The radio broadcasting industry has been crippled by the sagging economy. So why is Chuck McKay, general manager of WWNU-FM New 92.1, grinning so much these days?
"I may be the only person in town rejoicing about the economy," he said Thursday during an interview in his office off Gervais Street.
"I'm doing my Cheshire Cat impersonation."
Here's why he smiling: Charlie James and Mackenzie Turner are the new DJs at New 92.
"Both were out of work because of downsizing at previous employers," McKay said. "What a lucky break for us?"
They start Monday. James will broadcast from 6 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday, and Turner will be on the air weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m.
Since it began broadcasting country songs in 2004, New 92, which is owned by Columbia Radio Group, has lived in the shadow of Clear Channel's WCOS-FM 97.5.
James was the longtime host of WCOS' morning show. In May 2007, James and then co-host Pam Wilder won the Academy of Country Music medium market/on-air personality of the year award.
But in August of last year, Clear Channel shook the local radio market by moving "The Morning Rush," hosted by Jonathan Rush, from its longtime home of WNOK-FM 104.7 to WCOS. James moved to WVOC-AM 560 and began working with the morning team of Gary David and Christopher Thompson.
A few months later, he was out of a job. James' moving to New 92 might be the quake the station needed to realistically think about challenging WCOS' dominance.
This isn't Brett Favre against the Green Bay Packers, though - James says he isn't looking for revenge. He's just coming home to country.
"We're really gonna give radio listeners a place to call home," he said. "It's an incredible opportunity to get back and talk to the people I really haven't had the chance to talk to in six months."
Getting James on New 92 wasn't just about the economy. "Tyler & Ken," which was hosted by the station's former morning team of Tyler Ryan and Ken Heron, was removed from the air in August after inappropriate commentary was broadcast.
That gave McKay the opportunity to go after James. McKay, who has been general manager of New 92 and WWNQ-FM Flashback 94.3 for less than a year, has experience with the Columbia market, having done DJ stints at WVOC and WARQ-FM 93.5 in the early '90s.
He understands radio listeners in Columbia are loyal - to stations and DJs. In the most recent Arbitron Ratings for the Spring, WCOS was second to WWDM-FM The Big DM 101.3 with a 6.7 market share. WWNU was tied for 15th with a 1.8 share.
James and Turner will test country music fans' loyalty.
Turner, who once co-hosted New 92's morning show, has already gotten a warm response from listeners. McKay said after she guest hosted two shows recently, the listener line kept ringing.
"I'm so excited to be back here again," said Turner, who might have the best combination of animation and warmth of local DJs.
She quick to tell a joke, and she offers hugs instead of handshakes. Like James, she said the viewers are why she continues to work hard, even as DJ jobs continue to be eliminated.
"You gotta be passionate about what you do," she said. "You can't forget the listener. We have an impact and can affect the community."
Welcome home. And good luck.
Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.