What Are Adult Hits’ 25-to-54 Winners Doing Right?

There is a lot that intrigues among the data in “Keeping Track Of Jack, Bob, and Friends,” the joint Arbitron/Edison Media Research follow-up to last year’s “Adult Hits” study. By now, Adult Hits has pretty clearly lost the omnipotence that some bestowed upon it at the outset. In fall ’05, the format was less potent against AC’s Christmas juggernaut than the year before, and not every Adult Hits station recovered in the winter. Yet, by tracking multiple books, you realize that most Bob- and Jack-FMs are indeed better off than where they started. And that at least half the stations in the format have rebounded, at least once, from an off book: good news for a format that some expected to peak, and then dwindle down to nothing.

…by tracking multiple books, you realize that most Bob- and Jack-FMs are indeed better off than where they started.

Among the most curious findings was that only three stations were No. 1 AQH 25-54 during the winter book: Bonneville’s KPKX (the Peak) Phoenix and WARH (the Arch) St. Louis, and Citadel’s KBBD (Bob-FM) Spokane, Wash. The Phoenix numbers were particularly encouraging because, as VP/PD Joel Grey notes, the station has now been in the format for two years now — long enough for its success to no longer be dismissed as initial curiosity.
As had already become apparent last fall when Ross On Radio last looked at the progress of Bob- and Jack-FMs, there’s no guaranteed formula for success with a Hot AC/Classic Hits hybrid. Anybody who has done the format successfully also has a non-starter or two to their name. Any rule about where the format should work has at least one exception. And even the jockless KBBD is very different from the full-staffed KPKX and WARH. But their winter book success does prompt the question: why these three stations?
Here’s Grey’s take: “The key for us, we are a Phoenix radio station. I named it the Peak, so it sounded like a Phoenix radio station. I have had live and local Phoenix air personalities since the day we turned the Peak on. The jock line-up is the same today as it was the day we turned it on with the exception of middays. I have stationality with John O’Hurley, who is [positioned on the station as] “Mr. Peakerman” and has also been with me since sign on. We do a lot of tactical and strategic promotions that are ‘out there’ and get people to talk. We surprise and we entertain every day. We research and we market the brand.”
In St. Louis, a market observer had similar observations, noting that the Arch has been on TV “non-stop since last fall,” including the “American Idol” finals, and has also been on billboards and telemarketed itself aggressively. In addition, “They don’t play songs that were not hits for St. Louis” and the station’s air talent has history in the market.
And one particularly interesting pattern emerges from the data. As you might expect, WARH is No. 1 in 25-54 adult cume, while KPKX and KBBD are No. 2. But while no Adult Hits station is top five in TSL, WARH and KBBD are both No. 7, while KPKX is No. 8. That combination of leading cume and respectable TSL doesn’t characterize many stations in the format these days. Even KCBS, No. 2 in cume, is No. 32 in TSL in demo.
And some other observations, after having gone back to Arch, Peak, and Bob/Spokane for another listen or two earlier this month:
Musically, St. Louis and Phoenix are different radio stations from many of their first-named brethren. At the outset, there were some format observers who wanted to not count Phoenix in the Adult Hits camp, regarding it as more of a mainstream AC. Two years later, there’s even more resemblance to poppier Classic Hits outlets like WOLL West Palm Beach, Fla., or WNTR (the Track) Indianapolis, or to Rock ACs such as WRVE Albany, N.Y. Like the original Bob-FM, CFWM Winnipeg, the era balance seems older — not as tilted toward the ’80s and ’90s as some of what came later. And the late ’80s hair band era-often an Adult Hits calling card, but one that often polarizes by age-feels less present.
St. Louis and Phoenix also have the advantage of a certain amount of Rock Hits DNA in their market. WARH is on the frequency of late ’70s/early ’80s pop/rock hybrid KWK. Phoenix has a similar history to draw on with late ’70s KUPD. (Again, there are exceptions. If market history were all that mattered, the format would have launched huge in Chicago and not in Los Angeles, instead of the inverse.)
Beyond that, I heard a lot of nice little touches on both St. Louis and Phoenix — the sort of housekeeping one usually finds at successful stations: both tell you more about how to use the radio station than their counterparts, without resorting to liner-speak; the Arch backsells every song; both stations do live spots (or live sounding testimonials). There were also some Triple-A-style flourishes on the Peak. On the day after Billy Preston’s death, he had been designated “Today’s Peak Legend.” The station also does a Sunday morning “Acoustic Storm” of the sort that you’d expect on a Triple-A; (New York’s Jack FM, WCBS-FM, just added a similar show on June 11).
WARH (106.5 the Arch) St. Louis, June 7, 2006, 9:50-10:45 a.m.
Nilsson, “Coconut”
Rick James, “Super Freak”
Styx, “Babe”
Matchbox Twenty, “Push”
Bryan Adams, “This Time”
Player, “Baby Come Back”
Beatles, “Revolution”
Staind, “It’s Been Awhile”
Scandal, “Goodbye To You”
A-Ha, “Take On Me”
Faces/Rod Stewart, “Stay With Me”
KPKX (98.7 the Peak) Phoenix, June 7, 2006, 8:55-9:45 a.m.
DNA f/Suzanne Vega, “Tom’s Diner”
Boz Scaggs, “Lowdown”
Def Leppard, “Love Bites”
Pablo Cruise, “Love Will Find A Way”
Kelly Clarkson, “Since U Been Gone”
Fleetwood Mac, “You Make Loving’ Fun”
Bob Seger, “Shakedown”
Orleans, “Dance With Me”
Deep Blue Something, “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”
Elton John, “Philadelphia Freedom”
Phil Collins, “Sussudio”
KBBD (103.9 Bob FM) Spokane, Wash., June 8, 2006, 10:45-11:30 a.m.
Donna Summer, “Bad Girls”
Alanis Morissette, “You Oughta Know (Acoustic)”
Billy Idol, “Rebel Yell”
Lee Michaels, “Do You Know What I Mean”
Golden Earring, “Twilight Zone”
Berlin, “No More Words”
Billy Joel, “The Longest Time”
Survivor, “High On You”
Macy Gray, “I Try”
Elton John, “Candle In The Wind

8 replies
  1. Tom Barnes
    Tom Barnes says:

    Good article this week, Sean.
    Why isn’t this just “Oldies 2.0″? Same psychographic as original oldies format– same pop sensibilities–just different people. With the exception of Macy Gray– musically this all strikes me as music for 40 year olds who stopped adopting new music when they graduated high school (nothing wrong with that). Just like the original oldies 15 years ago. Why overthink it?

    Reply
  2. Lou Pickney
    Lou Pickney says:

    I’d suggest that Classic Hits is more Oldies 2.0 than Adult Hits.
    This is a very well-crafted article, as is the norm on here. The format clearly has legs beyond what the naysayers were proclaiming when the format broke big 14-16 months ago. We’ll see how the next year fares for the major/mid-major markets, but I anticipate that it will turn out better than other so-called “fad” formats. Unlike 80s, Jammin’ Oldies, etc., Adult Hits has the depth of songs to avoid the burn that killed Jammin’ Oldies, and because it’s all hits, it doesn’t fall into the obscurity traps that fringe formats often face (AAA, which is also very hard to program well, comes to mind.)
    What’s more, the emergence of three satellite services last summer allowed for small markets to hop on board the format without having to worry about the hassle of programming what is a tough format to handle.
    The Phoenix/St. Louis examples are good points of how the format can be tweaked to maximize ratings in a given market. Louie FM in Louisville is knocking on the P25-54 door, and like Phoenix and St. Louis, it has live jocks. If that pattern continues, I wonder if some of the jockless Adult Hit stations might consider adding live jocks into the mix?
    As for the KBBD example, I want to see more from it before I term it a ratings-giant, given that it bounced back from a tough Fall ’05 book to pop a strong Winter ’06 book (looking at the 12+ numbers.)

    Reply
  3. Claudia Perry
    Claudia Perry says:

    While on vacation in Idaho, I heard a station called The River (94.5 FM). Playlist seemed to be more triple A than Adult hits. Song mix included New Tom Petty, Ben Harper, old Stones, and Beth Orton. Station has jocks, very low key. I liked it a lot. However, I would agree with the adult hits format as practiced bya lot of these stations is oldies 2.0.

    Reply
  4. Bwo
    Bwo says:

    First of all for Tom Barnes, not all of us older guys stopped liking new music out of High School(Sean’s an example of that, and so am I.)
    Sean, another great article…I do indeed like the Variety Hits format! At first I was doubtful of the format because of it’s lack of currents…but having heard stations like Liberty in Richmond, VA, The Arch in St. Louis and Jack in New York, I think that it really sounds great! Having grown up on pop in the 80′s and 90′s, I still consider myself a P1 Top 40 listner, so hearing a second or third cut on a Who CD is a bit of a “what” moment.
    One thing I would like to see incorported is more of a female sound on some of the stations…The is a ton of great top 40 records from the 80′s, 90′s and even this decade that belong somewhere. Most top 40 stations won’t play them, because they’re too busy playing “Unwritten” 100 times a week. Not sure a lot of the stuff would test with this “Adult Hits” audience though.

    Reply
  5. Beau Phillips
    Beau Phillips says:

    I still say that Jack/Bob is another example of stations looking for the easy, quick fix (remember Arrow?).
    And I love the rationalization that “Jack is doing better than our previous format in its dying gasps”. Geez, you’d hope so! And you can’t say that about WCBS NYC. Where these stations survive, it will be as a 3rd choice button.

    Reply
  6. Brian
    Brian says:

    We switched formats February 18th, 2006 to a very similar format to that of “The Arch” (WARH)in St. Louis. It isn’t oldies 2.0 or classic hits – because you also will see Matchbox 20, Goo Goo Dolls, some softer Nickelback, Green Day (their new ‘music’), and many others. The best way I can describe this format is “chill rock”. It’s not hard, but it’s definitely not soft rock. This is the station everyone can agree to listen to at work; or the station that your local businesses will tune into because it’s the least offensive and the place to find the most uninterrupted music.

    Reply

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