signal that skewed north, not south. It never worked. On January 1, 2006, Jamz became the River, a classic rock/hits station that caters to the demographics of the signal strength much better. Despite a continued claim of its “newness,” the four-year-old River is now a basic workhorse for the Cox radio group.
Longstanding stations that died:
96rock (1974-2006): This station was the rough-and-tumble bad boy rock station in town for 30-plus years. If the Regular Guys hadn’t imploded under the weight of management censorship, it’d probably still be around. But its replacement, Project 9-6-1 does bring in a younger audience and has positioned itself well since it arrived in late 2006.
Peach/Lite 94.9 (1972-2006): On February 18, 1972, this station came on as the opposite of 96rock: contained, restrained elevator music. And it worked. It was a top 5 station well into the 1980s and even after it switched to a more contemporary sound in the late 1980s, brought in solid numbers even toward the end of its life when management inexplicably changed the name to Lite. Its ultimate problem: B98.5 outflanked it as slightly hipper, slightly cooler (which is like saying Greg Brady was cooler than Peter.).
Y106/Eagle 106.7 (1984-2008): For many years, Eagle competed head to head with Kicks 101.5 for country dominance, with Rhubarb Jones at the helm. Moby and Kicks eventually overtook Eagle, then the two stations got common owners. In its final years, it was basically an older-skewing flanker for Kicks. Clear Channel finally took on Kicks/Eagle with the Bull in late 2006. After Citadel took over for ABC at Kicks/Eagle, its management decided a flanker wasn’t enough and opted for oldies.
Z93 (1989-2004): Z93 tried to take on 96rock but was always the softer also ran, playing tons of Eagles and Elton John. It became Dave, a more adult alternative station, in 2004.