Morning commuters who haven't flipped to Hot 107.9, Atlanta's original hip-hop/R&B station, in a year or so may notice that the station sounds a little different these days.
For one, the space that was previously occupied by the powerhouse "Ryan Cameron Morning Show" is, after almost a decade, Cameron-less. Cameron left the show and the station in late December 2004 because of contract disputes. Instead of the on-air veteran confidently slinging jokes, listeners hear a fairly green team of personalities anxiously searching for ways to keep its audience from switching the channel.
And WHTA-FM's morning crew -- dubbed the A-Team and consisting of jocks CJ, Beyonce, Griff, Akini and ring-leader Rashan Ali -- has a reason to be anxious: They're on a mission to rule the Atlanta airwaves without the benefit of a bankable superstar.
That's not to say station management didn't attempt to rope in some big names to host the post-Cameron show. The suits at Hot 107.9 initially filled the airspace with nationally syndicated personality Russ Parr and later with a string of celebrity guest-hosts like music/film producer Dallas Austin. Meanwhile, Ali and her morning show cohort, CJ, played supporting roles.
"We had a whole bunch of celebrities trying to hold it down, because that's what everyone thought was going to sustain any kind of value for the show," says Ali. "It was sort of all over the place for a minute. There was no direction."
Before long, station management put Ali and her old crew back in the driver's seat on a permanent basis. Ali eventually asked comedian Griff, who used to provide yucks for V-103's "Frank Ski Morning Show" until it became a syndicated program, to join the team.
By May, the A-Team had finalized its lineup, but the show's ratings, well, sucked. While the "Ryan Cameron Morning Show" consistently bounced between a No. 1 and No. 2 rating, the new show came in at a lowly No. 15. You don't have to be Angela Lansbury to deduce that the ratings drop was linked to Cameron's absence. Ali, however, is confident that the current show, with a ratings position that ranked at No. 9 as of September 2005, will climb to the top -- just not overnight.
"It takes time to be No. 1 in a top-10 market. It just does," says Ali. "[Hot 107.9's] CEO says it takes a full year-and-a-half to two years to really develop a morning show. So I expect that we're going to go up and down until we finally find that exact formula that's going to take us to No. 1 consistently. That might take some time, but I know we're well on our way."
Even though she claims "everyone loves an underdog," being the underdog is new for Ali. In December 2004, Ali worked as Cameron's co-host. Aptly helmed by Cameron, the show was the king of Atlanta's rating hill for the 18-to-34-year-old demographic (and that's all listeners between 18 and 34, not just African-American listeners), the shining star of its station, and basically, a radio personality's dream. One month later, without its star, the "Ryan Cameron Morning Show" ceased to exist, and Ali's radio dream suddenly became a nightmare.
"I honestly didn't think I was going to have a job," says Ali. "I didn't know if [station management] was going to bring somebody else in. I just didn't know. My husband and I even decided he should go back to teaching so that we could have some type of stability and we could be ready for anything."
The shake up at Hot 107.9 was one of many chaotic occurrences that rocked Atlanta's urban radio landscape in 2005. Long-running jocks such as WVEE-FM's (103.3) Magic Man and Porshe Foxx departed from ATL airwaves in clouds of controversy, Greg Street returned to V-103 after serving a stint in Texas, and Hot 107.9's Coco Brother left secular hip-hop to host a holy hip-hop show, among other newsworthy events. Ali notes that it wouldn't be far-fetched for the winds of change to blow through her morning show.
"That's the kind of game radio is," she says. "They could say tomorrow, 'You know, we gave y'all a good run. So get the hell on.' But I never get scared. I feel like I'm way too talented to be scared about how one job can determine my future. I just can't allow that to happen."
In addition, she concedes that many listeners obviously jumped ship when Cameron left the building, but contends that time and the talent of her ever-developing crew will help draw old audience members back to the fold.
"I think we're funny. It sounds like a black family outing when you listen to the show. We have our haters. Granted, we need to become a little more cohesive, everybody has to learn rhythm, and we need to find things that make our show stand out. But I think we gel very well," says Ali. "People don't like change, but people learn to adapt to change."
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