This was my weekly print column from a week ago. For some reason, it never posted. So here it is:
FM radio stations typically face two options when it comes to morning radio: focus on music or focus on personalities.
The former strategy is low cost, low risk, modest reward. Hip-hop station 95.5/The Beat and rock station 97.1/The River emulate this philosophy well, playing 10 to 11 songs an hour in the mornings while keeping gab to a minimum.
The latter strategy is high risk, but potentially high reward. The Bert Show on top 40 station Q100 and the Regular Guys on Rock 100.5, which play little or no music, are the financial engines for those particular stations, with deep listener loyalty that’s hard to duplicate.
New dance-pop station Groove 105.7, which boogies from disco to Prince to Lady Gaga, last week launched a personality-packed syndicated morning show led by veteran jock Elvis Duran. The high-energy show features phone pranks, celebrity gossip and topics such as the merits of spanking your child and getting into a fight to defend your girl’s honor. Mornings still feature tunes, but just five or six an hour.
“More music” fans on the AJC Radio and TV Talk blog were not pleased. “If I wanted to hear mindless banter,” wrote Frank Butler, “there are plenty of morning talk show idiots in this market to choose from… Sadly, what made 105.7 different is now suddenly gone… and so am I.”
The downside to music: competition isn’t just another radio station but Pandora or people’s iPods. Personalities are unique.
Groove program director and on-air jock Duncan (he only goes by one name) based his decison on Duran’s track record. “He’s done well in other markets,” he said, “and has been a top show in New York for 14 years.”
Syndication is a product of our times. It’s usually cheaper and easier to launch than local morning shows. Atlanta is littered with recent local failures such as Zakk Tyler on Dave FM and the Morning Mess on Star 94.
For morning shows with no recognizable name, it can take two or more years to build a sizable audience. That was the case with the Bert Show and the Regular Guys. “You have to give us a chance,” said Duran, who worked in Atlanta briefly at Z93 in the late 1980s when it was top 40.
But the Groove is going to have a tough time breaking people’s habits in a brutally competitive market. Competing teams such as Cindy & Ray on Star 94, Steve & Vikki at B98.5 and the Bert Show have been around for years.
Duncan said he isn’t expecting Duran to take off immediately. “We’re kind of early in the station’s growth cycle,” he said. “It’s hard to say which choice is better. You go with your best educated guess. But there are far more examples of shows like Elvis winning than examples of straight up music.”