Reclaiming Teens? A Second CHR Is (Only) A Start

Not a lot of topics in Ross On Radio are by request. But this one comes from Andy Denemark, Executive VP of programming for United Stations Radio Networks who writes:
“In an era when conventional wisdom is that youngsters aren’t interested in ‘radio,’ stations are flipping to CHR all over the place. Discuss.”
Okay. Here’s the first Ross On Radio Instant Request:
The CHR building boom of recent weeks – New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Norfolk, Va., and Denver – is a welcome reversal of a historical trend. In the recessions of 1981 and 1991, owners fled Top 40 for more “adult-friendly” formats with greater perceived salability, even when their format change left a market with no Top 40 station. Now owners are willing to launch a second CHR even during bad times.
Quiet as it’s kept, some of the ownership interest is because CHR has become an adult format that just happens to draw teens in large numbers as well. If Amp’s slightly edgier music mix is the musical model for many of the new CHR launches, the 25-54 success of stations like WHTZ (Z100) New York and KIIS Los Angeles is the more-likely (format) change agent. So is the agency emphasis on 18-49 buys (as opposed to 25-54) of recent years. And owners are either bettter able to spread the story that CHR is more than just teens than they have been in previous years, or at least more willing to try.
The question here is whether new CHRs will actually grow teen listening, or listening to the format overall. In 2001, the young-end attacks on a heritage CHR often tended to turn a seven share for one CHR station into two 3.5s or, perhaps, a 4.5 and a 2.5. Rarely did shares grow. The other CHR often decided to get out and its shares weren’t necessarily absorbed by the surviving Top 40. In Houston, the first new CHR battle of the PPM era, the combined 8.9 share of incumbent KRBE and challenger KKHH is exactly what KRBE and now-defunct CHR KPTY shared in September ’07, KRBE’s peak month (6.1) in PPM.
In Los Angeles, so far, the math is a little less obvious. While nobody should extrapolate much from a two-month-old radio station, Amp Radio has put together a 3.2 share (12-plus) coalition since its late February launch, while its two most direct competitors, KIIS and KPWR (Power 106) have lost less than a share between them. While CHR wars of attrition have been known to kick in after 4-6 months of several stations pounding the same songs, any apparent growth in format shares thus far is good news.
As for teen listening in Los Angeles, the already high average week cume rating for teens has held steady since last July: 95% to 94.7%, according to Arbitron. The “AQH persons” number has, however, gone up since its 77,700 last July, with a particularly noticeable bump from January (95,900) to February (101,200) to March’s 108,700.
If the long-term trend holds in Los Angeles and repeats in other markets where new CHRs are being added, it will help answer the question of whether teens and young adults listen to less radio because they don’t like it as a medium or because it doesn’t offer them enough choices. And then we have to ask the question, how many choices are we really offering? CHR may have once again receive a significant percentage of teen listening, but that could also be because teens who prefer other music have fewer other choices or are selecting themselves out of the radio audience.
In 1999, there were at least three anchor formats for young-end listening: CHR, R&B/Hip-Hop and Alternative. A decade later, alternative stations, where they still exist, have nudged their focus away from younger listeners, becoming ’90s based library-driven rock stations in many cases. R&B/Hip-Hop, for a variety of reasons, has a drastically reduced purchase on the affections of 17-year-olds. (And, in many markets, Urban radio has effectively steered away from them as well.) And then there’s the Indie Rock that never makes it to the radio, except in dribs-and-drabs between Alternative’s grunge oldies.
Our new CHR launches have, by and large, focused on a relatively narrow piece of turf between Mainstream and Rhythmic Top 40, (call it “Chythmic”). That may be appropriate for those individual stations, but music and perceptual research over the last year or so has also shown a rapidly evolving group of young listeners whose tastes include Rhythmic Pop but also singer/songwriters and the Taylor Swift/Rascal Flatts wing of Country. Hip-Hop is becoming their older brother’s music. And while there’s a certain irony in returning to 1966 when the teen choices in each market were, essentially, two Top 40 AMs and not much else, those stations were a lot more likely to acknowledge all contemporary music tastes, not just a subset.
So however well it may work in New York or Los Angeles, the time-honored strategy of launching a new CHR by going more Rhythmic than the incumbent isn’t likely to be the right move everywhere. And if the new stations scare incumbents out of playing the Fray, the new stations may actually reduce teen listening at the other end of the pop spectrum.
CBS, Beasley, Max Media, and Simmons are to be commended for their belief in CHR. CBS in particular has made a vow to engage tomorrow’s listeners on their own technological turf — also commendable. Two CHRs in a market are a lot better than none, particularly for those of us who remember the previous dry spells. And anything that dents the notion, repeated elsewhere on a daily basis, that teens would never again be interested in anything as dated as radio, is worthwhile. That said, this is a generation that has been given a whole suite of alternatives on other platforms. Our next step in repatriating younger listeners if offering them the widest feasible swath of choices. As with the current success of CHR, that will probably help generate adult listening as well.

3 replies
  1. David Gariano
    David Gariano says:

    SuperSpots was involved in the launch TV creative for the new Max Media CHR’s in Denver and Norfolk — I was really impressed with the teams these stations have put in place with John Shomby in Norfolk and Jeff Norman and Zac Davis in Denver, along with Alan Burns and his team of pros — these guys are playing to WIN! Something rare to see these days –

  2. Brian Beddow
    Brian Beddow says:

    Great analysis Sean. I think as an industry we have to take a look at what we are doing to generate excitment among all demos. Playing “More than a Feeling” every day and a daypart is doing nothing to excite anyone under 40.

  3. Brian
    Brian says:

    The fact is that CHR is expierencing the numbers since the late 80’s and early 90’s. And if you can get females to use the format as their number 1 choice, who really needs teens…in abundance at least!


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