For Rob Johnson, this is either an opportunity of a lifetime or a fall into the rabbit hole that is Clear Channel Atlanta.
Johnson, a talk show host for more than eight years in Modesto, Fla. (market No. 113), is now manning a morning show in the No. 7 market in the nation on 640/WGST-AM, the troubled news/talk station.
“It’s a big jump,” he admitted in an interview after his first show today. He airs from 6 to 9 a.m. “I still have a nosebleed! I was a good match for what they were looking for.”
Johnson has the mellifluous voice of a soft rock DJ because he was indeed once a jock for that type of music station. His opinions are relatively conservative, he says, with a mantra of small, less intrusive government. But he does not come across as angry or confrontational. He uses a gentle, quietly persuasive cadence.
“That’s my natural style and delivery,” he said. “They hired me to make an Atlanta show. It will take some time to understand Atlanta and Georgia, its issues, events and locations. As I become more ingrained and knowledgeable, it will get more local.”
Melissa Forrest, who oversees Clear Channel Atlanta (which includes 94.9/The Bull, Project 9-6-1, Groove 105.7 and 105.3/El Patron, as well as WGST), in an email said, “Rob’s show is designed to be an alternative to typical morning news. It includes today’s headlines plus commentary and humor from a conservative perspective.”
He replaces Michael Smerconish, the syndicated host who covered mornings from Philadelphia starting in the summer of 2009 after Randy Cook stepped down to re-join Spiff Carner at True Oldies 106.7. Smerconish was clearly a stopgap measure as Clear Channel sought a local host. And now that Clear Channel’s FM properties have stabilized (relatively speaking), “it was time to turn our focus on WGST,” she noted.
Johnson’s producer is El Jefe, formerly part of the morning team over at Project 9-6-1, where Klinger has taken his spot. El Jefe is also doing sports for Johnson under the name Alejandro Silva.
“He turns out to be a very versatile guy and eager to make his move into talk radio,” Johnson said.
This morning, Johnson focused on Nancy Pelosi’s comments about after the mid-term election in which she deflected blame for the Democrat’s poor performance. He also played the audio of a man John Tyner who refused to get physically probed in the privates or x-rayed on a new body scanner. Tyner taped the whole situation. He was firm but polite. In the end, officials did not allow him to step on an airplane. He released the audio, which has gone viral on the Web.
Johnson also threw in a few pre-done comedy bits. He said once he settles in, he hopes to create more originals.
Smerconish was not missed. Not a single person called in to complain. In fact, Johnson received calls of joy, not despair.
An Oklahoma native, Johnson’s other markets over the years include Riverside/San Bernardino, Orlando and West Palm Beach.
As recently as a decade ago, WGST was a viable alternative to 750/WSB-AM. But 750 has the signal advantage and the management muscle Clear Channel lacked. The station shed revenue and local staff like a scruffy dog in the summer time. In 2006, it dumped the local voice of the station Kim “The Kimmer” Peterson and morning host Tom Hughes. For many, that was a sign the station had given up in terms of competing with WSB.
WGST’s ratings have been scraping bottom this year, with the sports station 680/The Fan often beating the station in ratings. Even its big-name syndicated host Rush Limbaugh’s numbers have fallen off. With baseline signal limitations (especially when its’ dark) and a gradual shift away from AM by local listeners, the station faces serious structural problems. Right now, it doesn’t appear Clear Channel is planning to give GST an FM simulcast, a move WSB Radio made in August (so the station is now called AM 750 and now 95.5FM News/Talk WSB)
The afternoon show starting January 3 will be Rusty Humphries, another conservative talker. He was supposed to take over Dave Ramsey’s slot last week but Clear Channel bosses overlooked a 90-day advance notice provision in Ramsey’s contract. The two sides compromised and Ramsey leaves the 3 to 6 p.m. slot at the end of the year. For now, Humphries, already on the payroll, starts a temporary 6 to 7 p.m. show tonight.