Atlanta Media Becoming More Similar, Less Significant

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

This has been an active year in the Atlanta media market, with changes abounding in personnel and formats at our local TV and radio stations.  WGST radio, an AM talk station that had managed to remain a viable talk-news format in the shadow of Cox’s WSB juggernaut abruptly dumped its entire lineup Wednesday as WSB announced the signing of WGST’s flagship syndication of Rush Limbaugh.  A station for political dialogue that did a good job of focusing on state and local issues is rumored to be considering comedy or sports talk.

Meanwhile on the FM dial, DaveFM’s owners have decided it too will join the sports talk space, a few weeks after the vestiges of Atlanta’s original hard rock station vanished. 96 Rock, which had recently transitioned to something called Project 9-6-1, has now gone full pop featuring Katy Perry and One Direction.  Atlanta, a top 10 media market, now appears only to want to offer several versions of two or three “safe” formats for listeners – and advertisers – to choose from.

Bigger changes have been made with key personalities.  Earlier this year, WSB radio talk show host Neil Boortz announced he will retire upon the inauguration of whichever President we elect this November.  Boortz has been on Atlanta radio since 1969.  To put that in perspective, that is the year I was born and the year man walked on the moon.  I’m old and I have gray hair.  Boortz is a living institution.

On WSB’s television station, Anchor Monica Kaufmann Pearson signed off from her final broadcast this summer, having been on the air at the same station since 1975.  She too has been part of Atlanta and Georgia’s news for literally as long as I can remember.

Change is a constant part of life, but the changes we’re seeing in the Atlanta market reflect a growing reality of how we receive our news and entertainment as much as the fact that people tend to move on over time.  Our viewing and listening habits are changing, and advertisers are aware of this.  Without advertisers, those who provide us with valuable public services are left as non-profits.  Investors generally don’t appreciate the term “non-profit”.

As the Atlanta media market has grown, the connection to individuals within the market has been somewhat lost as well.  A viewing audience of 5 million people plus is hard to localize.  Folks with ever shrinking attention spans are not likely to wait through a story about a distant suburb while waiting to hear news about their own.

Program directors are constantly attempting to find the calculus of mixing the right amount of stories or news that will impact and interest the widest section of viewers.   Those viewers, meanwhile, have many more options to choose from that don’t involve regular programming.  Internet based options such as Hulu and Pandora have allowed consumers to find programming that matches their specific tastes at the same time the legacy broadcasters are trying to figure out how to be more general.  It’s a difficult business model to solve.

So why is all of this in a column about Georgia politics?  In some way, it is one difference that continues to separate Atlanta and its people from the rest of the state.  More rural communities outside of Atlanta still have radio, TV, and newspapers that can focus on local viewers where they live.  As such, our smaller towns still have media institutions that promote a sense of community.  Meanwhile, half of our state lives in a largely homogenous doughnut surrounding the capitol city yet feels little or no connection to each other.

There’s quite a bit of local pride remaining in much of Georgia’s other cities and towns.  There are media institutions there to help bring and bind them together.  In Atlanta, however, we have twenty versions of pop music and an increasing number of places to call and vent about Saturday’s game.  And a bunch of people who live near each other, are demographically similar, and think regionalism is the spawn of the devil.

Atlanta remains a town where people live closer and closer together and remain further and further apart.


    • griftdrift says:

      And carrying on Charlie’s point……

      Let’s hoping you live outside the WABE dead zone and actually get programming throughout the day instead of Lois Reitz’s dentist office music!

      • If you have HD radio you can pick up additional streams on 90.1 that have more NPR programming during the day, or XM or streaming radio with phone.

        I got an HD ready receiver for my ’97 Acura about two years ago for around $100. Other benefits: 91.1 has three streams and you can listen to a lot of low power AM stations on their FM stream counterparts, like 790 is on 94.1/3 if I recall correctly.

        Still no excuse for WABE’s hours of Bach’s Lunch every day. I am told that they are able to raise the $ easily from the crowd that likes that stuff, and I am sympathetic to that having worked in Democratic politics for so long – many of the people who claim they are “ready” to fund a different type of NPR are the same people who never actually write their check to support candidates that they say they will.

        Now – before people attack me – lots of good people who do follow through on pledges out there, but I’m just saying if you are in WABE’s fundraising department and you raise enough money to keep the station on the air as is, it would seem to me to be pretty dangerous to switch things up based on the promises of a lot of people who would “definitely” kick in if only they’d change. Buy now pay later.

      • Calypso says:

        Thanks for the link, Harry. I really like classical music. I’ve got it playing in the background now. Is that a Finnish site? Does it just keep playing different classical music uniterrupted?

          • Calypso says:

            In addition to just listening, the thing I appreciate most about classical music is the incredible talent it takes on the part of both the composer and the musician(s). For the majority of this music to still be played and enjoyed centuries after it was written is a testament to its quality and enduring nature.

            Even for folks who don’t like to listen, I trust they can at least appreciate the skill and talent involved in its writing and performance.

  1. Spacey G says:

    This column in one sentence – Internets killed everything; move on. Ok, lemme take a few more because I can’t ever write just one sentence.

    There is no “magic mix” to support any old media models, especially the kinds that go back to Monica Kaufman times and beyond.

    I wish people would stop trying to fix the same ‘ole same ‘ole model, and spend any money they’ve got left (which is probably not all that much unless you’re the 32nd richest person on the planet as Anne C. C. is) and their creative resources by being simply more creative and innovative in and with localized media.

    After all this is a town overflowing with content potential in its treasure trove of music, crimes, news, sports, politics, sex, gossip, intrique, food, drink, things to do, things not to do… you get the point.

    Come to think about it, why doesn’t Annie C. loosen up daddy’s purse strings a bit to encourage more media creativity over at The Cox Plantation? Do the people really want more Rush Limbaugh in their lives? Doubtful.

    As for Rietzes… they’ll have to pry her off of that WABE mic with the Jaws of Life. Alas.

    Oh, and one more thing while I’m on-topic, the new all-news station, AllNews106.7, seems to really “get” Atlanta. I dare to say their coverage of City Hall and COA affairs is remarkably decent, and their anchor teams seem to, like, know things about this city. Amazing how they find all that Atlanta/Georgia news., but they seem to actually try and go find some. Support them, and the awesome Voice of the Art Station, AM1690, with your listen.

    Sure beats Rietzes’ Souza marches. And that voice. Oh don’t get me started on that voice…

  2. Ed says:

    Your biggest failure is going above 92.0 on the radio dial. Anything below that is pretty awesome in Atlanta (including WABE).

    Also, its kind of lol in a good way that a guy in Atlanta writing for a small town paper that is able to focus on local issues about Atlanta media.

    Who the hell is One Direction?

  3. Trey A. says:

    I second Ed on the 92.0 comment… Clarke Atlanta’s station is fantastic. Georgia State’s is interesting (and one of the best old school “college” stations in the country). WABE is tolerable most of the time and WRFG is superb in the mornings/weekends.

    Other than that, I listen to play by play–can’t handle much sports talk, but the games themselves are usually pretty good. Steve Holman (radio voice of the Hawks for over 25 years) is an Atlanta treasure.

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