by Sean Ross, VP of Music & Programming
In early April, XETRA-FM (91X) San Diego PD Jim Richards responded to a comment in this column about the size of the opportunity for the gold-based Adult Modern format. “The hole is closing,” Richards wrote, noting that rival KBZT (FM94.9)—the station whose inroads had prompted a handful of other format modifications around the holidays—was “No. 14 12-plus, No. 9 18-34, behind 91X, and No. 12 25-54. I’m not sure if that [counts] as a hole—more of a pin-prick,” he quipped.
With the success of so many Howard Stern affiliates during the winter Arbitron book, there hasn’t been much written about any of the other winter book stories. But that book did indeed see 91X , which made some adjustments in the wake of KBZT’s inroads, leading a battle that saw both stations off: 2.5-2.3 for 91X; 2.8-2.2 for FM94.9. So what happened to the other modern rockers that tried to claim either the “yesterday and today” or “true alternative” position?
KDLE (Indie 103.1) Los Angeles: 0.8-0.8 in first book since transitioning from dance/top 40. Rival KROQ was off 4.4-4.1;
WNNX (99X) Atlanta was off 3.4-2.8 while heritage rock WKLS was flat at a 2.8;
KNDD (the End) Seattle went 2.8–2.6, down from a 3.5 last spring, while new rival KRQI went 2.1-2.3 in its first book since dropping ‘80s Gold. The End’s sister station, KISW, which had both Howard Stern and the hard rock franchise to itself, was up 2.8-3.5.
KITS (Live 105) San Francisco was up 2.3-2.5. It’s been in the 2.0-2.5 range at various points over the last year.
KNRK Portland, Ore., was off 2.7-2.4, with numbers that came in before the firing of its morning show
KWOD Sacramento, Calif., was up 3.3-3.4 while new rival KHWD (K-Howard), which switched during the book, went 1.7-1.6. Modern AC KZZO was off 2.8-2.7.
WFNX Boston was up 0.9-1.0, upstaged, in part, by the success of WBCN, which has put some of the same records on and was up 2.9-4.1. Of course, WBCN both has Howard Stern and also put some AC/DC oldies on, as well.
Adult Modern is still, thus far, a niche of a niche.
One would guess that most of the stations that flipped to Adult Modern in the wake of KBZT’s success weren’t expecting a 12-plus ratings bonanza. They were, after all, taking their lead from a station with a 2.8. While the Adult Modern format was personally exciting to many PDs, what likely drew their GMs to the format was the unwillingness to be on the wrong side of a war of attrition that would claim the more saleable half of their shares. And, according to this week’s Airplay Monitor, a few of those stations do have 25-54 stories, including KRQI (4.6-5.0) and KNDD (2.2-2.7).
That said, the numbers so far suggest that Adult Modern is still, thus far, a niche of a niche—an understandable tactical choice for the stations that made the switch, but not the choice you’d make if the opportunity to be the “rock hits” station for the market still exists. I’ve also been wondering for a while whether the overall softening of the Modern Rock format would create some new opportunities for Active Rock and, while KISW obviously got a lot of help from Stern this winter, they could still be the first confirmation that rock listeners still want to rock.
It’s also interesting to see some Alternative Gold titles popping up on Denver’s new KJAC (Jack FM). Those songs have some history in the market, of course, on the former KXPK, but it does make you wonder if the people who want to hear “Blister In The Sun” want to hear it with other ‘80s and ‘90s hits—even if those songs don’t have Alternative credentials—instead of with deeper modern cuts or today’s current alternative music.
As for Jack/Bob’s incursions into America so far, the biggest news comes from Citadel’s KQOB (Bob FM 96.9) Oklahoma City, which was up 3.1-4.7 in the winter, with an obvious impact on classic rock stalwart KRXO (6.9-5.2) and an obvious boost for active rock sister KATT (5.0-5.4). In Honolulu, which never seemed like the most hospitable market for the format, KHUI (99.5 Bob FM), off 3.1-0.9 in its first book, rebounded to a 1.6, while classic rock KAHA slipped 2.8-2.6. And in Norfolk, where Joel Folger’s version of “Bob” had been on for only three weeks on WPYA (106.1 Bob FM), the station debuted with a 1.1—boosted, market observers note, by heavy TV.
A few other winter ratings reuslts that I haven’t seen discussed much elsewhere have possible larger format implications:
WOLL West Palm Beach, up 4.2-5.1 under PD Tom Watson (and up from a 3.4 last winter). Unlike some Clear Channel Oldies outlets, which evolved to ‘60s and ‘70s, WOLL kept going and became a ‘70s- and ‘80s-driven gold-based AC. What’s interesting here is that where some Oldies stations traded strength for depth to be able to modernize, most of what I heard on WOLL during the winter was music that would already test with an Oldies audience (“Every Breath You Take,” “Hotel California,” “Sweet Dreams [Are Made Of This]”). The net effect was sort of like hearing a WCBS-FM New York-type Oldies station with most of the ‘60s removed, save an occasional Beatles or Motown title.
WRDA (Red 104.1) St. Louis, up 1.6-1.9 in its first book as an Adult Standards outlet with a specific mission to draft younger listeners who might have discovered the format through Norah Jones or Rod Stewart’s recent albums. WRDA wasn’t quite able to surgically remove 65-plus listeners, which still counted for the biggest piece of its AQH composition (34%). But it still managed to turn in a breakdown in other demos that most Adult Standards outlets would envy: 20% 25-34, 15% 35-44, and 14% 45-54. WRDA’s major-demo numbers were down from those of All-‘80s predecessor WMLL, but they still had the odd effect of looking better as you got younger: 3.1-1.8 in 18-34, 2.6-1.7 in 25-54 and 1.7-1.5 in 35-64.
WRDW (Wired 96.5) Philadelphia. Over the last decade or so, it’s been hard for Rhythmic Top 40 stations to find a hole between Top 40 and R&B in a heavily African-American market, unless the R&B stations were particularly vulnerable. Some of the stations that have tried it in recent years, such as KTHT Houston, have moved on, but CKEY Buffalo has managed to find a 4-share in a market that had both a well-respected R&B outlet in WBLK and a Top 40, WKSE, that was particularly pro-active about playing the right R&B/Hip-hop product. Philly had an R&B-leaning Top 40 as well, in WIOQ (Q102), and two existing R&B outlets, but WRDW still carved out a 3.5 in its first book, while WUSL (Power 99) was off 6.0-4.6 and WPHI (the Beat) was down 3.7-2.7. (Q102 went 4.5-4.4).
Spanish oldies KPRC-FM (La Preciosa) Monterey, Calif., up 5.3-8.9, giving that format a market lead on both coasts, since WCMQ-FM Miami was up 5.0-6.0.
Another Gospel-on-FM win: WHLH (Hallelujah FM) Jackson, Miss., up 3.2-8.7 in its first book.
KKOB Albuquerque, N.M., and KWYE (Y101) Fresno, Calif. One of Top 40’s bellwethers in the late ‘90s was its success in Hispanic markets where only Rhythmic Top 40 was supposed to be of interest. So it’s encouraging that Y101 was up 3.7-4.6, still behind KBOS (5.2) but tied with KSEQ, while KKOB’s 3.3-4.5 boost puts it ahead of both Rhythmics. (Format leader KKSS was right behind with a 4.4.). And KKOB has managed to do it while playing both D-12 and Five For Fighting.
WDAF-FM Kansas City, which has gone 4.3-5.8-6.2 since moving its heritage Country format to FM and leads both Country rivals, making Kansas City the latest market where a yesterday-and-today country station has been the format leader.
Sean Ross is Edison Media Research’s VP of Music & Programming and the former editor-in-chief of Airplay Monitor, Billboard Magazine’s radio programming publication. The opinions expressed here are his own and can be found on the edisonresearch.com Web site every week. Sean can be reached at 908.707.4707 or SRoss@edisonresearch.com.