V-103 has been a radio pillar for African Americans for years, regularly drawing 1.3 million listeners a week. It takes its “Big Station” moniker seriously.
So will losing its top-rated morning show of 14 years led by Frank Ski and Wanda Smith hurt V-103 in any tangible way?
“No,” said Mike Roberts, a long-time V-103 morning host before Ski and Smith. “They’ll be fine. It’s a monster station that has been successful for many years because they are truly connected to the community. And they always seem to know when to make changes.”
Rick Caffey, market manager for V-103 since 1994, said Ski wanted a syndication deal to expand beyond Atlanta but the two sides couldn’t agree to a deal. “We want to stay local,” said Caffey, while thanking Ski and Smith for their services.
Ski, with stand-up comic Smith, created a morning show that blended the serious, the silly and the sublime. One segment, they would be interviewing reality stars from “Love & Hip Hop Atlanta,” the next, they’d be talking budget issues with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. Then each day at 9:50 a.m., Ski would read a Bible verse and play a gospel tune, something he’d call the “Inspirational Vitamin.”
Ski would court controversy at times, defending black figures such as former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell and Bishop Eddie Long. “He’s not a fair weather friend,” said Evelyn Mims, community relations specialist at WXIA-TV, the NBC affiliate.”He’ll stand by you, high or low. They could always get their side of the story out. For a time, Campbell and others only talked to Frank.”
Ski’s replacement is Atlanta native Ryan Cameron, host of V-103’s afternoon show since 2004. Cameron started his radio career at V-103 in the early 1990s and used to compete against Ski during morning drive on rival R&B/hip-hop station Hot 107.9 until V-103 wooed him back.
In radio, music morning show slots are considered more prestigious and lucrative than afternoons. But given V-103’s commitment to big personalities and a healthy budget, Cameron has been able to pocket a generous (though unspecified) morning-show level salary while hosting an afternoon show.
“They have such an incredible bench of talent there,” said Bert Weiss, host of Q100’s popular Bert Show. “For a station to invest in talent to that degree is rare given all the cuts in the industry.”
Caffey prides himself in investing in talent. Money he saved by not bringing in Ski was spent on Big Tigger, taking over for afternoons. Tigger has dong mornings and afternoons in New York and D.C. and has many of the qualities Caffey seeks in his talent: the ability to do black-tie events and host club events, an eagerness to do community service and a distinctive, upbeat on-air persona.
V-103 was able to walk away from Ski because its audience knows and loves Cameron. Based on polls over the years on ajc.com’s Radio and TV Talk, Cameron is actually more popular than Ski. On Thursday, more than 70 percent of poll takers were happy that Cameron is moving to mornings while 58 percent were glad to see Ski go.
Although Ski and Cameron are both in their late 40s, Cameron seems much younger, relying more on goofy comedy than Ski. “Frank comes across as your uncle,” said Joe Taylor, a drag queen who goes by the name Miss Sophia in public. Taylor was part of the Frank and Wanda show from 2005 to 2010. “Ryan is more like your silly older brother.”
Ski, who opened a Buckhead restaurant Frank Ski’s Restaurant and Lounge last year, told listeners on air Thursday that he plans to stay in Atlanta, though his Dunwoody mansion is now up for sale for $2.2 million. He didn’t specify what his future plans are but he did say, “You will hear me again on radio.”
Smith also wasn’t specific about her future plans but will continue to host a stand-up comedy show every Friday at Uptown Comedy Corner in Atlanta.
“Radio years are measured like years,” said Gary Abdo, who runs Uptown and knows Smith and Cameron well. “Frank and Wanda have had an amazing run. I don’t think people appreciate how hard the two of them work behind the scenes. And my audience loves Wanda. She’s going to be missed on the radio.”