I’ve covered Atlanta radio for ten years. 2011 was a relatively quiet one.
We lost a few morning shows but otherwise, there was not a single major format change, at least as of today. (We still have nine days left in the calendar year but the latest a station has changed format in a calendar year since 2001 is Dec. 18. That was in 2006, when Lite 94.9 dumped Christmas in a total bah humbug move and switched to country station 94.9/The Bull.)
Here are the biggest (mostly) Atlanta radio stories of 2011:
Big merger: Atlanta-based Cumulus Media closed a merger in September with Citadel in a $2.5 billion deal. This makes Cumulus the second-biggest radio company in America behind only Clear Channel Communications. Locally, Cumulus added Kicks 101.5 and Atlanta’s Greatest Hits at 106.7, along with 99X, Journey 97.9, Rock 100.5 and Q100.
For hire – again: Randy & Spiff has worked at five different stations in town: Fox 97.1, Cool 105.7, Lite 94.9, 640/WGST-AM and most recently 106.7/Atlanta’s Greatest Hits. The chipper morning hosts lost their last gig in October at 106.7 but expressed no bitterness and hope they can find another job in town. A few days later, the pair was inducted into the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame, where the host Jay Thomas inadvertently read their biography as if they were still employed at 106.7. “How did you get fired?” Thomas asked. “We went to work!” Spiff cracked.
So where is 99X now? This once iconic modern rock station has been a wanderer on the FM dial, moving to three different homes this year alone. For 16 years, its spot was 99.7, from 1992 to 2008, when Cumulus pulled the station’s plug on the FM dial and moved it to the Web and HD after waning ratings. Sixteen months later, Cumulus placed the station on a new “translator” signal at 97.9 That lasted just over a year when it was moved to an even weaker 99.1 translator signal. Its already modest ratings evaporated. So Cumulus engineers moved it to a slightly stronger translator signal at 98.9 in September.
Shipped away: Jimmy Baron told a listener on Dave FM in early November his wish for his upcoming 50th birthday was to simply be employed. It wasn’t meant to be. Management let him go after two years on the air. The station’s desire to play more music clashed with his desire to be more of a personality. And ratings didn’t help his cause. His co-partner Yvonne Monet accepted a part-time fill in job. Steve Craig, another former 99Xer who lost his job in New York City over the summer, took over.
In the doghouse: The 2 Live Stews, after years of rising ratings and prominence, hit a roadblock this year. The Stews in June lost their Sporting News syndication deal. A month later, they shed an hour to their 790/The Zone show, from three to two. The pair are now offering a more subdued show for the dogs and poodles out there, as their fans are called.
33% off! Clark Howard this month trimmed his hours from three to two hours a day on AM750 and 95.5 FM News/Talk WSB. He said he wanted time to do other things. Not that he’s on the road to retirement. Far from it. He still has his HLN weekend show and does stories for Channel 2 Action News. This move also allows WSB to air Sean Hannity live instead of delayed an hour.
A roller coaster: Herman Cain stepped down as the night host on WSB radio in February to start his presidential campaign. He briefly became a front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in October before allegations of sexual harassment and the appearance of Ginger White forced him to suspend his campaign. He is now considering his next move, most likely in media again.
Only so many tries: Elle Duncan lost her job just before Christmas on V-103. She had two stints as Ryan Cameron’s sidekick, 18 months at mid-days and nine months as a sports/entertainment host with Frank & Wanda.
A new project: In May, Project 9-6-1 decided add a major personality show in May with Kidd Chris, who is the most aggressive attack by the station to go after the younger end of the Regular Guys audience over at Rock 100.5. So far, he hasn’t changed the ratings compass but new morning shows usually need 12 to 18 months to make a real impact.
Swap meet: John Kincade and Buck Belue have been a stable force at 680/The Fan for a decade. Much to their surprise, they were moved from afternoons to a noon to 3 p.m. slot, swapping places with surging talk-show team Chuck Oliver and Matt Chernoff.
Back to local: WGST-AM earlier this year added a local afternoon host for the first time since it got rid of Kim “The Kimmer” Peterson in late 2006: Rusty Humphries (right). Humphries has his own syndicated show but chose to do an additional local show as well here in Atlanta. He took over for syndicated Dave Ramsey, now on WSB.
Zoned out: David Pollack left his Zone afternoon job for a more high-profile ESPN gig. Co-host Mike Bell is now with another Dave, as in Dave Archer.
Delta is ready when you are: Sports update guy Chadd Scott was fired from 680/The Fan after he posted complaints on his Twitter page about Delta Air Lines, a major radio station sponsor.
Believe this: One brand-new station joined the Atlanta dial on modest translator signal 97.9 in June: Journey 97.9, which plays songs from the 1980s to 1990s. The ratings have been on par for the signal and there are no local personalities but if you like your Sheryl Crow mixed in with your Billy Idol, this one’s for you.
Two tickets to paradise? Rock station 97.1/The River in October moved Kaedy Kiely to afternoons and inserted rock star Eddie Money into the morning role. Money for now is doing his show on the West Coast though he said he loves Atlanta and is enjoying the challenge.
Postal savior: Q100’s Bert Show convinced more than 400,000 people to send letters to military personnel overseas and received a call from Michelle Obama for their efforts.
Bye, bye Melissa Carter: In a major departure of a top-rated morning show, Q100’s Bert Show lost one of its early members Melissa Carter in April. Carter made the rare move of leaving voluntarily to seek other pursuits, yet undetermined. She was an integral part of the team for nearly a decade and the first openly gay jock in town with a regular role on a radio show. She was replaced by Kristin Klingshirn. So far, ratings have held up just fine.
Rest in peace: Neal Boortz’s universally well-liked sidekick Royal Marshall died way too young in January at the age of 43. In an interview I did with Cain after Marshall’s funeral ceremony, he admired Marshall’s level-headedness. “He added this calmness to the room,” Cain said.
Big support: National Public Radio had two black eyes, first in the fall of 2010 with the Juan Williams firing, then in the spring of this year with a fundraising director caught on camera mocking conservatives. Alas, local NPR affiliate 90.1/WABE’s ratings slipped in 2011 vs. 2010, but its fundraising remained strong, hitting record pledge numbers and donors in the spring and fall.
Music shifts: While there weren’t any major format changes this year, there were at least seven format nudges, some going younger, some going older:
-92.9/Dave FM in November started playing deeper cuts from the 1970s and scaled back a bit on songs from the 1990s.
- Star 94 in February began an all-1990s weekend, subjecting the world to the Spice Girls, Chumbawamba and M.C. Hammer again. The weekend became a massive hit, propelling the station’s ratings skyward. In the fall, the station program director Scotty Lindy sensed a little burnout so he scaled the weekend back so a 1990s song is heard four time an hour.
- B98.5 in late spring started playing current songs for the first time in its history. The groundbreaker: Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” Ratings improved sharply throughout the summer.
- Rock 100.5 earlier this year virtually ignored rock songs from the past 10 years. Recently, the station has begun salting more recent hits by Seether, the Foo Fighters and Chickenfoot.
- Kicks 101.5 in October began spinning more songs from the 1991 to 2005 era, meaning far more Garth Brooks, Clay Walker and Vince Gill than they’ve played in years. It’s too early to say what impact this will have in ratings.
- Kiss 104.1 in May received a more youthful facelift, adding more songs from the past 20 years. The average age of its songs was 1986 before the change. Now it’s 1997 with current songs by KEM, Musiq Soulchild and Jill Scott. The result so far: higher ratings.
- Atlanta’s Greatest Hits in late 2010 had dropped its True Oldies name and most of the 1960s songs while upping the 1980s quotient. As ratings failed to pick up, the station in October brought back the 1960s hits by the likes of the Beach Boys, the Temptations and the Grassroots. This past Monday, about 27 percent of its music is from that decade compared to 13 percent before the shift.
Cross-over hit of the year: Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” It’s the rare song that was heard over the summer on Dave FM, Star 94 and V-103.
Arbitron ratings trends for 2011: a good year for pop, R&B and hip hop, a tough year for rock
Stations that gained listeners this year: Star 94,news/talk WGST-AM, news/talk WSB, B98.5, Kiss 104.1, Hot 107.9, Majic 107.5/97.5, Q100, 680/The Fan, Wild 105.7/96.7, J93.3
Stations that generally lost steam this year: 90.1/WABE-FM, 92.9/Dave FM, Rock 100.5, Kicks 101.5, Fish 104.7, Atlanta’s Greatest Hits 106.7, 97.1/The River, 105.3/El Patron
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk