by Sean Ross, VP of Music and Programming
In late June, New York Times music critic Kelefa Sanneh acknowledged the public outcry over WCBS-FM New York’s switch from Oldies to “Jack FM” by suggesting that readers check out Spanish AC WCAA/WZAA’s less-heralded flip to Reggaeton as “La Kalle.” At a time when Reggaeton was exploding, but under the radar of the English-language press, Sanneh predicted that the La Kalle change might be the one that “prove[s] more significant.”
Six months later, La Kalle has shown modest but respectable growth (although Sanneh was right to the extent that the station leads Jack so far). The biggest success story of the “Hispanic Urban” boom is the format’s most mainstream incarnation. And even some proponents of Reggaeton are still reserving judgment about its staying power. But Hurban’s ability to repatriate younger-demo Hispanics once thought beyond the draw of Spanish-language radio can’t be denied. And any new musical movement is indeed exciting when so much of radio’s creativity is going in to new ways to package old music.
Just as Jack- and Bob-FMs dominated the radio programming headlines in 2005, a lot of last year’s format innovation went into creating new variants — a Country version, an older leaning version, a Spanish version, a Rock version, and so forth.
In 2005, Jack- and Bob-mania in America spurred a station called “Jill FM” and numerous other attempts at adapting the Jack model to a more female-targeted version, a Country version, a ’70s gold version, a Rock version, a Spanish-language version, and more. The other Latin success story of the year was Clear Channel’s “La Preciosa,” a ’90s-based Regional Mexican format that went Top 5 (and sometimes higher) in market after market.
The annual “Ross on Radio” look at the year’s most intriguing new (or resurgent) radio stations isn’t necessarily focused on success stories, but those stations with possible broader implications. Some were tied to burgeoning trends at year’s end, while the footprints of others may not be visible for several years. After all, it took U.S. broadcasters two years to take Bob- and Jack-FM seriously. As for this year’s most significant contributors to that Classic Hits/Hot AC hybrid, many of them can be found in a recent column by clicking here.
And the failure of a format pioneer to connect is not necessarily the end of a movement. WRDA (Red 104) St. Louis–not the first “neo-standards” outlet, but the first well-publicized FM–went away in 2005. But that didn’t stop Trumper’s KRZS (Star 97.5) Phoenix, Citadel’s WZRH (Martini 106.1) New Orleans and, briefly, WLIR (Channel 107.1, Neo-Breeze) Eastern Long Island, N.Y., from trying something similar.
These were the most intriguing new stations of 2005. As always, sins of omission are unintentional. Your feedback is encouraged.
- KXOL (Latino 96.3) Los Angeles — Of this year’s many “Hurban” entrants, KXOL–which peaked at No. 2 in the market before leveling slightly–may have had the canniest game plan: more than enough Reggaeton to ride the wave, enough other Hip-Hop and R&B hits to hedge its bets, and the right “Latino and proud” imaging for a new generation that lives in the mainstream, but still wants to represent. And whatever Reggaeton’s long-term fate, that has implications for the Rhythmic Top 40s that hoped to serve both African-Americans and Hispanics without committing to either.
- KIIS Los Angeles — Not so different from the recipe that consultant Steve Perun used successfully at KHKS Dallas a decade ago: faster on mainstream rhythmic product, conservative on pop. But it’s working at a time when there’s so little rhythmic product generating enthusiasm. Then again, it’s not the only possible model for Top 40, as evidenced by…
- WIOQ (Q102) Philadelphia — Two years ago, WRDW (Wired 96.5) successfully wedged itself into a market that already had two Urban outlets and a rhythmic-leaning Mainstream Top 40 in Q102. At that time, it felt like Wired had all the hits and Q didn’t have much to defend itself with. Now, modern WPLY (Y100) is gone. Q102 is edging up by playing Weezer and Fall Out Boy next to Trick Trick and Rihanna. And Wired? Well, they’re playing Fall Out Boy now as well. Q102′s work is hardly done. (It’s up 3.6-3.7 in the second fall trend.) But its changing fortunes suggest that there’s more than one way to be an active CHR.
- WLHK (Hank FM) Indianapolis — One could make a case for the even wider WSM-FM (the Wolf) Nashville being the Country station that most paralleled the Bob- and Jack-FMs. But Hank FM did something that few Country stations have managed to pull off since the early ’90s. It took on a heritage incumbent that wasn’t so vulnerable and expanded the shares for the format. So it’s no surprise that the new KDJM (Willie FM) Denver is taking a similar approach against another incumbent whose only real vulnerability is being alone in the market.
- WKLU Indianapolis — Not the only station in recent years to take advantage of not being owned by a major group on the air. Not the only station in this year of “less is more” to use a low spotload as a competitive wedge. But undoubtedly the most effective combination of the two. And probably the only station that can brag both about only four units an hour and a full jock staff. And a truly iconoclastic station in a year when breaking the radio rules often meant substituting a new set of equally rigid rules.
- WHQG (The Hog) Milwaukee and WWDC (DC101) Washington, D.C. – Two different versions of the “middle-of-the-rock” approach taking hold in various markets, as programmers realize that Rock radio is still very viable–just not when divided among four different stations. The Hog’s version was more library-based and driven by its morning show (also a successful formula for WMMR Philadelphia this year). But DC101 has done it with currents and recurrents, and in some ways doubles as a Hot AC/Rock 40 for its market.
- WHTG (G-Rock) Monmouth/Ocean, N.J. — When WXRK (K-Rock) New York dropped Modern Rock this summer, one of the culprits cited was the lack of a coalition between fans of ’90s Alternative and today’s Modern Rock acts. Sonically, however, one would think that there wouldn’t be such a gap between Green Day and today’s younger skewing punk acts, and on WHTG, there isn’t. Modern Rock is showing its best ever numbers on G-Rock–which had added a second frequency and toughened its adult-leaning Modern format slightly before K-Rock went away–and doing it with both Shinedown and Stellastarr.
- WRQQ (Oldies 97) Nashville, WMTR Morristown, N.J. — If you read this column regularly, you’ve seen a lot about Oldies stations that successfully held the line against the format’s shifting fortunes. But viable new Oldies stations have been hard to come by. So it was notable that Cumulus was willing to replace a low-rated Hot AC with Oldies–not everybody was–and gratifying that it worked. WMTR, meanwhile, was a six-share music AM that was growing even before WCBS-FM changed. And as the ’70s were taking over Oldies radio, WMTR did it with pre-Beatles oldies and with depth. (You may not have known the Royal Teens had a second hit after “Short Shorts.”)
- WNEW (Mix 102.7) New York – Rival WKTU has always played some records that only New Yorkers would know; they have spent the last decade, for instance, nurturing “This Time Baby” by Jackie Moore as an airplay record to the point where you would hardly know that it was only a dance and R&B hit in 1979. But WNEW finally put itself on the map this year–after several false starts–with a whole library of records that would baffle anybody who didn’t remember the original WKTU or WQHT (Hot 103.5) in their dance days. And in an era where shifting population patterns have long eliminated localism from most station’s libraries, sounding like the market is no small achievement.
- WUHT (Hot 107.7) Birmingham – The big R&B story this year may have been the spread of syndicated talent (Steve Harvey, Star & Buc Wild, Michael Baisden, Wendy Williams, etc.). But in the ongoing effort to find a format for adults who grew up with Hip-Hop, the new Hot 107.7 came closer to successfully mixing Urban AC currents with gold from 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G. than any of the existing Adult Urban stations that experimented briefly with those titles. There’s definitely something happening in that 25-35-age range. WWPR (Power 105) New York’s (www.power1051fm.com) mix of current R&B/hip-hop with old school rap finally made it New York’s No. 1 Hip-Hop station this year.
- WOLL (Kool 105.5) West Palm Beach — As with most new formats, it took about two years to spread, but the influence of Kool’s ’70s/’80s-pop driven format became apparent this year with the relaunch of KFRC San Francisco and the launch of WTPI (the Track) Indianapolis. Older and poppier than Jack- or Bob-FM by several years, WOLL could be where a lot of heritage Oldies stations end up, whether by evolution or outright format change. Accompanying this was a new group of softer gold-based ACs including WFKL (Fickle 93.3) Rochester, N.Y., WRLX (Classy 92) West Palm Beach (WOLL’s sister), and CHFI Toronto.
- KMYI (My 94.1/Star 94.1) San Diego — A few Hot AC and Classic Rock stations, most notably WBMX (Mix 98.5) Boston and KQRS Minneapolis slowed the progress of Bob, Jack, and friends in their market by opening up the library and/or slowing their own gold rotations. KMYI took a different tack–taking many of the format’s “oh wow” records and pounding them 10 times a week. That tactic might have eventually played itself out as a war-of-attrition, but now that KMYI has Jack convert KFMB-FM’s former handle (Star) and morning team (Jeff & Jer), and is leading 4.4 to 2.6, we’ll never know.
- BBC Radio 2 — It’s hard for Americans to imagine. What if NPR also offered several national music channels? What if one of them was a massively successful AC/Hot AC/Triple-A hybrid that regularly broke records? What if it was so successful that major commercial broadcasters responded? But the year indeed ended with London’s Top 40 Capital FM giving the air staff more control over the music. In America, the notion of an individual jock’s advocacy breaking a record is a distant, if cherished, memory. In the U.K., it’s an image to be fought over.
- WWL New Orleans – Its United Community Broadcasters programming proved the indispensability of radio, no matter what the headlines in the business section say, and provided some of the most galvanizing radio that many of us will ever hear. Of course, it also made clear just how rare it is for local news departments to make headlines in less apocalyptic times. Both Hurricane Katrina and WWL’s handling of it should make every broadcaster ask how well they’re filling their community service mandate, especially after a year whose other big story was the resurgence of jockless radio.
Finally, it would be impossible to wrap-up 2005 without mentioning: