Eight-year-old 92.9/Dave FM has always fashioned itself as the adult rock station in town. Although ratings were usually modest at best for such a strong signal, it was able to sell its sophisticated, high-income listener profile.
A year ago, the station was riding a respectable 4 share in the Arbitrons. That made it top 10 overall and in the 25-54 demographic.
But the bottom has fallen out the past 12 months in a way seldom seen before in recent times in Atlanta radio. So far in 2012, it has averaged a mere 1.5 share, meaning a whopping 63 percent dropoff in listeners. You can argue methodology issues with Arbitron’s rating system (who doesn’t?) but no other station saw anything close to that level of loss this past year. [Program director Scott Jameson was let go Tuesday.]
So what’s wrong?
The most obvious place to go is the music, since the personalities, outside of mornings, have not changed.
The format in radio parlance has been called adult alternative. This means a loftier type of rock that doesn’t include the heavy metal and harder-edged stuff. U2, the Police and Dave Matthews have been core artists since day one. Sometimes, the station would play more currents, sometimes more from the 1970s. Right now, it’s one a 1980s kick, airing all-80s during the weekends.
I asked the radio geeks over at radio-info.com for their sage thoughts. Here’s a sampling:
From what I can tell with my resources, they lost a few heavy users…meaning there was a PPM panel change. [PPM means "portable people meter the item Arbitron users carry around to pick up radio signals.] It is truly amazing how losing just 2 or 3 meters can screw a station over.
With that said, why aren’t current panelists tuning in? The station is all over the place. I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable radio person, but I’m not sure how I would even define their format at this point. It is so all over the place. Also, while Steve Craig, Sully, Margot are above average jocks, they’re not “stars.” Mara is a star and compared to the rest of the station her ratings back that up. Steve & Sully would be better suited to middays or nights. Steve isn’t a morning show anchor and Sully isn’t a strong enough afternoon talent. So with the music being all over the place along with personalities that are just “above average”, there is no reason to tune in.
Flip it to classic hits….pattern it after CBS FM in NYC. Do what you can to grab Steve McCoy and Tripp West. Put Steve in mornings with a female news reader/sidekick. Mara in middays. Tripp West on PM drive. Oh and call it Z-93 once again.
I’m not a radio expert but as a casual listener, my opinion is that they haven’t tried anything long enough to see if it really works. Every time you start to think you know what they are, they change and completely alienate their audience.
Personally, I thought they were at their best when they were kind of a lighter alternative/indie station, playing more stuff like older Elvis Costello, Shins and Eels. Not so much that that music mix overly appealed to me but I thought they had a good niche and were playing a lot of stuff nobody else was playing.
Since then, they have seemed to alternate back and forth between playing more alternative (compete with 99X), and then classic rock (compete with River), and back to alternative and now back to classic rock. Now instead of having a unique niche, they are tweening between 99X and River. Every time they change, they alienate their audience and start from scratch.
Niche format = Niche ratings = Niche revenues
The eight-year Dave experiement proves that theory.
Z93 as another CBS classic hits will be a wet dream come true for listeners and revenues
Leave the niche formats for the niche signals
And here’s Frkout:
I think it may have something to do with the very unstable morning spot, with drastic host changes over and over and the repetitive play of Adele. I liked Jimmy and Yvonne and while I like Steve too, typically there is a morning “team” that format seems to work the best. As for the music, they are still playing songs before the other stations start running them into the ground and that is what they are known for, but once the other stations start crashing and burning them, Dave needs to move on to something newer, examples Gotye, Pumped up Kicks, ANY Adele song. I like to hear the mix of old and new and when they do their theme weekends they are refreshing. I don’t know what the “fix” is for them. They have a good presence in the community and I really like Margot, she’s great. Just some observations, if they do a flip, having grown up in the 70’s and 80’s as a lot of their listeners, I feel that that era has some great songs that never get heard sadly, that would be a music well to draw from, just NOT Landslide and all the worn out tunes, some Guess Who would be great! Since they are on the low side of listeners any mix could be an upturn for them, they don’t have too much to lose.
Dave’s tenuous state and falling ratings have made it a tough sell. Change seems inevitable.
The station let go its program director Scott Jameson Tuesday. He lasted a little over three years.
In an interview earlier this month before he released Jameson, General Manager Rick Caffey acknowledged that the numbers don’t lie. “We’re not happy with the size of our audience. We’re happy that we have the best qualitative audience in the marketplace in terms of education and income. We just need more people.”
Caffey championed the Dave format when WZGC-FM switched from classic rock (Z93) to adult alternative in 2004. Though he’s known for shepherding V-103 as the top station in town, he told me at a lunch many years ago when Dave started that he was a big rock fan, too, citing U2 as one of his favorites. So he’s stuck with it through the years, through the ups and downs. One thing he hasn’t been able to do either: find a steady morning show. So far, the station has been through at least five different morning show iterations. The current host, Steve Craig, isn’t even full time.
Caffey didn’t deny a change could happen: “We’re always going to look at other opportunities. For right now, this is what we’re doing.”
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk