By RODNEY HO/ firstname.lastname@example.org, originally filed Thursday, December 24, 2015
This was a rough year for radio veterans in Atlanta. A raft of them lost their jobs, from Cindy Simmons on Star 94 to Emperor Searcy on Hot 107.9 to Carol Blackmon on Majic 107.5.
Then there was Steve McCoy, the long-time Star 94 morning host. He tops my list of most notable Atlanta radio stories of 2015:
Recycling isn’t always a good thing: McCoy joined NewsRadio 106.7 in February as new morning host, an unusual selection given his lack of news/talk background. He had spent decades in pop radio. It was not a good fit. So when a Donald Trump interview fell through, McCoy didn’t just move on. He dug up an old interview he had done with Trump on Star 94 years ago, inserted new questions and tried to make it seem fresh. He also threw Trump’s “handlers” under the bus by claiming they wouldn’t let him ask any substantive questions about policy. When a Buzzfeed reporter wrote about this, a Trump spokesman denied McCoy had spoken to Trump. McCoy soon admitted the truth and he was quickly out of a job. On the bright side, his former Star 94 colleague Rob Stadler took his place as morning host starting December 16.
Not the breast Tweet: Mike Bell, afternoon host on sports talk station 92.9/The Game, went into Twitter rage watching Jessica Mendoza, a pro softball player, offer analysis during a Major League Baseball playoff game on ESPN. He proceeded to call her a sexist name used in the film “Anchorman” that involves women’s breasts. (See above.) Then he defended his position for hours on Twitter until he felt forced to apologize, repeating the insult once more. The next day, he read a statement on the Game lamenting his juvenile actions and was suspended three days.
Bad fortune begets bad fortune: Whether you hate or love Bert Weiss, the Atlanta radio morning host, you have to feel for the guy. His 2015 has been packed with the types of stress-inducing bad news that might normally be spread out over, say, five years. First up: his father died of Alzheimer’s soon after they had reconciled. A few weeks later, he separated from Stacey, his wife of 18 years. (The divorce is nearly concluded.) In August, his dog was attacked by two strays but survived. Last month, Jeff Dauler, Bert’s No. 2 man for 14 years, jumped ship to rival radio station Star 94. Bert was gobsmacked. Two weeks later, he had an appendectomy. And earlier this month, he broke his left foot playing basketball. 2016 couldn’t come soon enough for him.
Not-so-fantastic interview: Regular listeners of Rock 100.5’s “Southside” Steve Rickman are used to him fawning over attractive female celebrities. He did the same at a junket for “Fantastic Four,” complimenting Kate Mara‘s hair and toes. The actress was not impressed and neither were many reporters who saw the viral video, one who called his line of questioning “harassment.” Co-host Jason Bailey’s question about the race of the cast also drew criticism. The morning show got the last laugh: the film was one of the biggest busts of the year.
Major anniversaries: V-103 and Hot 107.9 both hit major milestones this year. In June, Hot celebrated 20 years as Atlanta’s first hip-hop station with four concerts, one focused on the past at the Tabernacle (Lil Scrappy, Ying Yang Twins), one focused on the present at Philips Arena (Kanye, Ludacris, Future), a freebie show at Centennial Olympic Park (Goodie Mob, Pastor Troy) and one set on up-and-coming artists at the Masquerade. And this month, V-103 brought several classic R&B acts to Philips for its 40th anniversary, including Tyrese, Keith Sweat, Jagged Edge and Bell Biv Devoe.
Back on top: V-103 regained its dominant form after a shaky 2014 as Ryan Cameron with Wanda Smith congealed as a team. Kiss 104.1 and News 95.5 and AM 750 News stayed near the top, pounding direct rivals Majic 107.5/97.5 and NewsRadio 106.7 respectively. Kicks 101.5 found its footing, surpassing 94.9/The Bull near the end of the year after trailing for two years. Fish 104.7 also had an exceptional year, regularly landing in the top 5. Of the four pop stations, B98.5 and Q100 were down slightly while both Power 96.1 and Star gained some. Rock 100.5’s classic rock switch took a toll on 97.1/The River.
Goodbye to classical: 90.1/WABE-FM, in partial reaction to the arrival of GPB’s 88.5/WRAS NPR format in 2014, switched to all talk during the day in January, dropping classic music. Ratings have remained steady for WABE with no obvious impact from WRAS, which draws about a small fraction of WABE’s audience..
Quiet year in format shifts: None of the major signals changed formats this year, at least as of December 18. Two smaller signals did swap out. Alternative rock X107.1 became country in June. And country station Nash ICON 97.9 became Warm 98.9 earlier this month, starting as Christmas and presumably going soft pop December 26. And though 790/The Zone was technically dead since the spring of 2014 when the station just aired syndicated ESPN fare, it died for good over the summer of 2015, becoming a simulcast of Star 94 – for now.
Claudia Jordan’s doubly fired: In a span of a few weeks, she not only lost her “Real Housewives of Atlanta” gig but her morning host spot on the Atlanta-based Rickey Smiley Morning Show. Smiley said it was a business decision based on the fact listeners didn’t really take to her. He also had to fend off criticism that he has issues with the staff since he dumped Ebony Steele last year. Jordan has since moved back to Los Angeles and loves Periscope.
Sports talk battle continues: 92.9/The Game, which has the superior signal and is the flagship for both the Falcons and the Hawks, has been unable to upend more established the Fan (AM 680 and 93.7 FM). The Game dumped Marc James, brought in John Fricke and Hugh Douglas for mornings and lost Jamie Dukes. The ratings battle remains very very tight.
Notable radio personalities who left or got cut in 2015 (besides the aforementioned McCoy)
Rob Stadler, Star 94, after 28 years (he has since joined NewsRadio 106.7)
Jenn Hobby, Kicks 101.5, after three years (She’s better known for a decade-long stint with the Bert Show.)