Monday, December 12, 2011

The Clear Channel/Atlanta Jigsaw Puzzle

I used to enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles.  They are the kind of activity that takes your mind off the stress of life.  But not everyone enjoys challenges when there's no real competition, or prize for that matter.

Readers of this column know I have advocated that El Patron 105.3 and Wild 105.7 switch frequencies.  That was a simple puzzle in which Clear Channel/Atlanta had no interest.  A year ago, when WGST hired Rob Johnson in mornings and Rusty Humphries for afternoons, I wrote that the station would see its salaries increase but not its ratings unless it simulcast WGST on an FM signal.  Clear Channel was not interested in that puzzle either.

A rumor has surfaced, however, that Clear Channel/Atlanta is suddenly interested in putting together a puzzle. The reason is there is a prize, possibly a lucrative one.  It's called political revenue in an election year.  Rumors happen all the time but over the past week, this one has been getting louder and louder.  In fact, last week I heard variations of it from two respected people in high places, a program director and a general manager.  That does not mean it's true, of course.

News/Talk stations can take in a lot of revenue in a full-blown election year.  Many music stations accept only federal political advertising, as required by law, but not state or local.  News/Talk stations, given their political on-air environment, are probably more likely to accept state and local races.  And candidates like News/Talk because the format's listeners are involved.

A News/Talk station attracting political advertising is not necessarily a given, especially with ratings like WGST's.  A significant part of WGST's ratings ailment is a result of its poor nighttime signal, which is almost non-existent in many parts of the market; and of a News/Talk listening base that has partially migrated to FM, led there by the WSB simulcast.

Until around 1999, WGST simulcast on 105.7.  But when that signal was marginally upgraded, Clear Channel decided it wanted another profit center and destroyed WGST as a viable station in the process.

WGST has just turned on its new FM translator on 92.3.  It transmits with 99 watts from the original Richland tower on Briarcliff Road.  The signal is really bad, however, and seems to have a sharp null to the east.  The new FM does not portend a stash of election cash.  WGST needs another road to riches.

While the rumor varies, the gist of it is that WGST will add an FM simulcast at the powerful 105.3, current home of El Patron.  El Patron will then move to the 92.3 translator and simulcast with 96.7, a weak signal south of town.  Of course, we don't know if the rumor is true at all, much less that this will be the exact scenario.  That said, I'm not sure this is the best way to assemble the pieces.

WGST will never get close to WSB in ratings or revenue, but the 105.7 signal made the station quite marketable years ago.  It concentrates its coverage in Atlanta's affluent northern environs.  I would tend to put WGST on both 105.7 and 96.7, using the southern signal to cover attractive demographics in such locales as Tyrone and Stockbridge.  The only bastion of wealth where WGST-FM would be weak is Buckhead, an area where its AM signal is satisfactory even at night.

I would then move Wild to 105.3, a signal that blasts from south of Atlanta as far as Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and Marietta.  That station's potential is not being realized on 105.7 because of its iffy signal south of the top-end Perimeter.  El Patron would be relegated to 92.3.

Doing it that way would of course assure virtual destruction of El Patron.  Frankly, even giving it a 96.7 simulcast would add little to it.  To resurrect WGST, something would have to give, and Hispanic dollars from major advertisers are in a lull.

Thinking about what the rumored scenario or the one I suggested would do to El Patron makes me wonder if any of this will happen.  While the Latino ad market is in a slump, El Patron is a virtual automatic for every Hispanic buy.  That might not be the case if 92.3 became its main signal, especially with a La Raza 102.3 simulcast rumored to be coming on 101.1 from a 250-watt FM translator on Stone Mountain.

Last week, El Patron terminated Brenda Bueno, co-host of the morning show.  For now, El Tigre is going it alone.  This might mean one of two things.  Word is the station felt that Bueno, who came from the former Viva, was not well suited to the Regional Mexican sound; and the station is looking for exactly the right talent mix for mornings.  If that's true, the rumor might not come to fruition.

If the real reason for Bueno's dismissal was to pare down the budget for a signal with less potential, a legitimate WGST simulcast could be in the offing.  One sure thing is that Wild will either stay where it is at 105.7 or move to the bigger 105.3 signal.  At Clear Channel/Atlanta, success is relative, and they consider Wild a success.

If the rumor is true, fitting the puzzle pieces together correctly will be the key to the cluster's destiny in 2012.

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Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog:


  1. I hope you are right! I would much rather see WILD move to 96.1, but I can deal with 105.3... anything is better than 105.7/96.7. WILD really fills a gap in this market and if Clear Channel wants to compete with V103 and Q100, it needs to give WILD a much stronger signal!

  2. Interesting observations and history Mr. Freeman, but isn't this AM vs. FM radio strategy less important in 2011 than in 1999 because of satellite radio, HD radio and Internet-delivered radio content to multiple mobile and computer platforms via web sites and apps such as ITune Radio,

    I'd like to see your research and thoughts on this.

    Perhaps ClearChannel is more advanced in their radio strategy in the Atlanta metro area than you think if new technologies are included in your analysis.

    Porter Versfelt III
    President & CEO, Versfelt Communications Group
    Atlanta, Georgia

  3. So Roddy, what do you think the chances of all of this happening are? And when can we expect these changes?

    I really think they should put WILD on 96.1, move Project to 105.3, WGST or El Patron to 105.7 (not sure if WGST can compete with WSB but if they want to try their best bet is 105.7)