Atlanta-based Cumulus Media has hired several former CNN Radio staffers who had been laid off in March but for what?
Update on Friday, April 27, 2012, 2:34 p.m.: Cumulus confirmed with the Atlanta Business Chronicle that it will turn 106.7 into an all-news station in mid May. This would be Atlanta’s first all-news radio format in 12 years and the first on the FM side.
Update on Monday, May 21, 2012, 6:03 p.m.: On 106.7, Cumulus announced that the start date will be Tuesday, May 29 for All News 106.7. The company has also filed with the Federal Communications Commission to move its signal from 40 miles east of downtown to just two miles east of downtown, with its city of license moving from Gainesville to Sandy Springs. The new signal would move to 106.5, if approved, and give the station better metro area coverage.
Update on Friday, June 8, 2012: 10:22 a.m.: The FCC has rejected Cumulus’ effort to move the station closer in town and moving the signal to 106.5.
Everything below was written on Thursday, April 26, 2012:
Cumulus is staying mum, but many in this radio market believe the company is about to launch an all-news station or perhaps a news/talk hybrid. The likeliest candidate for a home is 106.7/Atlanta’s Greatest Hits, which plays songs from the 1960s through the 1980s, with an emphasis on the 1970s. The station, which was part of the company’s Citadel pickup last year, has been pulling in so-so ratings, tied for 17th overall over the first three months of 2012. Another possibility is Rock 100.5, which plays classic rock, and is ranked 22nd.
Whatever Cumulus is planning to do, it’s probably going to happen relatively soon.
[UPDATE: Thursday, 6:42 p.m. I just heard from a reliable source that the Atlanta Greatest Hits staff has been told there's a station-wide meeting Friday. The all-news station, if it's meant to be, will debut next month.)
Atlanta has never had a successful all-news operation in the mode of WTOP-FM in Washington D.C. or WCBS-AM and WINS-AM in New York City. This city is one of the largest without an all-news radio station.
News can pull in an impressive amount of revenue because listeners have a higher tolerance for advertising than other formats. Of the top 10 stations in revenue, four are in this format. WTOP in D.C. pulled in $64 million in 2011, according to BIA/Kelsey Reports, the most of any station in the country. WBBM-AM in Chicago is No. 4 at $48 million, followed by WCBS-AM in New York at No. 5 with $47 million. At No. 8 is New York’s WINS-AM at $42 million. (I do not have access to revenues of Atlanta radio stations.)
On the flip side, news operations can get expensive. A source of mine who is familiar with WTOP-FM believes editorial costs are around $8 to $9 million for a full-fledged newsroom. He thinks a quality 24/7 radio news operation would require 50 people, which could easily exceed $3 million in labor costs.
Radio-info’s Tom Taylor, in his daily column, noted that it can take time to “build the brand” so a radio company may have to be patient before they can become profitable.
Atlanta hasn’t seen an all-news station since the 1997 to 2000 era, when AM 680 attempted the format. It’s now a sports talk station, The Fan.
Ultimately, these hires could be more benign. Cumulus owns many news/talk stations and these folks could simply be used as a centralized hub for content to be shared across multiple markets. They are going to be based in the building that used to house Kicks 101.5 (since moved to the building where 99X, Q100 and Rock 100.5 are based.) and still has 106.7’s studios.
Names a source gave me who have joined the Cumulus operation: Greg Black, Maria Boynton, Andy Rose, Andy Flick,
Michelle Wright and Jackie Howard.
Radioinsight has noted that Cumulus has registered several urls that point to a possible news station.
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk