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Real Radio struggles with its mission - Rob Felt

Are you tired of mundane talk radio?" This is the question posed during a short promo that runs on Atlanta's newest talk station: Real Radio 105.3 FM. The station is positioning itself as "talk radio for the rest of us" and trying to distance itself from its AM news radio counterparts. Are they succeeding? Yes and no.

Several months ago the station converted from a 1980s music format to talk, and brought a new lineup of radio personalities to Atlanta. Sort of. Although the station now carries some shows once heard on 640 AM (both are owned by ClearChannel and are run from the same facility) they have made one significant new addition that has come to define their roster.

Scott Ferrall's raspy voice from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. is undeniably the station's anchor. His show has an edge that the station seems to be after, and it's also the only local show exclusive to the lineup. Ferrall has had previous experience in this market, most recently working the Atlanta Thrashers' hockey broadcasts a few years ago.

Ferrall's show is unique in Atlanta, and saying that it mixes casual and humorous discussions of current events with regular guest personalities doesn't do it justice. Other shows fit this description, but none are as entertaining.

Where else can you hear anything close to the daily "Paulie's Talking" bit where a local man with a stuttering problem calls in and reads movie quotes that the audience guesses for prizes? Try "another exciting edition of – Ferrell eats Doritos." What's that? You get to hear the host eat Doritos. Very loudly. Check in for updates about Scott's personal life and hear him describe how much his girlfriend, 34C (you figure out where the nickname came from), hated their recent weekend excursion to the NASCAR race in Talladega.

All of this may sound very juvenile, but what keeps the show moving is that Ferrall doesn't dwell on any one thing for too long. That one simple quality may be what makes the show so great. If you're not into what's going on this particular minute, wait until the next one and chances are you'll be laughing again.

If Scott Ferrall's show is so great, why am I questioning the success of the radio station he's on? To put it simply, the only good decision Real Radio has made in its short life was hiring Ferrall. Everything has been downhill since then.

Representing their ClearChannel colors to the fullest, station executives have steadily cut back on what Ferrall can talk about while failing to support him with shows that his listeners are interested in.

Mundane talk radio? Try the Todd Schnitt show that follows Ferrall. It's Republican politics as usual from a host who over-enunciates his words for effect and sounds like he wishes he was Rush Limbaugh, or at least a better copy. If you're interested in conservative talk, the Schnitt Show is not the place to get it. Atlanta already has popular shows with hosts who spend their three hours defending the Bush administration.

When the ClearChannel brass decided to move the Bob and Tom Show to 96 Rock (after that station fired the Regular Guys for their content) they brought back the MJ in the Morning show to 105.3. MJ is Todd Schnitt with a few low-rent interns and a greater focus on reality television and celebrity gossip. Literally – it's the same guy who uses a different alias for his morning show. Great.

If ClearChannel wanted to provide a real alternative to conventional talk radio they wouldn't put a guy on the air that does a Steve and Vikki soccer mom shtick in the morning and a Limbaugh impersonation in the afternoon. Sandwiched in the middle is Ferrall – the only person Real Radio has who's creating buzz about their station – and his fans hate the rest on the lineup.

How about Howard Stern in the morning? Is that such a wild idea for Atlanta? Unfortunately ClearChannel has cowered before the FCC and cut it ties with Stern. If Real Radio started the day with Stern and led into Ferrall their ratings would be so huge they could wallpaper the studios with checks.

Putting the muzzle on Scott Ferrall and filling the rest of the daytime lineup with safe programming that sounds like the rest of talk radio isn't thrilling anyone. If Real Radio continues to smooth over their edge and restrict Ferrall, the only thing they'll end up restricting is their market share.

Rob Felt is the photographer for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at rfelt@henryherald.com.