Originally created 10/31/04

'Top 40' radio goes flat in Augusta



Unless you have satellite radio, your days of hearing Hilary Duff, Jo Jo, Jessica Simpson, 50 Cent, OutKast, Alicia Keys and Hoobastank on one Augusta radio station are over, at least for now.

Such pop, hip-hop and rock artists formed the limbs that made up the tree of top 40 radio.

The Oct. 1 switch of Clear Channel's top 40 station, WZNY-FM (105.7), to a country format left the Augusta market without a station that mixes current songs in musical genres. The demise of the area's only top 40 station has forced WZNY's fans to listen to hip-hop and rock on separate stations, leaving pop music out in the cold.

"I don't think it's dead. I think it's just changed, gotten to the point where urban and hip-hop have come into the mainstream." said Jay Cruze, the assistant to the regional vice president of Clear Channel Radio programming for Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida panhandle. "All you need is a hip-hop and a rock station in your market."

Mr. Cruze, 27, was an on-air personality for top 40 stations for six of his 12 years in radio, including a stint as night disc jockey for WZNY from February 2000 to October 2002. He is now a jockey for adult contemporary, top 40 and country stations, and he programs top 40, urban and country stations. It was Mr. Cruze's job to set up and program the country tunes when his old station switched to WIBL.

He said he is familiar with the area and understands the change, saying "country music is huge" in the area.

"Top 40 appeals to 18- to 34-year-old females, and the average advertiser wants to advertise to 25- to 54-year-old persons. Country music appeals to all ages," Mr. Cruze said. "And there's so many other stations there playing (top 40) music. (Urban stations) Power (WPRW-FM) and Foxie (WFXA-FM) playing the urban side, 95 Rock (WCHZ-FM) appealing to rock and stations like WBBQ playing some pop - so it was saturated."

Cathy Walker, 21, of North Augusta, loves MTV and liked getting "TRL music" from WZNY, the No. 1 button on her car radio. Rather than searching among the stations, she has stopped listening to the radio.

"I am so mad that Y105's gone. When you listen to country, all you hear is country. When you listen to rock, all you hear is rock. The same with hip-hop. I like variety," she said. "And there's nowhere to go for pop. I have to go out and buy the CD if I like one song; I've bought three since (the changes). I bet CD sales will go up now."

Andy Allen, 24, of Martinez, agrees.

"It would be nice to hear a little Britney Spears' My Prerogative every once in a while; you can't hear that anywhere else (locally), and I don't really want to buy her greatest hits album," Mr. Allen said.

The loss of WZNY did not affect Lisa Cobb, 34, of Augusta, an avid listener of old school, R&B and gospel. She said she never listened to the station. Neither did Stephen Townes, 23, of North Augusta, who is happy it's gone.

"I do like the Bull (WIBL). I'm not a top 40s kind of guy," he said.

Tom Taylor, a journalist and editor of Inside Radio and M Street, a daily radio industry publications, said that op 40 radio is not going away and that the end of WZNY is not the start of a national trend.

Mr. Taylor, a former top 40 programmer, said the M Street database showed that commercial top 40 stations declined from 951 in 1989 to an all-time low of 318 in 1995 as baby boomers aged and wanted to hear more jazz and adult contemporary stations. Since 1995, however, the number of stations has grown steadily, up to 497 today. The growth, he said, was spawned by the growing influence of youth culture and hip-hop."

Mr. Taylor said the revamping of WZNY is designed to appeal to a different demographic, something that nearly all radio stations attempt at one time or another.

"The general manager now has a wider potential for advertisers, maybe beer customers," he said. "Top 40 is doing well right now, but it depends on the area. You'll always have a feeling out there of people upset, but you don't want emotion to get in the way of a business decision."

According to Clear Channel Barry Kaye, the vice president and general manager of Radio of Augusta, said that the company spends more than $100,000 annually on research and that the research indicated a change was necessary. He said that Augusta has a low number of 18- to-34-year-olds and that pop accounted for only one-third of WZNY's songs, while hip-hop and rock are offered elsewhere. During the first week of the WZNY's change, Mr. Kaye said, he received about 200 phone calls, letters and e-mails. Now, he said, the calls are 5-to-1 in favor of WIBL.

"Is this a trend? Only in markets with age demographics like the CSRA," Mr. Kaye said, "I was sad to let it go. Y105 was great, but we were just fighting a losing battle."

On the other hand, Joel Den-ver, the president and publisher of All Access.com, an online trade publication for the radio and record business, said "everybody's taste in everybody's market is different, and what goes for a hit record nationally doesn't always trickle down." That doesn't mean a top 40 station would work in Augusta, he said.

Looking at ratings information from his Los Angeles office, the former 14-year top 40 editor at Radio and Record Newspaper speculated that one reason WZNY switched formats was to cut rival country station WKXC-FM's audience in half.

Other reasons Mr. Denver suggested as to why WZNY didn't work as a top 40 station included the station's programming, marketing, promotion, advertising, contests, resources and tools allotted; the strength of the on-air personalities; and the amount of money given to them. Every market has its own musical appetite, and it's up to radio stations to decide what parts of the menu they're going to serve, he said.

"Top 40 is having a real good run right now. Will top 40 work in Augusta? Absolutely. Hit records are hit records," Mr. Denver said. "If you look at the top of the charts, you see Maroon5 and Avril Lavigne up there with Ciara, Destiny's Child and Eminem. You're not going to tell me there's no one there who wants to hear that."

"There's a void in that marketplace now. Somebody somewhere will figure this out."

The latest FM guide

88.3 WAFJ, Christian Radio
89.1 WLJK, SCETV NPR affiliate, talk
90.7 WACG, Georgia Public Radio, NPR affiliate, talk, classical and jazz
91.7 WLPE, Good News Network, Christian
92.3 WAEG, alternative rock
93.1 WKDG, The Big Dog, contemporary and classic country
95.1 WCHZ, 95 Rock, active rock
96.3 WKSP, Kiss FM, urban adult contemporary
96.9 WAKB, Magic 96, urban adult contemporary
97.9 WIIZ The Wiz, hip-hop and R&B
98.1 WSLT, Lite 98, adult contemporary
99.5 WKXC, Kicks 99, contemporary country
100.9 WTHB, Augusta's Inspiration Station, inspirational
102.3 WEKL, Eagle 102, classic rock
102.7 WGOR, oldies
103.1 WFXA, Foxie 103, hip-hop and R&B
104.3 WBBQ, adult contemporary and soft rock
105.7 WIBL, The Bull, contemporary, classic country
107.7 WPRW, Power 107, Hip-hop and R&B

Reach C. Samantha McKevie at (706) 823-3552 or samantha.mckevie@augustachronicle.com.