Soon after veteran radio programmer Ken Charles joined FM 95.5 WSB radio last year, he learned long-time host Scott Slade was planning to leave the morning show after 31 years.
Armed with fresh internal research from WSB listeners, Charles this year used Slade’s departure as a starting point to embark on a series of moves that have impacted four of the station’s six weekday time slots, the most change WSB has seen in more than three decades.
Chris Chandler recently took over for Slade as morning host. Mark Arum’s show switched time slots with Eric Von Haessler’s team, which is now on in afternoons. And Shelley Wynter has gone solo on weekday evenings with his former co-host MalaniKai Massey getting her own show on Saturday nights.
In an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Charles explained why he made the changes and how he believes they will make an already well-established, financially profitable station even better.
“I feel very comfortable that we’ve got the right people in the right slots,” said Charles, who previously worked as director of programming at former rival news/talk station WGST-AM from 1998 to 2001. “We are set to grow our success.”
The station, which was No. 1 in Atlanta for much of 2020 and 2021 when the news cycle was super hot, saw some slippage last year, which happened to many news/talk stations nationwide. But WSB remains a powerhouse. In April, it was No. 3 overall behind rock station 97.1/The River and R&B station Majic 107.5/97.5 and top 5 in all major dayparts, according to Nielsen ratings.
Here are some highlights from the talk with Charles:
On his own history at other radio stations over 40-plus years: “My whole career was to go in and change things and help fix broken stations. This is not a broken station. This is a place with heritage and amazing talent across the board on and off the air.”
A reason to look at everything: “Once we knew Scott’s decision to step back, it gave us an opportunity to look at everything we do. This company has a great research team. We did a very big project looking at the entire radio station and talked not only to current listeners but people who may have listened less the past year or two. The main reason people listened less was schedule changes. The pandemic really changed a lot of people’s commuting patterns.”
Replacing Slade: “We listened to three great talents in the building that were all well known to our audience. We asked listeners who would be the right person a bunch of different ways. In the end, we saw Chris Chandler as the right guy.” [Chandler has been a steady force for WSB since 2009 as an anchor and reporter.]
Why swap time slots and place Arum in the morning and Von Haessler in the late afternoon: “We talked about the flow of the radio station. Going from news to Mark to [Erick] Erickson to [Sean] Hannity to EVH was a more strategic flow. People know Mark. He’s been with the station for decades and also did traffic on WSB. So the morning folks know and love him. We believe his most ardent fans would make the switch with him. Then when you look at Eric, he has also spent many years in morning drive [with 96rock and Rock 100.5]. That same audience is more available at 4 p.m. than 10 a.m. We looked at consumption patterns and it became clear this flip made sense.”
How he responds to email complaints about the swap: “Unless they’re really disrespectful, I write them back and thank them for listening. I ask them to try the new show and let them know they can also listen to what they like via podcast. I send them a link to the website and app. About 50, 60% of the people respond back and are surprised an actual human being gave them an answer.”
Company men: “Mark and Eric are professionals and great partners. They embraced the change. They love this radio station and are fans of the brand. They’re going to do great in their new dayparts.”
Splitting up “Word on the Street”: “Every talent wants to do their own show whether it’s radio or TV. This was an opportunity to make both Shelley and MalaniKai’s dreams come true. This will be real estate they both own and control. The research helped us make this decision.”
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com