It’s been a whirlwind month in Atlanta radio for rock and pop radio listeners, unprecedented in the amount of change in such a short time.
- Hard rock station Project 9-6-1 last week became top 40 station Power 96.1 on one of the most powerful FM signals in metro Atlanta. (Clear Channel today announced it is making a Project station available on its phone app “I Heart Radio.”)
- Alternative rock station 99X at 98.9 on Saturday turned into a hard rock station 98.9/The Bone on a signal that doesn’t reach much beyond the Perimeter.
- Journey 97.9 on Tuesday transformed itself into a Q100 “spinoff” featuring the top 20 songs from that station on a signal comparable to that of 98.9.
- In a few weeks, adult rock station 92.9/Dave FM will switch format into a sports talk station on one of the stronger signals in the area.
So who are winners and losers if things don’t change yet again?
- Fans of top 40 radio. Clearly, the options to hear Flo Rida, Rihanna and Karmin have gone up since two more top 40 stations have appeared on the dial. We now have at least five stations playing a variation of current pop music, some with more of a rock/pop lean, some with a hip-hop feel: B98.5, Star 94 and Q100 plus newbies Power 96.1 and Q100’s 20 at 97.9. Wild 105.7/96.7 has started to veer more hip hop but still plays some top 40 songs. It’s fair to say Atlanta has never had this many choices on the top 40 front.
- Sports talk fans. There’s a reasonable debate about whether Atlanta is a good sports town outside of football. But for more than a decade, it has successfully sustained two AM sports talk stations – one which added a modest FM signal in 2010. But can Atlanta sustain three sports talk stations? Folks who love to listen to guys (and the occasional woman) gab about the Hawks, Falcons and Dawgs now have more options than ever thanks to CBS Radio and 92.9.
- Elvis Duran and Ryan Seacrest. Elvis Duran, the syndicated New York talk show host, had been on the weaker Wild 105.7/96.7 signal and gradually building a faithful audience seeking an alternative to the Bert Show on Q100. Now he’s been placed on the more powerful Power 96.1 signal and will face Bert on an even playing field. Seacrest, the ubiquitous media mogul and “Idol” host who began his career as a teen-ager at Star 94 in the 1980s, joins the mid-day slot in syndicated form, a place he held briefly a couple years ago on Star.
- Rock 100.5 and 97.1/The River. Fewer options for rock fans has to help the two remaining big-signal rock stations. It certainly can’t hurt them. Ratings-challenged Rock 100.5 could especially use the boost.
- The Regular Guys. With Project’s year-old Kidd Chris gone, the male-leaning veteran Regular Guys show on Rock 100.5 may be able to draw back some of its listeners who have left the past couple of years.
- Spotify, Pandora, Slacker, Sirius XM, your iPod. Alienated FM radio listeners are going to other options. And there are plenty, especially on your smartphone. Arguably, the fact so many rock fans were already going in this direction may have hastened the demise of stations such as Dave.
- Rock radio fans, especially those in their 30s and 40s. While classic rock fans can still enjoy the River and Rock 100.5, if you’re into acts such as Mumford & Sons, Avett Brothers, Cake, the Talking Heads, Jack Johnson, INXS, Dave Matthews Band, and Weezer, your options are or will soon be virtually gone from the FM dial in Atlanta.
- Pop fans who like songs from the 1980s and 1990s. Lovers of pop songs from the 1960s and 1970s are already bereft of FM options since Atlanta’s Greatest Hits went away in May. No Beatles. No James Taylor. No Bee Gees. B98.5 plays a few 1980s and 1990s cuts. Star will throw in an occasional nugget from the 1990s. But if you just want to listen to songs from those decades alone, Journey was it.
- Kidd Chris. After 15 months in Atlanta, he was starting to build momentum for younger males. New morning shows typically take two or three years to really get going so he was well on his way. The death of Project cut him off at a key moment.
- Most of the staff at Dave FM. With fewer rock options in this market, this makes it just much harder for on-air staff such as Steve Craig, Margot Smith and Rich Sullivan to find another job in Atlanta. Mara Davis, given her heritage in town, may have the easiest time landing somewhere else.
- Wild 105.7/96.7. The station was doing very well on a medium-sized signal, a top 5 station among 18 to 34 year olds. Even though Wild has gone more hip-hop in the past week to try to take away listeners from surging Hot 107.9, Clear Channel has turned Wild into a “flanker” to Power rather than its primary focus. That means resources that might have gone to Wild in terms of marketing and sales will likely be diverted to Power.
- Q100 (potentially). Q100 is a dominant top 40 station in town and has been for years. Power’s music mix is clearly targeting that station, even more so than B98.5 and Star 94, which skew older.
- 790 the Zone. This station does not have an FM signal and its night signal is tepid. It’s already at a disadvantage with 680/The Fan, which also airs on 93.7 and has a stronger night signal. So with 92.9 coming aboard, the Zone is immediately in trouble. (The Zone is available on the Star 94 HD-2 channel if you happen to have HD Radio.)
- FM radio in general. These changes in general result in fewer options on the FM dial. There’s no doubt many peeved listeners are going to seek friendlier climes and spend less time with old-fashioned free radio.
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk