Fans of Mexican regional music on 105.3/El Patron have a reason to be worried. But fans of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck who prefer FM over AM might be heartened.
Rumors have been rife in recent weeks that Clear Channel Communications – which in Atlanta operates El Patron, 94.9/The Bull, 640/WGST-AM, Project 9-6-1 and Wild 105.7/96.7 – may move El Patron to a much weaker signal.
El Patron, whose ratings have cratered the past three years, earlier this month canned its program director. I heard from a good source that management got rid of some staff this past Thursday, just in time for Christmas. Melissa Forrest, market manager for Clear Channel Atlanta said recent openings hardly constitute the entire staff.
In an email, she also belittled the rumor mill and Arbitron’s measurement methodology for Hispanic audiences:
Why do you guys waste your time on that thing? You could be more constructive by publishing that Arbitron should have Spanish language weighting and a more efficient way to measure the HDHAs than 40% of a zip code. Now THAT would be factual and helpful.
(Her reference to HDHAs are “High Density Hispanic Areas,” where special sampling is done. It’s a county with one or more zip codes with at least 25 percent Hispanic population.)
Indeed, there are job listings for El Patron on the Clear Channel website, including program director, a morning on-air personality (to take over Brenda Bueno), and a part-time board operator.
What might Clear Channel do? Theories are that they might give News/Talk WGST the 105.3 signal. WGST, which airs Limbaugh, Beck and Rusty Humphries, is currently on 640/AM, where it has presided for years. While it still pulls in passable ratings, especially during the daytime when the AM signal is strong throughout much of the metro area, many younger people no longer even bother to go to the AM dial. So many AM news/talk and sports talk stations are now simulcasting on FM signals.
Management recently began simulcasting GST at a new “translator” signal at 92.3, but it’s very weak and doesn’t really help in the northern suburbs where many of GST’s fan base lives. El Patron, in stripped down form, may land at 92.3 and perhaps the south-leaning 96.7 signal, which currently carries Wild 105.7.
For many years, Mexican regional music station 105.3/El Patron was a top 10 station among 18 to 34 year olds, frequently landing in the top 5, especially in mornings. But ratings have slid steadily since then and in the most recent Arbitron book, the station had fallen to 18th in that demographic and overall. About 2/3 of its 18-to-34 audience has disappeared since 2009.
Part of that could be economic. Many recent Hispanic immigrants who were thriving in town in the 1990s and 2000s suffered when the economy nosedived and there are signs many have left town. This has hurt advertising, too. Many may also be reluctant to take part in the Arbitron survey, making it difficult for the service to get an accurate handle on actual Hispanic listening.
Here’s a quick history of Clear Channel and Hispanic music:
In 2004, Clear Channel broke ground by launching the first full Atlanta metro-wide FM signal playing Hispanic music with Viva 105.3. It was a Hispanic top 40 station and blossomed. It was moved to 105.7 the next year. In 2006, Clear Channel turned 105.3 into a new Hispanic format, Mexican regional, calling it El Patron.
The move cannibalized Viva’s audience. Over the next three years, El Patron overtook Viva in terms of total audience. In the fall of 2009, Clear Channel dumped Viva in favor of Groove 105.7 (which is now Wild 105.7).
But with Viva’s absence, El Patron’s audience did not grow.
Fans of Regional Mexican music in Gwinnett County also have La Raza 102.3.
As for WGST, back in the 1990s, it had an FM signal at 105.7 but management dumped the FM simulcast at 105.7 in 1999. That did not help GST at all, and Clear Channel has put on a half-dozen formats at that signal since then.
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk