Clear Channel, the nation's largest radio company which operates five radio stations in Atlanta, has never truly become a household name outside of media circles. So I doubt there are going to be a lot of tears shed with the recent announcement that the San Antonio-based company will drop Clear Channel and instead use a variant of its iHeartRadio brand, dubbing the corporation iHeartMedia.
This is merely a symbolic change but one that the company hopes will make it sound more modern, more hip.
IHeartRadio has been its digital brand for six years and its a popular on-line app that competes with Pandora and Spotify. Its radio jocks on the FM dial cite the name frequently, especially promoting its annual IHeartRadio Festival in Vegas, which features some of the biggest names in music this weekend (e.g. Taylor Swift, Usher, Coldplay, Ariane Grande, Nicki Minaj, Motley Crue, the Zac Brown Band) and hosted by Ryan Seacrest.
"We've taken our biggest national brand, our newest brand, our most digital brand, and made that the name of the company," said Robert W. Pittman, the company's chief executive, to the New York Times.
Radio geeks like me have known the company more for its reputation for tight-fisted spending, heavy use of voice tracking and a debt-ridden spreadsheet. (Critics have derided it as "Cheap Channel.") The company is still a behemoth in the radio world. It owns more than 1,200 radio stations nationwide and its media and entertainment division brought in $3.1 billion in revenue last year, most of it from traditional radio and only a small fraction from digital streaming advertising (though it's growing quickly.)
Spiff Carner, the former morning host of Randy & Spifff who worked at Clear Channel from 2003 through 2005 at Cool 105.7, said Clear Channel has some built-in "negative connotations" while "IHeartRadio" seems to carry more cache. "Why not have a fresh start?" he said.
Most listeners locally just know the names of Clear Channel stations: talk station 640/WGST-AM, country phenom 94.9/The Bull, top 40 upstart Power 96.1, Mexican mainstay 105.3/El Patron and new alternative rock option Radio 105.7.
Over the years, Atlanta has been an especially weak spot for Clear Channel thanks to bungled management decisions, abrupt personnel shifts and frequent, questionable format changes. Program directors seldom last more than two years. Some radio dial spots (such as 105.7) have seen more than a half-dozen formats over the past dozen years. Once formidable brand names such as 96rock and 94.9/The Peach were killed. Its Atlanta headquarters on Peachtree Road was nicknamed years ago by former WGST host Kim "The Kimmer" Peterson as "the building of death."
The Kimmer, now on Cumulus's NewsRadio 106.7, calls the move "probably brilliant. Everyone like IHeartRadio. You can listen to anybody you want there. It's a smart move."
Indeed, Clear Channel Atlanta (now technically iHeartMedia Atlanta) isn't the basket case it used to be. Matt Scarano, the current Atlanta market manager, has stabilized the ship.
Country station the Bull last month hit No. 1 among 25 to 54 year olds in the ratings, a first, demolishing established rival Kicks 101.5. Two-year-old top 40 station Power 96.1 has found its sea legs and El Patron and Radio 105.7 offer decent ratings and revenues from its target audiences. WGST, once a powerhouse, is now an afterthought on the AM dial but at least they have some local programming on top of syndicated fare.
Here is how iHeartMedia Atlanta, on its sales page, illustrates the "typical" female listener who listens to the Bull, Power and Radio 105.7.
Credit: Rodney Ho
Credit: Rodney Ho
They also have several radio personalities "pitch" themselves to advertisers as endorsers
. For some reason, the videographer has them looking away from the camera during the pitch. This is
Rich "Sully" Sullivan
from WGST-AM (who used to be on Dave FM):
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com