A few years ago, it seemed almost foolhardy to suggest that there might be a hole for a ‘90s/early ‘00s-based rhythmic pop station, even in the most rhythmic-leaning markets. KQMV (Movin’ 92.5) Seattle, the most prominent of that format’s mid-‘00s launches, had initial success, but eventually made a successful transition to Mainstream Top 40. Markets that seemed like naturals for Rhythmic Hot AC, such as Phoenix and Dallas, also turned out not to be.
Programmers, their ranks increasingly populated by children-of-the-‘90s, remained determined to hear the music of their childhood. But through this period, it seemed that the current rhythmic pop product was stronger, with a wider ranging demo appeal, than any oldie. And it became easy to dismiss the 90s as, somehow, the first-ever one that listeners might never want back.
But in January, WBQT (Hot 96.9) Boston debuted and began working its way towards its current 3.6 share 6-plus. WKTU New York, after several years as a more current radio station, reclaimed ‘90s rhythmic product. On Labor Day, KHTP (Hot 103.7) Seattle launched with its version of ‘90s/’00s-based rhythmic. It’s been one of the most successful sign-ons in years, and one that Edison is proud to be associated with.
In the October PPM, Hot 103.7 was No. 5 in the market 6-plus overall, up 2.2 – 4.6 in its first full month since transitioning from Classic Rock KMTT (the Mountain). The station was No. 1 in women and No. 2 in adults. In doing so, it’s a full share ahead of the 3.6 that Movin’ posted at its peak as a Rhythmic Hot AC.
Seattle’s original Movin’ launched at a time when mainstream pop was only starting to reassert itself after nearly two decades where rhythmic pop and Hip-Hop were usually Top 40’s center-lane music. In 2013, Hip-hop has sparse representation at Top 40 while rhythmic pop shares the spotlight with other genres. The days of “Lean Back” by Terror Squad and “Got Your Money” by Ol’ Dirty Bastard as top 40 records seem like a distant memory now.
But in Seattle and Boston at least, even the listeners who grew up to like the Lumineers and Mumford & Sons didn’t jettison the songs they used to love. The Bob- and Jack-FMs of a decade ago followed a generation’s journey from ‘70s rock radio back to ‘80s top 40 and MTV. In the same way, both the
Also, the songs that are powering Seattle and Boston now weren’t special yet a decade ago. The Notorious B.I.G.’s hits were still in recurrent at some major-market Top 40s. Songs like “Where the Party At” by Jagged Edge and Ciara’s “Goodies” are “oh wows” now. At the time of the first boom, they were barely out of the library at most top 40s.
And while there’s still plenty of rhythmic pop at Mainstream Top 40, much of the R&B element has been lost. Going from “Black Eyed Peas featuring David Guetta” to “David Guetta featuring Usher” to “David Guetta featuring Sia” has been a natural progression, but R&B and Hip-Hop fans know the difference. And while it might seem strange to think of “In Da Club” as the antidote, some of the EDM filtering into the pop mainstream is harder and not all of it will be acceptable to adults. “SexyBack” went quickly from disconcerting to loveable. It doesn’t look like “Work B**ch” is going to get there any time soon.
When Movin’/Seattle launched, I wrote that Seattle was the perfect test market. KUBE switched to Rhythmic Top 40 in 1992 and, for most of the next decade or so, Hip-Hop and R&B were the dominant pop music. Eventually, mainstream KBKS (Kiss 106) was able to make inroads under current Hot 103.7 PD Mike Preston.
For various reasons, Boston and Seattle have particularly friendly market landscapes for this format at the moment. Going forward, some markets will be more appropriate than others; mid-‘00s Rhythmic Hot AC didn’t reach the point where it worked in Salt Lake City and Syracuse, N.Y., but stations did try. Regardless of whether there’s a format boom, Boston and Seattle both show that listeners still care about their formative music, even if “now” is exciting. It also, perhaps, proves that there’s a need for accessible rhythmic pop music that isn’t being met at the moment.
Here’s Hot 103.7 at 1 p.m. on Oct. 28:
Bobby Brown, “Every Little Step”
Beyoncé, “Crazy In Love”
Justin Timberlake, “Mirrors”
Snoop Doggy Dogg, “Gin And Juice”
Pink f/Nate Ruess, “Just Give Me A Reason”
Game f/50 Cent, “How We Do”
Maroon 5, “Love Somebody”
Brandy & Monica, “The Boy Is Mine”
Bruno Mars, “Just The Way You Are”
Robin Thicke, “Blurred Lines”
Color Me Badd, “I Wanna Sex You Up”
B.O.B. f/Hayley Williams, “Airplanes”
112, “Peaches & Cream”
Mariah Carey, “Honey”