Perspectives, News & Opinions From The Researchers At Edison

First Listen: New York’s Fresh 102.7

Entry by Sean Ross | Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007 | Permalink

A lot of what you think of the new Mainstream AC format at WNEW New York, now billing itself as “Fresh 102.7″ will depend on whether you agree with the following two propositions:

  • Clear Channel’s market-leading WLTW (Lite FM) is cheating too young, (making it one of a few Mainstream ACs that manages to do so–despite overall concerns about the aging of the format)
  • Lite’s sister, top 40 WHTZ (Z100), which has re-emerged as a market force over the last year, is cheating too old, somehow convincing too many 30-year-old moms to sit through Akon and Ludacris to hear Christina Aguilera and the Fray.

CBS’ new bright AC launched yesterday morning (Jan. 2), billing itself as “Today’s Soft Music without the tired old songs,” a point of differentiation from WLTW and its prominent ’70s component. A less-prominent liner, the one seemingly aimed at Z100, promises “no loud music or talky DJs.” Between those two extremes, on the station’s first day, was a primarily ’90s and now-based AC, playing only one ’80s song an hour, sometimes none, and nothing older.
This is WNEW’s second attempt to find a wedge between WLTW and Hot AC WPLJ, the old WMXV (Mix 105) position that it first attempted to fill in late 2003 before evolving to Rhythmic AC. But a lot has changed in three years, and the notion that you would now have to think of Z100 factoring into that equation is just part of it:

  • Hot AC WPLJ, while never relinquishing its currents, opened up its library around the time that WCBS-FM became “Jack-FM,” a change that did not go unnoticed by some of its fans. While that library has since become less prominent, you’ll still hear a “Brown-Eyed Girl” from time-to-time.
  • In addition, WKTU’s recent reconfiguration to Rhythmic AC and the lack of a current rock station in the market mean that there aren’t a lot of stations specializing in “today” beyond Z100 and the market’s Hip-Hop and Latin outlets.
  • A mainstream AC specializing in the ’90s and ’00s gets WNEW and sister WCBS-FM out of each other’s way. While one leaned Rhythm and one leaned Pop/Rock, the two stations were covering much of the same turf chronologically.

Beyond that, the notion of a “soft and contemporary” approach to AC has had advocates for a while. (In fact, the only time an AC is usually willing to use the word “soft” in a liner is if it is thus modified, as is the case here.) Last year at this time, then-consultant Cary Pall advocated something similar at WQFM Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Hot AC has certainly seen a split across eras and demography, particularly since the advent of Jack-FM. So why shouldn’t the same thing happen at Mainstream AC?
Well, if it doesn’t, the answer will be the ’70s disco that has been such a secret weapon for Lite-FM, giving it a greater vitality than you’d expect from 30-year-old songs. Ultimately, demography insists that a new group of listeners must come along who have no interest in “Brick House” or “I Will Survive.” But those songs have done a pretty good job of living up to the durability implied by their titles so far. They have also helped to give WLTW a utility with African-American and Hispanic listeners that ACs don’t usually have. (On its first day, Fresh 102.7 was about 15% rhythmic; WLTW is usually at least twice that.) If those records are indeed the “played out” songs that Fresh is promising to provide relief from, it’s only because there have been at least four stations in the market playing them over the last year.
WLTW has also done a pretty good job of protecting the “today” half of its franchise. It hasn’t delved as deep in the soft pop ’70s as many of its Clear Channel brethren. (Sister KOST Los Angeles, for instance, will play Neil Sedaka and the Carpenters.) WLTW has always been aggressive about finding titles that are finally ready for Mainstream AC, whether that means a current like Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” or the Fray’s “How To Save A Life” or an older title like Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” that has finally softened just enough.

A lot of the viability of the “today” franchise will depend on how much recent music there is for Fresh 102.7 to work with.

A lot of the viability of the “today” franchise will depend on how much recent music there is for Fresh 102.7 to work with. The ’90s have always been thorny for AC because of the available music. When pop music went through its mid-’90s resurgence, it offered several bodies of galvanizing music, but there are not now a lot of formats, except perhaps Modern Rock, where the ’90s represent the most compelling available music. Relying on the ’90s means having to grapple with the following:

  • The early ’90s rhythmic titles that have become the basis for the new generation of Rhythmic ACs–and which have recently been a bigger part of WKTU;
  • The mid-’90s dance music that propelled WKTU: I’ve heard an occasional Cher and Janet Jackson’s “Together Again,” but on day No. 1, Fresh wasn’t trying to wrest most of those songs from WKTU;
  • The singer-songwriter era of Modern AC. The bad news is that this genre–which was heavily in evidence on Fresh’s first day–has been whittled down to a handful of useable Sheryl Crow and Sarah McLachlan titles at Hot AC in the last few years. It’s possible that there’s an audience waiting to reconnect with those artists, along with Melissa Etheridge, Jewel, and Hootie at a more Mainstream AC format. But it’s not such a potent wedge for Hot AC.
  • The late ’90s teen pop explosion: The latter has considerable “oh wow” potential at some point in the future, but it’s hard to imagine building a station around it now. I have heard the Backstreet Boys on Fresh, but it’s not a major part of the station.

That said, there’s a lot more new music to work with than one would have thought possible a few years ago when the format’s flagship artists were either becoming increasingly damaged (Celine Dion) or on loan from Country (Keith Urban, Faith Hill, Shania Twain). There aren’t a lot of new core artists yet, but among Kelly Clarkson, James Blunt, Daniel Powter, KT Tunstall, and Gnarls Barkley, there are enough hits to fill a current/recurrent category with again, and enough songs that are indeed both soft and contemporary.

January 2, 2007
7:00-8:10 a.m.,
Genesis, “That’s All”
Nickelback, “Far Away”
Five For Fighting, “100 Years”
Simply Red, “Holding Back The Years”
(Stop, 7:18-7:24)
Rob Thomas, “Ever The Same”
Huey Lewis & Gwynneth Paltrow, “Cruisin’”
John Mayer, “No Such Thing”
Aerosmith, “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”
KT Tunstall, “Suddenly I See”
Wallflowers, “One Headlight”
Marc Anthony, “You Sang To Me”
Uncle Kracker, “Follow Me”
LeAnn Rimes, “Can’t Fight The Moonlight”
K-Ci & Jojo, “All My Life”

37 Responses to “First Listen: New York’s Fresh 102.7”

  1. What no one has thought about is that WNEW is not competing against Lite FM.
    Rather, it is competing against Lite FM in the City, WALK and K-Joy on Long Island, WHUD in the Hudson Valley, Magic out in Middlesex and even The Coast, WEBE and Sunny in Fairfield County. Factor in two ACs down in Monmouth, and there are 10 potential radio stations WNEW will be attempting to attract. Commuters from Poughkeepsie have two ACs up there too … thus, WNEW has a dozen potential competitors playing AC music.
    “Fresh” is a recipe for disaster, in my humble opinion. New York has changed and cannot support another mainstream AC. Here is why:
    1. The large ethnic population – African-American, Hispanic, Asian, etc. – is overwhelmingly dominant compared to the white population. Within the white population, “Fresh” speaks to a very small segment of people that live in Manhattan, the river communities in New Jersey, southern Westchester, and a select few neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn.
    2. To win against Lite, you will need to convince people in New York City to switch. This will be hard, because Lite is all about its winning personalities and its ability to relate to its listeners. Valerie Smaldone is a shining example of an AC personality and has transcended the traditional role of an announcer talking up Faith Hill records.
    3. “Fresh” will never be able to lure suburban listeners because the success of WALK, WHUD, Magic, etc. is these stations’ inherent abilities to be local — first and foremost. WALK *is* Long Island. WHUD *is* the Hudson Valley and Bergen County. The news and information and ability to relate to the listener in a way that is meaningful has been the recipe of success for all of these stations. They are almost like the old Full Service stations of the 1970s, with AC music as the “MOR” of the 2000s.
    WNEW was on the right track with its previous music mix but it was not properly programmed and executed. Rhythmic AC tailored to the likes and dislikes of New York City residents 25-44 is the possible way to win and possibly lure listeners from a station that no one has really complained about.
    Another good idea offered by a close friend of mine was an older more gender-balanced Rock AC format that would have had more potential to attract the many 40s-50s demos in New York that still care about radio.
    And then there is the Country void, which probably scared the sales team but would have provided exclusive cume to CBS in the hundreds of thousands. If that works for Hispanic media, why not a niche product for anglos?
    Now, with the new calls WWFS and the ‘NEW calls shipped to Florida, we have the Wonderful Waste of FM Space.
    Scott Muni must be rolling over in his grave.

  2. Jack Taddeo says:

    It also assumes that the music of the 90s is strong enough to hold up a radio station withOUT having to play Christina Aguilera. While the 80s songs are positioned as “tired” and “overplayed”, the 90s recurrent and gold library they are relying on is not exactly burn-free.
    Is this a return to postioning ACs with what they are not? Maybe. In the 80s we positioned soft ACs as “no hard rock, no elevator music”. Then in 1990 at Star 104.5 in Phila we said “if you like easy listening there’s “Easy 101″(now B101), and if you like rap and top 40 there’s Q(102) and Eagle(106)…but for Superstars of the 80s and 90s try Star 104.5″. Both tactics worked very well. Fresh 102.7 is trying a proven tactic. And one that is certainly better than it’s previous attempt at fragging Lite. Question is: do enough people want to hear songs that are softER than Hot AC and hardER than Soft AC? If there’s a place there, Fresh 102.7 should be able to prove it. And if it works, I would still not expect Lite to take a sizeable hit. But if you’re WNEW the measure of success probably isn’t huge.

  3. Randy James says:

    Two things I noticed instantly. First, the “hip” factor of artists are bunched together, and the non-hip artists are bunched together. AC is always about balance, not just tempo, texture and energy, but also artist reputation and image.
    Secondly, there is no “wow” factor here. Jim Ryan always does a great job of surprising you occasionally with a great song that still fits within the “Lite” format universe. There is something to be said for being consistant, but do not ever be boring in the process.

  4. greg gillispie says:

    “Today’s Soft Music without the tired old songs,” OH YEAH…you can hear it now…women all over NYC telling friends about this new radio station and identifying it with this phrase…

  5. Steve Nicholl says:

    Sean, thanks for the early listen.
    I’ve been listening most of the day.
    For what it’s worth: gulp!
    In 2007, is this the best we can do?

  6. I can’t imagine FRESH 102.7 becoming a success. Simply, because I don’t see people craving for Bryan Adams, Backstreet Boys, R. Kelly or Marc Anthony. Perhaps five years from now (as novelty), but definitely not now.
    And how about sounding 2007? When will stations start realizing that people nowadays don’t want to hear liners like “Say Goodbye To Overplayed Old Songs” or “…Without The Loud Kid’s Stuff”. That is so seventies. What a difference with “Which iPod are you?” (Apple) or “Enjoy Life’s Opportunities” (Visa). Radio is so out of touch with reality. Sure, established stations will just keep doing the same for as long as they can make money, but for a new station it is vital to:
    Be relevant. Not by thinking that women 25-44 are brainless and will accept bad liners and a “soft hits” format because a few Focus Groups and AMT’s say so. It’s better to not say anythng at all than playing these old-fashioned liners and believing people will love it. I would have opted for interesting and perhaps funny liners. Liners that might make people think (foreground instead of background) and stick to their minds.
    Be different. Will people really think Fresh 102.7 is much better than Lite, PLJ or Z-100? Was this researched? Probably not. Anyway, will people go for this “hot” new proposition or for the ones they’ve known for years? Most stations want to be Microsoft and not Apple. I would go for the Apple concept: work hard, be innovative, be patient and eventually be respected and loved.
    I’ve listened for about four hours over two days now, and haven’t heard a single element that is really appealing. The big question here is: Will people tell their best friends, neighbours or collegues at work about Fresh 102.7? I’m afraid not. And that should be ultimate goal: a radio station people start talking about to others.
    Last but not least, the Fresh 102.7 website. Appalling. It looks like it was made in a rush. The colors are terrible and there’s no information. Even worse: no soul.

  7. David Lucas says:

    To be fair, Fresh isn’t that bad. The problem is it’s not better or more exciting than Lite or anything else on the New York dial. Fresh is a prime example of the perfect format from a corporate viewpoint. One of its strengths is how mainstream and accessible the music is, but on the other hand, that’s also what keeps it from being stronger or a more appealing switch from Lite FM. I still feel the Apple approach would have been better, grow a niche that would have fit with the WNEW calls and created a grassroots buzz in the process. All of these formulaic approaches at 102.7 are getting them nowhere.

  8. Cary Pall says:

    I agree with Adam Jacobson’s friend. A Rock AC with a little AAA adventure thrown in would have been a much better niche to fill. And they wouldn’t have to have exiled the WNEW-FM callsign, as it would be an appropriate name for such a format. Why CBS has squandered that magnificent heritage I’ll never understand.
    And just to clarify, I’m still in the consulting business, just not for WQFM. Thanks for remembering, though!

  9. Gary Begin says:

    How many AC’s do you need in 1 market? Do you really think there’s another segment of a fractured audience niche that isn’t being represented?
    Why not go back to what made WNEW-FM a once-great station? Mainstream rock with classic rock thrown in. Or, does that make too much sense?
    How many times can you blow-up a radio station and expect people to come back? THERE’S a unique audience, and one I don’t know that I want walking through my department store…
    WNEW threw away heritage calls for nothing…
    Then again, tell that to the people who last worked for CBS-FM.

  10. Peter Mc Lane says:

    This subtle shade of AC must be squeezed thru the Arbitron 25-44 women filter meter. What do you think will come out on the other side?

  11. Joseph Dugan says:

    If you look at the Fresh 102.7 logo, it looks like a product of a dissolving tablet, marketed for a denture cleaner or a toilet bowl. Besides, It time for all of us downtrodden and disgruntled WNEW FM listeners and demand Mr. Holander and Mr. Martini to FLUSH Fresh 102.7 down the toilet and Bring back the calssic rock back to 102.7 SOON!!!
    BTW, every time I see that Fresh 102.7 commercial, I feel it is so annoying- like that BMW commercial of that kid opening his Christmas Gift- I just wish CVS or Rite Aid sold ipecac over the counter!!!!

  12. Jeff Scheckner says:

    I beleive Fresh may pull some listeners from WLTW, WPLJ and surprisingly from sister station Jack FM. Both Jack and Fresh play plenty of soft and mid tempo rock cuts from the 90′s and of late Jack has been playing currents. Jack’s Sunday morning acoustic show sounds a lot like Fresh.
    I agree with another person posting here that adding a few country songs and adult alternative cuts would broaden the current narrow focus and attract two audiences who are not hearing their music on the radio.

  13. Chuck Geiger says:

    Gary is right on, several formats and no results. The frequency is known for rock radio. Why wasn’t this done when they blew up the rock format? -

  14. Michele says:

    Ok – so everyone wants the original 102.7 back, but honestly, I’m not crazy about KTU – and Mix 102.7 with Michelle Vissage and Joe Cozzi was the best! Why did you guys change the format again? How can you tell how many people are tuned in? Mix 102.7 was the only station I was listening to – I mean, I love classic rock, but we HAVE stations to listen to that play that genre – KTU is too contemporary -what ever happened to the dance oldies? Now NO ONE is playing them!
    I’m SO disappointed!

  15. William Brooks says:

    Forgive the suggestion, but why not try some NYC unknow artists. There is some great music in this town that deserves attention.
    Not all the artists in this town are loud and angry…
    Thanks,
    William Brooks

  16. Lynne says:

    Fresh 102.7 has lost me as a listener. It is so boring. Huey Lewis and Aerosmith. Awful! Go back to the old format please! Who needs this tired old music! I’m in my 40′s – I’m not an old fart!

  17. Marie Ross says:

    Flush Fresh 102.7 and bring the classic rock back to 102.7.
    Michelle Visage and Joe Cozzi were great announcers. Entertaining and funny and I always looked forward to waking up to their happy banter. Fresh 102.7 is boring and the music is horrible. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. I never hear anyone calling the station like they used to when Michelle and Joe were on. Please, please bring back the old 102.7 with Michelle and Joe.

  18. Allison says:

    I’ve listened the past two days to see whats happening with this station. There’s been some clunkers played, but I have liked a lot of the songs they selected, BUT I’d like to hear some more AAA type music, perhaps break some young and truly fresh singer/songwiters ala Michael Tolcher, Ari Hest, Mindy Smith, Ray LaMontagne, Susan Tedeschi. Maybe throw in some Allison Krauss bluegrass and edgy country. Expand our listening arena!

  19. Janice says:

    Please bring back Michelle and Joe. I was so disappointed to tune in to my “wake up” station and find yet ANOTHER boring E-A-S-Y L-I-S-T-E-N-I-N-G format. I love classic rock..it was Happy, it was in a class by itself…now it’s been reduced to the same old same old..please rethink this change.
    I’ll check back from time to time hoping for the best, but I won’t be a steady listener anymore.

  20. Kim says:

    I love the new station – though I loved the old mix 102.7 too. I was thrilled at the new format because that old “lite” station lost me when they continued to play holiday music everyday for way too long. I never tire of the music and have been a happy listener. I see folks referring to old format as classic rock but I heard it as “classic 70′s dance music” which is also a personal favorite. Keep up the good work – look what happen to CBS.FM I don’t care about “Jack” for that new station. I’m singing along as I type….

  21. Lou says:

    We’ve listened for two days in our medical office. There’s nothing new here.
    Aside from loosing us during the extended holiday play, Lite is what we will continue to play in the office. Bernie and Valarie have become familiar, welcomed voices.

  22. ani raina says:

    they need to bring back the new mix 102.7. fresh 102.7 is so boring. i practically cried when the format was changed. i say bring back the new mix 102.7 and change 92.3′s format or somewhere else.

  23. Vinnie says:

    After listening to your station in the morning along with Whoppie on KTU it is clear radio in the NY area is at a all time low. Nothing appeals to me on the radio right now in the morning time drive. This Fresh 102.7 is stale. I hope this format changes quickly. This experiment will backfire as Jack Radio did to 101.1. I guess you guys in the ivory tower don’t get it.

  24. Maura says:

    I was a commuter for over two years, and the best and only part of my morning drive was Michelle and Joe. They were hot, funny and magical. They made you want to call in to the station and just chat.
    What a great disappointment with “rocking” Mix 102.7 gone and now replaced with old not “fresh” 102.7. The music is boring and quite frankly I had to stop listening because the new station’s music was putting me to sleep….something I can’t do while driving.
    You need to bring back Michelle and Joe .. we need a shot in the arm with their entertainment and pulsating music.
    Maura

  25. Anonymous says:

    Everyone I know listened to Mix 102.7. It brought back good memories, at work you were dancing in your chair. I have attended many of the events held by 102.7 we had so much fun even at the barbecue in the rain. We miss Michelle and Joe. The new format is boring and it’not fresh at all. I really don’t know of anyone that is really enjoying the station. Why would you change when the majority of listeners loved the station.

  26. Sammm says:

    Please, Please, Please go back to the old format. The old format was enjoyed by 3 generations in my family, grandparents, parents, and grandchildren.
    Where can I find the former DJ’s and their music.
    Very disappointed with this new format and I no longer listen. Sammm of the Bronx

  27. Marie says:

    I AM SO DISAPPOINTED THEY CHANGED THE STATION. THE BEST PART OF MY 40 MINUTE COMMUTE WAS LISTENING TO MICHELLE AND JOE. MIX 102.7 KEPT ME GOING EVERYDAY. MY KIDS NEW NOT TO TOUCH MY STATION IN THE CAR. PLEASE BRING BACK MIX 102.7

  28. julie of woodbridge,nj says:

    i was so disappointed not hearing the old 102.7. i felt so lost whenever i put the radio on. i miss the music and your host. you’ve lost a lot of your listeners and hopefully you guys will realize that and bring back the old 102.7 and keep your station alive again. PLEASE…..

  29. Jeanie says:

    The new Fresh 102.7 is SOOOOO BORRRRING! You call that FRESH? I call it STALE and so do all my friends that woke up to this nightmare of a change. The only way I’ll be coming back is if they paid me to listen to this same old music I can find anywhere else. Bring back Michelle & Joe and I’ll be back, otherwise C YA

  30. Cara says:

    Bring back Michelle and Joe and get us dancing again. I cannot understand why the format of 102.7 changed. It was the only station like it and appealed to audiences of all ages. 102.7 is not fresh–it plays the same music as other stations. I gave it a chance and I am back to listening to 95.5–at least the DJs are entertaining there.

  31. Tom Wilkins says:

    Oh brother. Now we know why radio is NOT about the people anymore.
    Believe me, Mix 102.7 was better back then compared to what 103.5 KTU is now! I know PD’s try to concentrate on filling a niche in a major market, but for heaven’s sake! More of the same music on another frequency! In fact, Mix 102.7 was the only station I can remember that played the whole “Sound Of Philadelphia” (MFSB) in the way it was supposed to be played! I live near Philly–none of the stations play it the right way!
    Isn’t this embarrassing? There is more dance music on the eastern half of Connecticut than there is in all of New Your City.
    Consider yourselves embarrassed!

  32. Kamilla says:

    FRESH. Give me a break. This station plays nothing. Mix 102.7 was the bomb. I had my kids listening to it. The Mix 102.7 crew was fresh and innovative. I remodeled my whole first floor to Brenda Starr, Paco Lopez, and crew. I woke up in the morning to Michelle and Joe. Hopefully someone will wake up and see that FRESH is boring and bring back Mix 102.7. You have lost a faithful listener. I have told all of my friends and fellow commuters to change the channel. Mix 102.7 was preset on my dial as #1, but it is gone now.
    Who was the idiot who thought up this new format? That person should be kicked to the curb.

  33. Pam says:

    I miss Mixx 102.7 FM. I liked their format much more than this “FRESH” thing. We need a radio station that plays the music that we WANT to hear. If I wanted to hear this music I could easily turn on my cable music channels or my XM radio. We want a radio station that plays “mixed” versions of the music that we like and that we want to hear. This station is a copy cat of LITE FM. The 30+ crowd of music lovers like myself WANT to hear music from their era…the dance, the mixed versions, the old school,the music that will take you back…way back and that will have you “dancing to the music” KTU doesn’t present that format of music to the listeners. This station has gone throught tremendeous changes since it was WNEW. That was a rock station which turned into a “talk” radio station on FM with the help of the duo OPIE and ANTHONY, which then re-gained listenership but, was soon to demise with the firing of OPIE & ANTHONY. then it went back to a music format which gave listeners a chance to choose between KTU and MIXX. Personally I liked MIXX and so did alot of people that I know. Please help and bring this back to a music station that we LOVE. I think that you clearly need to re-think this format before you lose the listeners that you have.

  34. Doug says:

    Now in my late 40

  35. Susan says:

    I have the same problem with Fresh 102.7 that I have with all the stations. I listen to the radio at work for eight hours and I’ve noticed THEY PLAY THE SAME SONGS EVERY SINGLE DAY. They must have one play list they follow every day. Ever since 101.1 CBS bit the dust, there’s really no station that appeals to me. This sounded good but, again, no thank you.

  36. Anthony says:

    Well, with the new FRESH todays soft music KTU is back on top again.

  37. Linda says:

    I was hoping, that with your new format, I would be hearing some of Clay Aiken’s songs from his new album, A Thousand Different Ways. But no, just the same old stuff played over and over again. How disappointing. I guess it’s back to my reliable CD player… thank goodness for that.
    Linda