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Top Atlanta radio stories of 2013: The Kimmer, Regular Guys, V-103 shifts

Nick Cellini
Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Atlanta radio in 2012 featured a multitude of format changes. Atlanta radio in 2013 was more about personnel, - people retiring, people getting hired and fired, people coming back from retirement.

Here's a quick year in review. While this isn't necessarily in order of importance, the big stories are closer to the top:

Mayhem in the AM bit kills Mayhem. Nick Cellini, on the fly, decided on one June morning to pretend to be former NFL player Steve Gleason, who has ALS, using a robotic voice and doing dopey knock-knock jokes. The two-minute bit went viral and within hours, he and his two colleagues had lost their jobs at 790/The Zone. Call that the magic - or bane - of social media. More interesting is how things played out. Chris Dimino by September had gotten a job at rival station 680/The Fan but remains off air until his non-compete is up in March. Stephen "Steak" Shapiro decided to take a job at the Fan as well but since he had a shorter non-compete, is already on the air. Cellini has seen an epiphany, visited the Gleason family in Louisiana and is now a big ALS supporter. He may not have a job yet but he said the experience has matured him greatly.

Past stories on the subject:

6/17: Mayhem in the AM get fired

6/18: Who wins, who loses in Mayhem brouhaha

8/27: Nick Cellini exclusive interview

9/9: Chris Dimino gets hired by 680/The Fan

12/13: Steak Shapiro joins 680/The Fan

The Kimmer returns, turning All News 106.7 into Mostly All News 106.7. In early October, I decided to check in on Kim "The Kimmer" Peterson to see how life was like after nearly seven years in retirement. At the time, I had no idea he was in talk s to join All News 106.7 less than a month later. He came back, bringing back some of his old WGST team and resurrecting his lighthearted humor show. Then in a twist, he had a heart attack a week later. Fortunately, he is on the mend.

Recent stories about him:

10/7/13: Catching up with the Kimmer

10/22/13: The Kimmer joins All News 106.7

11/12/13: The Kimmer has a heart attack

The Regular Guys parts ways with Eric Von Haessler. In the 1990s, Larry Wachs and Eric Von Haessler created the Regular Guys in Los Angeles. They became a huge success in Atlanta on 96rock, then to a lesser degree at Rock 100.5, where the team expanded to four. With ratings just okay, new management decided that Von Haessler was the weakest link and bid him farewell. Here's the original story from September. A replacement has yet to be named.

Von Haessler with Mara Davis, who has carved out a niche on TV and radio with Steak Shapiro's "Atlanta Eats" and talking music on WABE every week.

V-103 finds their dominance wobbly without Frank Ski. For years, V-103 was the big station, No. 1 in all key demographics and it pulled in huge bucks. Part of its appeal: big names, big personalities, big community events. The glue that held them together: Frank Ski. But he left voluntarily a year ago when CBS Radio couldn't accommodate his desire to syndicate. V-103 had long-time afternoon man Ryan Cameron ready to fill the morning slot. But Cameron saw his ratings slip recently as his new team members didn't quite gel. So two of them were cut in December and new faces are expected to pop up in 2014. Mid-day host Egypt Sherrod, whose time period was showing weakness, also left the same week. On the bright side, Big Tigger appears to have done a solid job in his new role replacing Cameron in the afternoon. (UPDATE #1: Dec. 23, 2013, 9 p.m. I should be flattered when folks call me to complain they aren't getting enough credit for what's happening. So based on feedback, I will officially give credit to all of V-103's rivals for helping chip away at its dominance, including Kiss 104.1, Streetz 94.5, Hot 107.9, Majic 107.5/97.5 and Praise 102.5. UPDATE #2: V-103 had a nice bounceback in ratings in November after it made its moves last week and returned to No.1  overall.)

Christopher "Crash" Clark(left), with CJ Simpson and Ryan Cameron, was a casualty of changes over at Cameron's morning show on V-103.

Star 94 makes a lot of moves. This adult top 40 station added a slogan "Today's Hits Without The Rap" in the spring but dumped it a few months later. It also changed its afternoon guy, its night jock and half its morning team. But the station kept right on playing the Lumineers' "Hey Ho" in high rotation. (Program director Scott Lindy recently told me listeners do not get tired of it!).

Georgia Radio Hall of Fame entries: Kaedy Kiely, Kelly McCoy, Steve Goss, Mike Roberts. Three respected veteran jocks were bestowed entry into the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame in October. Collectively, they worked more than 70 years in this market. McCoy recently retired but Goss continues as "Morning Edition" host at WABE-FM and Kiely hosts 97.1/The River's morning show. Plus, former V-103 morning host Mike Roberts (now a radio station owner in Macon) was given a nod, a sign that the group is making inroads giving African-American hosts more exposure.

Michael Baisden, on Majic, drops syndicated show. While Baisden shot his show out of Texas, he was very popular here in Atlanta, so his departure was jarring. Apparently, he had a contract dispute with his syndicator and chose to walk instead. Local station Majic 107.5/97.5 decided not to use their  replacement D.L. Hughley and opted for a local show with veteran Silas "SiMan" Alexander. Rival Kiss 104.1 also supplemented Art Terrell's afternoon show with a comic Roy Wood Jr.

Silas "SiMan Baby" Alexander moved from nights to afternoons on Majic earlier this year after Michael Baisden cut out.

Neal Boortz hits the RV, leaving full-time radio gig for Herman Cain. Boortz, a self-proclaimed libertarian talk show host who has been on Atlanta radio for more than four decades, finally decided it was time to let the daily rant go in January. 95.5FM and AM750 News/Talk WSB gave him a grandiose farewell in January. He has since spent the past year traveling. But he has made it a bit of a soft retirement by continuing to do a daily commentary during Scott Slade's morning show.

Radio 105.7 arrives to fill a gaping hole left by Project and Dave. When Project 96.1 and 92.9/Dave FM left the Atlanta scene in Atlanta, rock options shrank significantly. Clear Channel decided to create a station that bridged both those stations with the inexplicably generic name Radio 105.7, bringing some jocks back from Project. While the station brought surprisingly strong numbers through the summer, its ratings have waned a bit in the fall.

CoCo Brother departs. A popular local gospel jock Cory "CoCo Brother" Condrey decided to leave his syndication deal in May but said he still has plans to return. He worked secular radio at V-103 briefly and the Hot 107.9 before moving to Praise in 2004.

Vikki Locke bows out, Melissa Carter returns to morning radio on B98.5. In yet another retirement, Locke just found radio wasn't quite as fun as it used to be so she bowed out in July after about a quarter century in town, first at Star 94 with Steve McCoy, then B98.5 with McCoy, then Kelly Stevens. She entered PR and wanted to spend more time with her ill father. Carter, who was best known as part of the Bert Show, had been working at All News 106.7 but in the fall decided in August to go back to morning radio at B98.5.

Vikki Locke decided to leave radio earlier this year on B98.5.

Ray Mariner goes sports, loses gig in one calendar year. This was first a comeback year for Mariner but ended on a sour note. He had lost his gig at Star 94 last year with Cindy Simmons under cloudy circumstances. Though his background was music, 680/The Fan took a chance on him by including him as part of a new morning show with Brian Finneran and Sandra Golden. In less than 12 months, he was gone, replaced by "Steak" Shapiro. (UPDATE 12/24: Good news for Ray: sister company Cumulus has him subbing in this week on Q100.)

92.9/The Game struggles, shows signs of life late in year. CBS Radio gambled big time with its new sports talk station in the fall of 2012. They opted to go "live and local 24/7," which meant hiring a raft of new talk show hosts, even for the overnight shifts on the weekends. Ratings were modest at best for many months, which meant far more money flying out the window than coming in. There were shifts in the lineup over the past  year but nothing game-changing. At the same time, ratings in the fall started showing signs of life as football kicked in. Given the Game's monster signal and CBS's vow of patience, it may simply be a matter of time before the station seriously gives the Fan a run for its revenue.

The Walk takes a walk for True Oldies. Earlier in the year, Cumulus dumped its short-lived rock station at 98.9/The Bone for a Christian/country hybrd 98.9/The Walk, which drew almost zero ratings, especially since the signal hardly reached the potential core audience. So in August, the station switched again - this time to True Oldies, a syndicated oldies format that had once been on 106.7 until 2010 or so featuring Scott Shannon. The signal is nothing to write home about but for oldies fans in town, it's a savior.

Power flickers a bit after strong start in 2013. Clear Channel Atlanta, which has made one ill-fated decision after another the past decade, threw out a solid rock station in Project 96.1 in favor of a pop station they hoped would toppled Q100. They spent seven figures in advertising and had big name syndicated hosts Elvis Duran  and Ryan Seacrest anchor the station. They held the big Jingle Ball at Philips Arena in 2012 with Justin Bieber and 2013 with Miley Cyrus. But there would be no toppling in 2013. Even getting rid of sister station Wild in the spring did nothing to help them. By the summer, Power was the fourth pop station out of four, behind even the older-skewing Star 94 in ratings among its target 18 to 34 year old demographic. 

WGST returns but almost nobody cares. Speaking of ill-advised Clear Channel Atlanta moves, management dumped WGST last year in favor of .... ESPN Desportes, a Hispanic talk station, ensuring 0% overlap in audience. In fact, ratings were effectively zero. So eight months later in June, Clear Channel changed its mind and brought the station back - just minus its biggest player Rush Limbaugh, who had moved over to the more powerful WSB.  Plus, it was all syndicated. The result: shares of 0.1 in recent ratings, a small fraction of an already modest audience that it had before it dumped the format. Brilliant!

Laughter ends at 92.3. It seems almost too easy to beat up on Clear Channel but here's one more. They had a fun station on its modest translator signal 92.3, launching a format that aired stand-up comedy starting in October, 2012. It pulled in some ratings (comparable to WGST before it was killed off in 2012), helped by the fact it was far different from anything else on the dial. So in June, when WGST came back, Clear Channel felt it had to keep its zero-rated ESPN Desportes somewhere so it moved to 92.3. Goodbye comedy! You can only hear that now on I Heart Radio.

Biggest crossover hit of the year: Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines." At one point, eight stations in Atlanta were spinning it: V-103, Hot 107.9, Majic 107.5/97.5, Kiss 104.1, B98.5, Star 94, Q100 and Power 96.1. Another top 40 hit that's crossing over to urban: Lordes' "Royals," which is now in high rotation on V-103 and Hot 107.9, as well as B98.5, Star, Q100 and Power.

In memoriam: Ron Sailor Sr. in October. Sailor was a major TV force in the 1980s and worked for many years at WAOK-AM as well. Details here.

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