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Radio trends behind the recent upheaval on the AM/FM dial

adam levine

Adam Levine of Maroon 5 was part of a powerhouse group of acts such as Katy Perry and Usher in a barrage of promos for Power 96.1 on TV the past few weeks.

(3 p.m. Wednesday: We just did a fun video chat with longtime radio personality Mara Davis, formerly of Dave FM, on this topic. A few readers were selected to directly join us online, and a lot of you posed questions for Mara on my blog. Thanks to all who contributed.)

A rapid-fire barrage of change among Atlanta radio stations has left some listeners confused, changing their presets and drafting petitions demanding the return of their favorite station’s format.

The turnover in Atlanta’s crowded radio market comes at a time when listeners are increasingly seeking alternatives to traditional AM/FM dials. And the ratings patterns that will emerge in the months ahead will help determine if execs involved in the current merry-go-round are shooting themselves in the foot or smartly repositioning their stations for success.

A gallery of  the radio format shifts visually.

Here are the major underlying trends contributing to Atlanta’s radio roulette:

1) Pop is king

The top 40 format is hot nationwide, thanks to acts such as Katy Perry, Rihanna, Bruno Mars and Maroon 5. These artists meld rock, R&B and pop in ways that are drawing a broad audience. Three stations that focus on this style of music — Star 94, B98.5 and Q100 — were pulling in strong ratings during the summer.

Top 40 hasn’t been this strong since the Michael Jackson/Madonna days of the mid-1980s, says Star 94’s operations director, Scott Lindy. “We’re seeing this wave swell up.”

The nation’s largest radio conglomerate, Clear Channel, has strong top 40 stations in many markets, such as New York and Los Angeles, and wants a piece of the action here. The Texas-based company operates several Atlanta stations, including 96.1 FM, which had a hard rock format dubbed Project 9-6-1 until last month. In its place, Clear Channel introduced a top 40 format called Power 96.1 and poured aggressive marketing dollars into TV advertising.

2) Rock is a pauper

For several years, Atlanta has had five FM rock stations. Combined, though, they drew only a slightly bigger audience than top-rated V-103, Atlanta’s powerhouse hip-hop/R&B station.

While classic rock acts from the 1970s and ’80s have sustained popularity, most current ones aren’t getting mass-appeal airplay. As a result, two stations’ rock formats have been killed and one altered because station owners felt other options could bring in more revenue.

dave_fmFirst, 92.9/Dave FM announced in July its adult rock format was going away after ratings took an alarming nosedive the past 18 months. Then Clear Channel nixed Project 9-6-1. A few days later, Atlanta-based Cumulus Media dumped the alternative rock format at 99X, a once-dominant station already shunted to a weak signal. Instead of completely discarding rock, the station was rebranded as 98.9/The Bone, playing a hybrid of music previously found on Project 9-6-1 and 99X.

the river logoThat left just two local rock stations with reasonably strong signals: Atlanta-based Cox Media Group’s 97.1/The River, playing ’70s and ’80s classic rock hits, and Rock 100.5, a Cumulus station focusing more on personality and a more in-your-face attitude.

John Dickey, chief operating officer for Cumulus, calls his company “the saviors of rock in Atlanta,” with Rock 100.5 and 98.9/The Bone. He says the market developed a glut of radio stations so the surviving ones should each end up with bigger audiences and hopefully, better bottom lines.

Curiously, some of the hottest acts right now, such as Mumford & Sons and Adele, came from Dave FM’s adult alternative format. Just this past week, Mumford & Sons came in No. 1 on the album sales chart, ahead of Justin Bieber’s latest.

“I still believe in rock,” says Dave’s general manager Rick Caffey, who championed Dave FM from the beginning but could no longer fend off upper management’s desire to add more sports talk when Dave’s ratings took a dive.  He did give the on-air staff the opportunity to say goodbye last month on air, a classy move considering few radio execs ever do so.

3) AM is losing listeners

News/talk and sports talk stations on the AM dial have seen their audiences age and slip away.

Radio companies with sinking AM signals have been adding FM simulcast signals to bolster their collective audiences.

wgst_logoIn August 2010, Cox began simulcasting AM750 WSB’s news/talk format on the FM side at 95.5. More people now listen to Neal Boortz, Clark Howard and WSB’s other shows on FM than they do on AM. Sports station 680/The Fan added a 93.7 signal a few months after Cox’s move. Even WGST added a weak 92.3 signal before owner Clear Channel threw in the towel last month and replaced the station’s news/talk format with lower-cost, syndicated Spanish-language sports talk.

AM’s weakness is also encouraging radio companies to create new talk formats on the FM dial at the expense of music. Two cases in point: Atlanta’s Greatest Hits 106.7 became All News 106.7 in May, while Dave FM is about to flip to sports talk (92.9/The Game.)

Eric Seidel, who once was progam director at 640/WGST-AM and now does media training for executives, says just one-fifth of radio listening is on the AM dial.

“When FM came along, AM went to spoken word to survive,” Seidel says, because FM’s sound quality and coverage was vastly superior to AM. “Now they have to reinvent themselves again. To what, I do not know.”

4) Alternative listening options are blossoming

Arbitron, which tracks radio trends, says at least 93 percent of Americans still listen to traditional AM/FM during any given week. It’s free and easily accessible. But, as alternatives multiply, consumers are spending less time with traditional radio.

Pandora-logoSmartphone and tablet ownership have exploded the past five years, greatly expanding the landscape for online music apps such as Pandora and Spotify. Tens of millions of consumers now listen to music through these Internet options, especially appealing to people who don’t like DJ patter.

According to a recent survey by Arbitron and Edison Media Research, 29 percent of the population listened to Web radio the past week, up from 12 percent five years ago. Pandora alone reached 16 percent of the total national audience, up from 10 percent in 2011.

And then there’s Sirius/XM satellite radio, which offers formats not available on local AM/FM, such as smooth jazz, comedy and all-’60s music. An increasing number of listeners are paying for satellite radio as more new cars are bought with the service installed. Nearly 23 million subscribers in the United States and Canada now subscribe.

iheart_logoRadio stations are offering streaming apps themselves, the most aggressive being iHeartRadio. It’s owned by Clear Channel but includes most Atlanta radio stations. Cox stations are available on both the iHeartRadio and TuneIn Radio apps.

“We have to be on any platform where people can reach us,” says Ben Reed, vice president and general manager at Cox Media Group Atlanta, which includes The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.


Some of the recent format changes among Atlanta’s radio stations:

Was: 106.7/Atlanta’s Greatest Hits (oldies, 1960s-’80s) Now: All News 106.7

Was: Project 9-6-1 (hard-edged rock) Now: Power 96.1 (top 40)

Was: Journey 97.9 (’80s, ’90s pop) Now: A spinoff of Q100 which plays the top 20 songs at 97.9 from sister station Q100 at 99.7 (top 40)

Was: 99X at 98.9 (alternative rock). Now: 98.9/The Bone (hard-edged rock)

Was: 640/WGST-AM (news/talk) Now: 640/ESPN Deportes (Spanish-language sports talk)

Now: 92.9/Dave FM (adult rock) Soon to be: 92.9/The Game (sports talk)

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90 comments Add your comment

Atlanta Radio Insider

October 9th, 2012
4:21 pm

Dender Howavy

October 9th, 2012
4:32 pm

How long can WSB talk survive? Boortz is all but gone. Clark Howard was demoted to the night shift. Limbaugh and Hannity are so out of touch with reality that they drive away their audiences.

WSB is going to suffer, badly, and it is their own doing. Selling out to the right wing was a bad move.


October 9th, 2012
4:39 pm

Radio is a wasteland here, wow the people who comment here about getting satellite radio are so correct. I just went down the dial and tried to pick up something worth listening to, zilch. For a market of this size this is pathetic. How much conservative talk can one have. Geez! I know there is a market targeting the demographic for right wing talk, but wow!!!

FM Fats

October 9th, 2012
4:41 pm


October 9th, 2012
4:50 pm

WRAS is still the vanguard for new music, even though it’s it’s a college radio station. But as far as streaming stations over the internet, an underlooked genius in the business is SKY-FM. They offer both free and subscription based services and divide into different genres, currently running 40 different stations.

Balloon Lady

October 9th, 2012
4:53 pm

it sucks. Dave was the place for me…I’m 41…love 80’s and the new stuff…Dave was made for I have to flip between B98 and River and Pandora….sigh.

THere’s a great article in the new Entertainment Weekly about the music shift with Country & Pop….


October 9th, 2012
4:59 pm



October 9th, 2012
5:04 pm

Dender wrote, “Limbaugh and Hannity are so out of touch with reality that they drive away their audiences.”

I wish. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that’s true. There are still a lot of folks out there who are Dittoheads and–whatever you call a Hannity listener.


October 9th, 2012
5:10 pm

The best stations are the non-commercial stations: WRAS, WABE, WCLK, and WREK are consistently better than commercial radio.

Rock and Roll

October 9th, 2012
5:14 pm

I want a station that plays Slayer,Motorhead,and the Stooges!


October 9th, 2012
5:18 pm

bring back qxi and the ramblin raft race!


October 9th, 2012
5:33 pm

They say people either listen to learn something new, or listen to confirm what they already know. Conservative talk is almost entirely the latter. Eventually it gets boring hearing the same show, different day. If the ratings hold after November or after the Boortz shuffle, it will be a surprise.

All-News 106.7 is off to a good start and rapidly becoming a great option, and the competition is running scared. Hopefully the change of PD is not terminal.

Steaky Cha Cha

October 9th, 2012
5:44 pm



October 9th, 2012
5:58 pm

Radio in Atlanta is horrible. Classic Rock stations have a very narrow view of music, and most of the GOOD classic rock never gets aired, while the same ole songs play once or twice a day. Hey 97.1 River, when have you played Jessica, or Whipping Post by the Allman Brothers, or Born to Run, The Rising, or Backstreets, by the Boss, who IS rock and roll personified. Give me Sirius anyday.


October 9th, 2012
6:11 pm

Bring back the Kimmer!

..Atlanta Radio is terrible. I moved from the North, was dismayed at what I found on the radio here, bought Sirius in 2006, and have never looked back.


October 9th, 2012
6:19 pm

Enter your comments here


October 9th, 2012
6:40 pm

Corporate America in a nutshell: aim where the audience is right now, cause tastes don’t change or anything. Never innovate. AND, most importantly, NEVER be the one to do anything everyone else is not doing.

All stations playing Lady Gaga and Katy Perry all day, all night? Brilliant!


October 9th, 2012
6:42 pm

Terrestrial radio’s demise is due to a number of factors. First, the venture capitalist owners don’t care about content, formats, personalities and LISTENERS! These geniuses want to run radio stations nationally and eliminate all local programming to trim costs, so they look good to their investment bankers, while siphoning as much cash as they can before selling off to an even larger entity. (Call it the Gordon Gecko effect.)
Secondly, Arbitron’s newest measurement invention, the PPM (Portable People Meter), which measures listening through encoded signals broadcast on each frequency. This allows stations within “hearing” distance to garner listeners simply by virtue of being within an earshot of a potential radio listener, whether this particular listener actually “likes” the station or not. This plays well into the hands of the greedy radio owners; because cheap repeater formats the play the hits will get ratings and spend little money. It is a disservice to the public, because the entertainment value has virtually been taken out of radio listening, but a potentially huge money maker for companies like Clear Channel (Bain Capital), Cumulus Media and others.


October 9th, 2012
7:26 pm

The only time I listen to radio is in the morning. I listen to Steve Harvey or Tom Joyner. How long is V103 going to pretend Frank & Wanda are 30. They are both going on 50 but play nothing but the worse hip hop has to offer. The last time I listened over a year ago Wanda does not even pretend to like the garbage her station plays. They have grown folks convo with preteen music. V103 need to play more R&B in the morning cause the kids are over at 107.9.

Brad Lohmeier

October 9th, 2012
7:27 pm

Atlanta radio has been a dismal failure for years. Instead of focusing on variety and niche markets that were the norm of the 90’s, they have all recently swarmed to bubble gum pop, top 40 songs, and cross-over ballads. Dave FM was a shining up-start until they let Mara Davis ramble on and on all day about her favorite causes and products, all the while tripling ads and interviews with random and annoying guests. Get a clue players, and focus on one market per station and tailor/sell the ads accordingly. Not everyone wants to listen to monotonous Justin Beiber and screechy Katy Parry!


October 9th, 2012
8:11 pm

I’ve been listening to 106.7 off and on when I’m driving during the day. It may be that I hadn’t heard enough to be annoyed early on; but, it seems it is succumbing to “happy talk” with it’s “couples” news readers more and more. The best couple, least cutsy, is the noon shift, don’t remember their names. For the most part they do the news and when they do banter, they do it better than the other shifts. I know it isn’t my personal station; but, the stupid “exclusive” conversations with ABC entertainment reports are about as lame as it gets. Each of the locals ask a lame question and the ABC folks ignore them and say something that they’ve memorized. Finally, there’s some guy doing quasi law and political commentary for the last week. I thought it was “all news?” And, he isn’t very good. That’s all.


October 9th, 2012
8:43 pm

Atlanta radio is more screwed up than any other market right now. It’s disgusting. I heard the same song at the same time on 3 different stations the other day? How screwed up is that? No excuses for having so many Top 40 stations. They are all cannibalizing each other. I thought 2 Top 40 stations were too many but this is crazy. I know profit is behind this but there are only so many people who will listen to a Top 40 format.

I am in my 40’s and I prefer soft rock/pop rock of the 80’s and 90’s, ie Chicago or Huey Lewis. There is no station for me in Atlanta right now so I listen to one of my many cassette tapes of songs I taped of the radio years ago. However, when you go to almost any other market, there is at least one and sometimes more than one soft rock station. Or there is a mix of the 80s and 90s station. Or a JACK FM ‘we play anything’ station. Atlanta has nothing like that right now. 98.5 may be the closest but their playlist has become a bunch of crap for the most part. Radio is going into the toilet in this city.

Chucky chese

October 9th, 2012
9:12 pm

Atl radio is now crap! It used to be it was something, you could feel a local connection to! You wouldnt believe it, but there is only 2 orginal on-air personalitys from the old days in Atlanta. I miss you guys when you use to work togather at WKLS 96.1 Atlanta’s rock station aka 96ROCK. “Southside yea come on Steve “, I understand its just a business, but the two clowns you work with are about about as funny as a “regular bowel movement”


October 9th, 2012
9:45 pm

Without Boortz, WSB will suffer. Herman Cain is a wonderful man, but a terrible, terrible, boring, radio host. Who wants to listen to a monotone, humorless sermon for three hours a day?

Same goes for Hannity – just boring, regardless of your political views. Smartest thing WSB has done is cut him off at 5…

I’m a country fan, and too bad we have two very poorly programmed country stations; more oldies than anything current, no synergy, no energy.

Detroit Rock

October 9th, 2012
10:17 pm

Perhaps ATl could get some advice from Detroit radio stations. They have a great line-up of many stations that cater to all preferences.


October 9th, 2012
10:23 pm

Or maybe Obama can fix it! We can call it ORAD (Obama Radio)

Johnny Fever

October 9th, 2012
10:25 pm

One of the clear trends that is a Catch 22 for stations is that the listening audience is tired of commercial after commercial and commercials are what make the stations money. I think the demise of AM radio and the increase by people to look for other options is because people don’t want to listen to 20 mins of commercials every hour. The other reason may be more people want to listen to artists and songs they like and not all of the songs the media thinks we like.

The Sanity Inspector

October 9th, 2012
10:29 pm

The only really unique station left is AM 1690. I’m just glad I can pick it up during most of my commute.

I love rock, but I don’t miss having lots of classic rock stations, chasing the same audience. How many times did we change channels only to find the same artist or even the same song playing on the other channel? Nowadays when I’m in the mood for a song, I’ll just play my mp3 player or else enjoy the music video on YouTube. No need to wait around while the radio station plays China Grove or Life In The Fast Lane fifteen times a day.

The Sanity Inspector

October 9th, 2012
10:30 pm

Now, I am glad to have an all news station, very glad indeed. Haven’t had one of those since AM 680 simulcast CNN back in the 90s.

The Sanity Inspector

October 9th, 2012
10:31 pm

Whatever happened to Pete Davis?

Wayne stuck in AL

October 9th, 2012
10:40 pm

The only broadcast music from Atlanta I listen to now is (are?) Stonehenge on GTech’s station on Friday nights and H. Johnson’s jazz show on Saturday nights; otherwise, you might as well go to or something else, because Atlanta music radio is a vaste wasteland programmed by out-of-town middle-management corporate drones (I’m looking at YOU Clear Channel).


October 9th, 2012
10:54 pm

Radio has been dying since the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Big companies like Clear Channel bought up most of the radio stations in this country so they can run them right into the ground.

You can come out ahead, though. Get your Android or iPhone and download an app called TuneIn. You’ll never worry about finding something to listen to again, trust me. If you have bluetooth or an aux jack in your car, you’re good to go on the road.

Screw these radio people. They made this bed for themselves. They can lie in it.


October 9th, 2012
11:44 pm

Big business has ruined radio in their pursuit of profit. Chasing bucks created huge station staffs that have failed to justify their own existences. Radio should cut stations and staff and return to a local focus with local ownership. Something with personality instead of the vacuous pablum that has killed what was once a unique part of many peoples lives. Business people should chase their greedy dreams somewhere else or, even better, get productive jobs.


October 10th, 2012
12:27 am

I like Sirius XM’s XMU, Lithium, or Alt. On CBC internet radio, it’s KROC alteternative from NYC.


October 10th, 2012
12:43 am

tired of the big machine. Nothing local, nothing to tie people to the community. Then all the music and chatter is national. People want to know what’s going on around where they live. so….people stopped listening….DUH!


October 10th, 2012
6:25 am

John Hogan (Clear Channel CEO) has been slowly killing WGST and the rest of the Clear Channel cluster by hiring the most incompetent people he could find. Want proof?

Randall Bloomquist – no explanation needed.
Melissa Wolfe – her only concern was WUBL, though she did fire Bloomquist.
Tim Dukes – didn’t like WGST on an FM frequency. How many formats has 105.7 had since 2000?
Matt Scarano – this monkey killed WGST and WKLS in a matter of 2 weeks.
Way too many more to list…..

What is John Hogan’s motives? Is he secretly being paid off by Cox? CBS and Cumulus seem to ignore him.


October 10th, 2012
7:02 am

I honestly think people thoroughly enjoyed the Kimmer and Randy and Spiff oldies. Atlanta sports talk is fine, don’t think we need any more though; I prefer 680, but I do like Nick and Chris from 790. Bert Show may continue to be popular, I personally don’t see why following their “soap opera” personal l lives is interesting, but to each his own.


October 10th, 2012
7:31 am

While at work, I hear the same things over and over. I hate talk radio, Fox News, etc, etc etc. It’s the liberals that are driving the trend to conservative talk radio. They are the ones that constantly complain about it, how else would they know what to bit@h and moan about if they weren’t the ones driving it to the ratings successes they are? If you don’t listen to it, then it wouldn’t be so freaking popular!

Everytime I hear .. “I won’t listen to or watch …” just means big money and high ratings. People love to hate in this country, and it’s the “progressives” that are the driving force behind the phenomenon. They are their own worst enemies!


October 10th, 2012
7:38 am

“tired of the big machine. Nothing local, nothing to tie people to the community. Then all the music and chatter is national. People want to know what’s going on around where they live. so….people stopped listening….”

ATL is made of alot of transplants who don’t want to hear anything local. They move here for a better life, but they want everything the way it was back home. People don’t embrace the South, they move here to change it and to ridicule it. The outsiders are the ones that are rude and intolerant and that cuased our big boom, which led to our Bust!


October 10th, 2012
7:50 am

I’ve had the pleasure (or displeasure, depending on your perspective) of living in numerous areas of this country. Without a doubt, the Atlanta radio market is the worse, unless you’re a 13 year-old girl and can’t get enough Rihanna, Katy Perry, Beiber, etc. There’s a huge demographic here that enjoys real rock music yet the rock-centric formats are being yanked in the name of providing the most return to stockholders of a national conglomorate. Way to go, guys! Drive your loyal listeners to alternate music sources (Pandora, iHeartradio, Sirius, etc) then whine about losing market and change the format once again. Insanity. And, yes, I miss 96Rock! Wish I still had my 96Rock t-shirt.


October 10th, 2012
7:57 am

Try WWL 870 out of LA. Great AM radio.


October 10th, 2012
8:05 am

We still have Buck Ballue and John Kincaide. We have not been successful enough to unload those 2 bums.

Backwoods Hick

October 10th, 2012
8:20 am

Thank goodness for the internet. It’s not too difficult to just find a station anywhere outside of Atlanta that streams the music of your choosing. I listen to stations from other cities across the country (there’s some out there that’s still not owned by the major conglomerates).

Chris Abernathy

October 10th, 2012
8:42 am

WKLS-FM is now in Alabama where Rock is still kicking. The music mix is more like the old 96 Rock than the more recent Project sound. Rock On.


October 10th, 2012
8:44 am

I understand the allternative market for music, but the biggest complaint that I have is whatever state that I’m in, they have better radio then Atlanta. Why?

brian j

October 10th, 2012
8:47 am

With Davefm leaving us soon, thee will be a huge void in the album alternative market. Where else are we going to hear artists like Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, Florence & The Machine, etc.? I have Sirius XM and almost never hear these songs on any of their channels either, so I guess I can forget about the Atlanta FM dial.


October 10th, 2012
8:57 am

Dave FM was not perfect, but the Music, DJs, Mix, (Acoustic Sundays # 1) , will be GREATLY missed.
More and More over TIME , the Music Listeners and Management and Programers will all really know
that it was a HUGE Mistake to take DAVE-FM off the Air and away from US in Atlanta . Pain for ALL.

TYB Beach Bum

October 10th, 2012
9:24 am

Ditto MONKATL. The loss of Dave FM is painful. I listened to B98.5 one day and heard 3-4 songs from each- Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Adele- all of whom I like, just not so much.


October 10th, 2012
9:43 am

Steeler Fan Kincade is actually good by himself. I enjoy his Sunday morning show and the afternoons when he is on. I did not think he and Buck were worth crap when i lived in Atlanta. All the old stations like WSB and WBT are going national and they all sound tehe same. Late nights are either RedEye Radio which runs repeats on Frday and Saturday night or Coast to Coast AM which seems to be on everything not owned by CUMULUS but has original shows 365 days a year. I listen to Limbaugh (Barely tolerable)and Boortz who is funny but Cain is not an option next year and Hannity is never played at my house. I listened to the Kimmer on GST years ago.


October 10th, 2012
10:06 am

Atlanta radio is DEAD!