In a bid to attract a younger audience, Cox radio has decided to simulcast its news/talk station 750/WSB-AM at 95.5 on the FM dial starting at noon today.
As a result, hip-hop station 95.5/The Beat is losing its home after 11 years.
“Fewer people under the age of 40 are listening to AM,” said Tony Kidd, vice president and market manager for programming, said during an interview. By being on FM, this will enable WSB to draw from a bigger pool of potential listeners.”
The station has not changed its 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekday lineup in several years. But its audience has gotten older. To keep WSB-AM viable longer term, Kidd said they had to make this move.
Most of the Beat on-air and sales staffs are losing their jobs but will be considered for other positions in the Cox radio family, said Kidd. (Cox operates 86 stations in 19 markets.) That means morning hosts C.J. Simpson and Murph Dawg (right), afternoon jock Maverick and mid-day host K-Dub are among those who will be off the air.
WSB-AM has competed with R&B/hip-hop station V-103 for ratings domination in Atlanta for many years. But it has seen its listener numbers slide the past 18 months by more than 25 percent among all listeners and 54 percent among 25- to 54-year-olds, a key demographic for advertisers. Its Arbitron rating in February 2009 among 25- to 54-year-olds was 8.5, ranked No. 2 in the market. Last month, it had dipped to 3.9, ranked 11th.
All four Cox Atlanta FM stations are doing well, Kidd said. Unfortunately, the Beat, which gears itself to a younger audience, was generating the lowest revenues compared to classic hits station 97.1/The River, R&B station Kiss 104.1 and soft rock station B98.5.
WSB-AM in the past has been a top revenue producer among radio stations in the market. It always had an advantage among AM stations since it’s the only AM in Atlanta allowed to pump out 50,000 watts 24/7, enabling people to hear the signal at night for hundreds of miles. (Rival 640/WGST-AM, which used to simulcast on 105.7 for much of the 1990s, has to power down to just 1,000 watts at night and is often fuzz 25 miles outside of downtown Atlanta.)
The Beat competed in a crowded market packed with several pop and hip-hop stations,. In the past three months, Clear Channel’s 105.7/The Groove has shifted its music more to that of the Beat, playing more current hits by the likes of Usher, Drake and Katy Perry. It could benefit the most from the Beat’s departure. Currently, the 10-month-old station lags far behind the Beat, which ranked fourth among 18- to 34-year-olds in the July Arbitron ratings. The Groove ranked 17th.
Who might get hurt? Any stations on AM. This move gives people one less excuse to even explore the AM dial.
Tom Taylor, editor of radio-info.com, said simulcasts of news and talk stations on AM and FM is a modest trend, with stations in Seattle and San Francisco doing so already. WTOP, the news station in Washington D.C., is on AM and FM and is the top station in that market. Cox radio has a similar simulcast in Jacksonville, Fla., where its news/talk station is No. 1 in the market.
The Beat’s signal, at 40,000 watts, isn’t quite as strong as that of its sister stations and skews strongly to the Northeast toward Gainesville.
This is the first major format shift in nearly a year in Atlanta radio since the Groove came into town last fall.
An HD-2 version of the Beat, with no on-air staff, will air at 97.1, though relatively few people listen to HD Radio.
WSB-Radio, like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is part of the Cox Media Group.