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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

Confirmed: rock station 92.9/Dave FM going sports talk in the early fall

dave_fm

The rumors began circulating heavily about a month ago: 92.9/Dave FM was going sports talk.

This morning, the rumors became truth. General manager Rick Caffey gathered the entire staff to inform them that in late September or early October, the rock station will become an FM sports talk station.

Management did not let anybody go this morning. At least for the next few weeks, the on-air staff and music mix shall remain the same.

Caffey, in an exclusive interview this morning, said he’d like to have a local presence in all key time slots but that may not be the case in the very beginning.

“Our accent will be local personalities,” he said, noting that personalities are what has helped carry sister hip-hop station V-103 all these years. “The fundamentals will be finding interesting, compelling personalities that not only do great radio but are out and about in the community. We’re looking at a combination of ex jocks, ex coaches and broadcasters.” He’d like them to have local ties but that’ s not a necessity.

Mitch Evans has worked at several local radio stations and is now at Dave. He's likely to stick around for the new sports stations.

Mitch Evans has worked at several local radio stations and is now at Dave. He's likely to stick around for the new sports stations.

There has been no official on-air hires yet, though Dave FM recently gave sports newscaster Mitch Evans a full-time job, an early clue to the impending changes. “I imagine we’ll find a spot for him,” Caffey said.

The 2 Live Stews, who have been with 790/The Zone the past decade, have seen their profiles dim the past 18 months on the station. They are now part of a “team” show called the Red Zone mid-days. Their contract is up at the end of the year with the Zone and could potentially jump to 92.9. Other personalities on rival stations such as Mike Bell at the Zone and Christopher Rude and John Kincade on 680/The Fan are tied up in contracts for quite a bit longer, according to their agent Norm Schrutt.

The new sports station has hired a new program director: Terry Foxx, most recently program director at The Fan in Pittsburgh. “Working with him will be inspiring and I’m confident you’ll also be motivated by his work ethic and energetic personality,” Caffey said in a memo to staff this morning.

An official name hasn’t been dubbed yet for the sports station, In other markets, CBS has names such as the Hub and the Ticket.

A change of format is not a surprise. Eight-year-old Dave FM’s ratings have cratered the past year and recent signs of improvement were too modest to make a difference.

One of Caffey’s biggest disappointments with Dave was the inability to find a successful morning team, which is a key anchor for most successful music stations. The station went through at least six shows over eight years: Steve Barnes and Holly Firfer, Firfer with Tim Orff, Zakk Tyler, Orff alone, Jimmy Baron and Yvonne Monet and in recent months, Steve Craig.

Caffey noted the difficulty in this day and age to find good talent in smaller markets. “The farm system isn’t what it used to be,” he said. Many smaller stations now run syndicated product or go jockless in evenings, nights and weekends. Those were the time slots where management used to nurture raw talent but not anymore.

He had a hard time pinpointing why Dave lost so much mojo since early last year, when it was a top 10 station. It shed  more than half its audience by this past spring, with the lowest ratings of any major FM signal in town. “It’s a very crowded landscape,” Caffey noted, in the rock arena in Atlanta, which currently has five stations playing the format. Besides Dave, there’s 97.1/The River, Rock 100.5, Project 9-6-1 and 99X.

Many music fans have reduced or stopped listening to old-school FM radio. They are now using Slacker, Pandora, Spotify and a host of other on-line only sites to access music they want without the jock talk and with far fewer ads. But personality talk radio can’t be replicated like a jukebox.

Although Dave has never been able to be a consistent top performer in ratings, it was able to count on what Caffey calls “qualitatives.” This is the same argument NBC uses to keep shows like “30 Rock” and “Parks and Recreation” around. The listeners are high income and very involved in the music they listen to.

Dave has been shifting its music mix around the past two years, trying to find the right blend, but it has stuck to a core of artists from day one such as Dave Matthews, U2, the Police and Tom Petty.  As an “adult alternative” blend, the station broke artists in Atlanta such as Adele, Florence + the Machine, Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers.

mara-davis-300x240Rock has been on 92.9 for more than 20 years. Before Dave, it was Z93, a classic rock format until 2004. The only holdover personality from those days, Mara Davis (left), has anchored mid-days since the early days of Dave.

Of the on-air staff, she will probably have the easiest time finding a new job. Schrutt, her agent, has already begun fielding calls from rival stations. The two most obvious homes for Mara: Rock 100. 5or 97.1/The River.

In recent years, CBS, the owner of Dave FM, has brought sports talk to FM in several markets, including Boston, Detroit, Dallas and soon to come, Tampa.

This will create a major battle royale in Atlanta, which already has two well-established sports talk stations: 680/The Fan (simulcast on 93.7) and 790/The Zone. Many major markets have two successful sports talk stations. Very few have three. Dallas has three sports stations, for instance, though I’m not sure if all three are thriving.

“CBS is really good at sports talk,” said Schrutt, who represents several personalities in town, including Cindy Simmons of Star 94, Melissa Carter at All News 106.7 and several of the aforementioned sports talk personalities. “It’s hard to believe a third sports station will be successful, but they clearly see something here that I don’t see.”

With AM stations losing audience, many are seeking FM homes. 680/The Fan added a 93.7 FM simulcast in late 2010. 790/The Zone is at a distinct disadvantage with a weaker night signal and no home on the FM dial.

“The percentage of people who don’t even listen to AM on a regular basis is going up,” said Tom Taylor, who has followed radio news for years and runs the www.radio-info.com site. “In some markets, it’s more than 50 percent. You can reach younger people easier on the FM dial.”

92.9 is a far stronger signal than the Fan’s 93.7 and will cover the entire market more completely than either AM signal, especially at night.

Sources tell me there were talks for 92.9 to possibly lease 790/The Zone’s programming but that never came to be. CBS, which is putting together a national network as well, will be doing this on their own. Interestingly, CBS is working with Atlanta-based Cumulus to help distribute that national network.

The new sports station will not have exclusive broadcasting rights to any major team though Caffey said it will consider bidding for rights in the future when they become available.

Dave FM actually had the Atlanta Falcons broadcasts for seven years until last year but Caffey said there was never any serious consideration to change format to sports talk at the time. The Atlanta Braves right now are tied up with Rock 100.5 and the Fan. The Hawks are aired on the Fan as well. The Zone has the Falcons and Georgia Tech. 95.5FM and AM750 News/Talk WSB has been the home to the University of Georgia Bulldogs football for many years.

Sports talk is appealing, Taylor said, because “it’s very salable. It has an emotional component. People want to be associated with the format talking about local teams, local loyalties. And the talk is far less controversial than politics.”

toucherandrich

Fred Toucher (left) and Rich Shertenlieb, former 99Xers, have done well in Boston at a sports talk station.

Nationally, some sports stations do well, some don’t, like any other format. CBS’s sports stations in Detroit and Boston (which features former Atlanta/99X jocks Rich Shertenlieb and Fred Toucher) are pulling in big audiences. Its Dallas sports station is struggling.

The overall ratings for the Fan and the Zone over the years have never looked all that impressive. But both cater to a very specific, sought-after male audience that advertisers are willing to pay a premium for.

In fact, the heads of both stations put on brave faces in the face of the new rival, using the same analogy: a rising tide lifts all boats.

“This is a healthy format for a number of reasons,” said Andrew Saltzman, president of the Zone. “We deliver live and local exclusive content you can’t find on Pandora or satellite. On Monday morning, you can celebrate or commiserate about the Atlanta Falcons and have only live and local sports radio to go. The Zone is the leader of the pack. We take competition very seriously. We’ll do everything to protect and build our brand. We have a 15-year heritage history. We’re one of the top 10 billing sports talk stations in the country. We feel very comfortable with what we’re putting out there on the air.”

David Dickey, who runs the Fan, said it takes time to build a sports talk brand.

“To do it right, you must invest in people. You must invest in marketing. You must invest in promotions and partnerships. Just invest in time,” he said. “After the confetti falls, you have to do the work.”

The Fan was the first sports talk station in Atlanta in 1993 but was flipped to news in 1997, leaving an opening for the Zone to come to be. When the Fan came back in 2000, it took several years for them to catch up – then surpass — the Zone in ratings, though it’s fair to say both stations are very competitive now during the 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. time frame during weekdays.

Dave staff was told at this morning’s meeting not to talk to me specifically. If they were found out, they’d be dismissed early. They were also told not to mention the forthcoming format flip on Facebook, Twitter or other social media. They also were not to talk about the changes on air. Sales staff has been cleared to discuss the changes with clients.

Join my Facebook fan page and Twitter.

By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk

392 comments Add your comment

Tara

July 31st, 2012
10:35 am

That’s a bummer, I enjoy Mara Davis and Rich Sullivan. The morning show was tough to listen to. I was starting to get into Jimmy and Yvonne but I can’t handle Steve. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Steph

July 31st, 2012
10:37 am

One more reason to get off my ass and order Satellite radio!

Yellafella

July 31st, 2012
10:42 am

so long CHA CHA!

Wink

July 31st, 2012
10:43 am

Great. People who either never played sports or stopped in high school offering their opinion on how the professionals should do things. Strictly a money making venture. Someone please flip to an AC station and give B98 (which sounds awful) a run for their money.

Why?

July 31st, 2012
10:44 am

Should be interesting to see with 680 the fan and 790 the zone.

Rick James

July 31st, 2012
10:46 am

I stoped listening after they were no longer Z-93.

disappointed

July 31st, 2012
10:47 am

That sucks! Steve Craig’s return has been the only reason that I’ve listened to Dave in the morning. Mara was great at lunch and Margot (sp?) was one of the most knowledgeable people in radio! I hope that they all stay local!!!!!

buckhead benny

July 31st, 2012
10:49 am

790 the Zone can say bye bye! Let’s see I would bet their first target sister station of v-103 is the Stew’s brothers at 790 the Zone- then, since CBS owns the station there goes the partnership with 790 the Zone’s Atlanta TV station and transferred to 92.9- I imagine they basically pluck the Zone’s people left and right-

680 the Fan has deep pockets and feels like their lineup is well suited for their setup and from what I have heard the people there enjoy working for Dickey and company. Could be wrong but there won’t be three sports stations in Atlanta there isn’t that much advertising and people that will listen to three stations that’s for sure.

Personally, I would love to see Steak whining and crying about this- He is by far the most annoying on air personality on the planet- like listening to fingernails on a chalk board- he should thank his luck stars he has made it this far literally.

Bell and Domino carry that station- I would just double their salaries and bring over the Stu’s and basically purge the Atlanta market of one less needed sports station-

jaystar404

July 31st, 2012
10:49 am

What about Dave roots there other HD station?

Police Superfan

July 31st, 2012
10:50 am

Oh no! Where will I go to hear Police every other song. SMH.

Coach Paul Johnson

July 31st, 2012
10:52 am

I hope they don’t hire people who figure out that I can’t coach. FIRST!

canofpeas

July 31st, 2012
10:52 am

i’m with disappointed, i don’t get this one. i liked the morning show – mostly music, how can you go wrong. lunch hour was good too. boo.

Val

July 31st, 2012
10:53 am

Oh well, it is better to have no alt-rock station than a very very bad one. The midday DJs were awful and the number of times they played the same Police, Smiths, and Tom Petty songs each day was exhausting. It took them several months to find that one Gotye song and then called it “new” for six more months. It was as though they were not interested in exploring other music and turned my place of business off a LONG time ago.

Guy Bailey

July 31st, 2012
10:53 am

If they’re smart they’ll hire Chuck and Chernoff ASAP

really?

July 31st, 2012
10:53 am

I think this is sad. The Atlanta radio market used to have such a variety of music stations, and they now seem to be losing distinction more and more. I think this is terrible. Radio sucks in the city because they all play the same damn music. Guess I’ll be going satellite, too. I hate talk radio. Don’t you have anything better to do? A bunch of people with no life who sit and listen to some jerk either make fun of them or tease them for their opinion or create some nonexistent drama, which there is already enough of in this stupid society. Sports? Really? I am depressed. What a waste.

deaf in one ear

July 31st, 2012
10:53 am

radio…music for people that don’t have ipods……..

JROLL1

July 31st, 2012
10:54 am

BUCKHEAD BENNY…U HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD! STEAK IS THE WORST TIMES 10!!!

Turtle Man

July 31st, 2012
10:54 am

I began to wonder “one of these things is not like the other” – when they added Mitch Evans and his poor-excuse-for-a-sports report every morning.

A person SMART enough to know......

July 31st, 2012
10:56 am

I love MARA but I don’t listen to any other jock on Dave.

Gary B.

July 31st, 2012
10:57 am

Who listens to regular terrestrial radio anymore ????????

enough about overpaid athletes and the games they play

July 31st, 2012
10:57 am

Do we really need to here more opinions about sports and their overpaid prima donna”s? Boring, just like the news outlets in Atlanta.

fan

July 31st, 2012
10:58 am

I am a sport radio fam but that todo more with te void of radio stations here in Atlanta. This is the most uncompetative market I have ever seen. I guess when people gorw up here they have to listen to country, easy listening, or soul. where I lived in Denver they have at leat 3 maybe 4 adult stations and there are seveal rock, alternative, rap, and country stations. That is in a city of about 2.5 million. We have about 5 million and we get 2 rock, 1 alternative, a bunch of country, and a bunch of rap. What does this say about our city?

al brantlinger

July 31st, 2012
10:59 am

Wow what a bummer. the only station I listen to. who the hell needs a third sports talk channel?

Three Jack

July 31st, 2012
10:59 am

Gonna miss Acoustic Sunrise on Sunday morning….but not the Sting overplays and 80s weekends.

enough about overpaid athletes and the games they play

July 31st, 2012
10:59 am

and yes that is my opinion about sports. Maybe I can get a job over at “The Ticket”. Yeah that’s it, The Ticket.

G

July 31st, 2012
11:00 am

With Rick Caffey having a great understanding of the “Atlanta regional” listening audience, I could see opportunities for the 2LIve Stews. This will be a perfect time for 790The Zone to go full-scale-bubba.

K-Ster

July 31st, 2012
11:02 am

Why not try something new? Like a comedy station? With all the songs out there to play, every station seems to repeat (even satellite!). Since music isn’t manageable anymore, it seems, try a new niche. I’m game for a comedy station. MAKE ME LAUGH!!!!!!!!

Dick Lark

July 31st, 2012
11:02 am

I’m more of a music person than sports guy, but when I do listen to broadcast radio, it’s sports talk. There is not a single broadcast music radio station in Atlanta that I can stomach. The morning patter between the “personalities” is even more unbearable than their tired old playlists, and don’t even get me started on the banal commercials. Get satellite radio, folks, or a radio that plays USB and listen to your iTunes in the car.

savior

July 31st, 2012
11:03 am

If this means somehow that 790 finally kicks that blowhard shapiro off the air for good….I’m all for it!

That clown can’t even put a single cohesive thought together and spit it out, yet he’s killing everyone who tries to listen to their radio show with his meandering ramblings every day. Kick that goofwad out!!!

Dick Lark

July 31st, 2012
11:05 am

G…!! What’s up, dawg? I might have known you’d be a Stews fan, sir. All right, all right, all right. Woof woof!

Bill

July 31st, 2012
11:06 am

This sucks. I left DaveFM on all day whenever possible. Yeah, they had their problems (DaveFM caused me to HATE Sting and The Police – required to play one song by them every hour), but I enjoyed the format overall. When they shifted about 4-6 months ago to more of a classic rock (except deep cut songs nobody listened to), I looked into buying an Internet radio. Guess I’m back to shopping for one. Now all I have left for local music is Organic-X.

WTH?

July 31st, 2012
11:06 am

When will these radio execs stop litening to their “expert consultants” and listen to the public? IT’S THE MUSIC, STUPID! EVERY radio station here has such a narrow playlist that they drive listeners away. Open up the playlists, regardless of what your consultants tell you, and listeners will come back. When you tune in and hear the same song 2 or 3 times in a 4 hour air shift, no wonder we are dying from boredom. Until then, I will stick with satellite and AllNews 106.7.

Swann

July 31st, 2012
11:06 am

Okay, what happens to Mara? I pretty much stopped listening when they stopped being Z-93, but always tune in for Mara.

dtanner

July 31st, 2012
11:09 am

who gives a damn about pro sports,i mean come on a bunch of millionaire ballplayers playing a dumb game for a bunch of billionaire owners,just a money making business for these people,what does it have to do with me?

crash

July 31st, 2012
11:10 am

Dave-fm has been on life support for the last couple of years. I am actually surprised that they made it this long. This is what happens when you play the same music over and over again. A listener could actually not listen to them for a few months and then tune in and hear the same songs. Rock listeners in Atlanta will no longer have another station. If only management at Dave-FM had tried to be a little more different and mix it up. As for the numerous morning shows, they did the same thing over and over again as well…This really is not a surprise…

Mike

July 31st, 2012
11:10 am

If they had any clue what’s best for them, they should go back and review Rodney’s post on sports talk radio over the past few years and read the comments as to who the people would want on their dream lineups.

Lots of recurring themes.

That being said, I did like the Dave channel to an extent. They were very obsessed with playing U2 and the same other 40 bands over and over and over and over….and they really seemed to enjoy highlighting “new” artists to no end then just stop playing their music for whatever reason.

winston wolf

July 31st, 2012
11:11 am

Get rid of Steak Shapiro and hire Dimino, Cellini, and Mike Bell…those guys are hilarious. Would be nice to be able to tune them in. 790’s signal is horrible in north ga.

onlycritter1968

July 31st, 2012
11:13 am

Yawn……commercial radio is so 1990s. Local TV is all news, Local radio is all sports.

Otis

July 31st, 2012
11:13 am

If 92.9 can find some decent on air talent, they will have a clear advantage given their signal strength. 790 is dead whenever the sun is down. I really don’t know how they got the Falcons deal or stay in business. 680 has a stronger signal but I find their FM signal to be unclear in Dunwoody. Many times I’ll switch back to the AM signal which works better. Bottom line is 92.9 could own the ATL sports market very easily by grabbing some good local talent. This does not include the Stews, Barnhart and Durham(yawn), or Buck Belue(yawn again).

Deke

July 31st, 2012
11:13 am

Another sports talk station for a city that already has two sports talk stations to offer to its citizens that are indifferent to their professional sports teams. BRILLIANT!!!!

crackbaby

July 31st, 2012
11:16 am

Too bad. Enjoyed the return of Steve Craig to the Atlanta market and Mara is an institution.

Somebody kill 790 already – brain dead management asleep at the switch.

go dawgs

July 31st, 2012
11:16 am

they should keep sully. he knows the local sports fan.

Bryan Stone

July 31st, 2012
11:16 am

No way Atlanta can support 3 sports stations.

Love The Stews

July 31st, 2012
11:17 am

I hope the Stews land here with their original format….barking, dog and poodles, Public Enemy Intro, etc, etc. The “Dead Zone” is supressing their personalities. And like 790 the Zone I’m gone, Alright, Alright.

Johnson

July 31st, 2012
11:17 am

The station will be named 92.9 The Bruhz. Just in time for the announced return of the Thrashers.

Abner

July 31st, 2012
11:20 am

Gosh, how boring will that be?! One more station deleted from my presets. Apparently management was so worried about a morning team. Who cares? Just play good music and we’ll listen. It just ain’t that difficult.

Coach Paul Johnson

July 31st, 2012
11:20 am

I think Steak is fantastic. Then again, I think my offense is great so what do I know? FIRST!!!!

Pete

July 31st, 2012
11:20 am

Too bad. DAVE was the only decent rock station in town. I confess I didn’t listen constantly, but I definitely don’t give a R.A. about sports talk.

Matt

July 31st, 2012
11:20 am

What, exactly, are they going to bring to Atlanta Sports Radio that 790 and 680 don’t already do? What a waste.

Eric

July 31st, 2012
11:22 am

I loved Tim Orff and Yvonne Monet. Sully and Mara complete the total of 4 Atlanta DJs I like listening to. Maybe it’s the metrics that are off. Dave FM will be sorely missed. I’ve never in 39 years had a friend who listened to sports radio.