Kicks 101.5 becomes New Country 101.5

New management seeking to refresh a stale station

Originally posted Thursday, November 14, 2019 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Kicks 101.5, as of 3 p.m. Thursday, kicked the bucket after 38 years.

It’s now New Country 101.FIVE with a revamped morning show, a new afternoon host and fresh voice imaging.

The name itself isn’t particularly innovative since “New Country” is a common appellation at many stations in other cities. But the use of FIVE instead of “5” in the signal is unusual.

The 101.5 signal has been country music since 1959 and the name has been Kicks since 1981. It was one of  the longest-running radio names in the market but in the mind of Brian Phillips, new executive vice president for programming of the Atlanta-based Cumulus Media, that moniker needed changing.

“We want to bring a new generation to the frequency,” said Phillips, who helped launch the 1990s era 99X and the early days of top 40 station Q100 (now Q99.7).

Phillips wants the station to better embody Georgia and not be some cookie-cutter, homogeneous product. Instead, he wants the sound to feel younger and higher energy. Lance Venta, who runs Radio Insight, said the sound is more akin to top 40 with an emphasis on Georgia and two of its new jocks have a top 40 background. It's a similar strategy Phillips took when he launched Texas Country 99.5/The Wolf in Dallas in 1998.

“It’s also how the Bull positioned itself against Kicks” when that new station launched in 2006 as the cooler version of Atlanta country radio, Venta noted. “Now the Bull is considered the stodgy leader.”

The Bull is now kicking Kicks in the rear in the ratings by a wide margin. Last month, the Bull was ahead with a 4.3 share to 2.4 for Kicks. That was Kicks’ worst monthly performance since people meter measurements were introduced in Atlanta in 2009.

Interestingly, based on Mediabase 24/7 analysis, Kicks actually was playing more current music than the Bull the past month. (72 percent of Kicks’ songs were from the past three years vs. 62 percent on the Bull.)

The first hour of New Country specifically focused on Georgia artists such as Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Sugarland, Thomas Rhett and the Zac Brown Band.

By 4 p.m., it was back to a regular mix which was nearly all songs from the past decade.

Here is what was played during the 4 p.m. hour, based on Mediabase 24/7 tracking:

4 p.m. Jason Aldean "My Kinda Party"

4:04 p.m. Sam Hunt "Kinfolks"

4:08 p.m. Kane Brown featuring Lauren Alaina "What Ifs"

4:20 p.m. Lady Antebellum "Bartender"

4:24 p.m. Old Dominion "One Man Band"

4:27 p.m. Dan + Shay "Tequila"

4:30 p.m. Luke Bryan "What She Wants"

4:33 p.m. Frank Ballard "Sunshine & Whiskey"

4:36 p.m. Miranda Lambert "If All Comes Out in the Wash"

4:40 p.m. Morgan Wallen "Whiskey Glasses"

4:43 p.m. Dustin Lynch "Ridin' Roads"

4:47 p.m. Jason Aldean "Burnin' It Down"

4:50 p.m. Luke Combs "Even Though I'm Leaving"

4:54 p.m. Kelsea Ballerini "Miss Me More"

4:59 p.m. Eric Church "Drink in My Hand"

J.J. Kincaid, who last did mornings on a top 40 station in Denver 95.7/The Party and hosted afternoons on Z100 in New York for nine years, will be paired with Dallas McCade, who has been with 101.5 since 2008 (and was on sister station Eagle 106.7 before that.)

“J.J. has a spectacular reputation and a great historic track record,” Phillips said.

Corey Dylan, who arrived in mornings in January with now ousted Cadillac Jack, will remain in afternoons. Lucas Phelan, previously at country station Buz'n 102.9 in Minneapolis for three years, takes over for Scott Gaines in afternoons. Phelan, who officially launched the rebranding on air, worked at a top 40 station in that city as well.

“Lucas is a ball of energy and has programming experience as well,” Phillips said. And the man shows off his arm tattoos in his promo photo.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - APRIL 05: Brantley Gilbert attends the 54th Academy Of Country Music Awards Cumulus/Westwood One Radio Remotes on April 05, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for ACM)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - APRIL 05: Brantley Gilbert attends the 54th Academy Of Country Music Awards Cumulus/Westwood One Radio Remotes on April 05, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for ACM)

Credit: Frazer Harrison

Credit: Frazer Harrison

Credit: Jason Pullman publicity photo

Credit: Jason Pullman publicity photo

The station's new voice imaging is a combo of the Southern drawl of Jefferson native Brantley GIlbert joined by Roswell High School grad and former rival 94.9/The Bull morning host Jason Pullman.

“Brantley grew up listening to Kicks,” Phillips said. “He’s a larger-than-life character, a terrific writer, raconteur and true artist. When we met with him, we wanted to build the station for this guy, a true Georgian.”

And though Pullman is never identified as the voice-over guy on air, the hiring is a bit of a tweak toward the Bull, which let Pullman go in January with no explanation.  Pullman has since landed a morning host gig at US99, a heritage Chicago country station.)

The last time a radio station in Atlanta re-branded but kept the same format was then Clear Channel’s soft pop station Peach 94.9 in 2002, which became Lite 94.9 for four years before it turned into the Bull in 2006.

Phillips, who ran CMT for several years, and new program director Mike Moore have been working on the revamp for several months.

“We got creative help from a lot of people,” he said. “It took a lot of different layers to put this station together. It’s been a joy!”

Moore said listeners won’t hear a massive change in the music but there will be a greater emphasis on Georgia acts. “When one of the major stars comes out with a new project, we will celebrate that,” he said. “And we will look for undiscovered stars who have real relationships and sell tickets and have aggressive streaming numbers from Georgia. We will give them a platform to expose their music to a wider audience.”

Since he is not from Georgia, Moore said he has leaned on Dallas McCade heavily to learn what makes Georgians tick. “She is one of the most beloved personalities in this marketplace,” he said. “She has tremendous knowledge and relationships with the audience.”

Phillips said he opted not to go with a more colorful name like the Wolf. New Country may be a bit dull but it’s descriptive and direct.

“In the modern era, people are bombarded with so many things to remember,” he said. “People don’t have the bandwidth to remember a mascot. Stick with the frequency and music position.”

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