It would not be merely smart-alecky to give an Intriguing Station of 2015 award to Voltair. The audio-processing unit believed to enhance the detectability of station signal encoding for Nielsen’s PPM ratings measurement was a far bigger story than any one station, and not knowing exactly who was deploying it created speculation about any station’s ratings success. PPM was already an extra variable on the format landscape, and speculation about Voltair further exaggerated the funhouse mirror aspect. Urban radio, the format most diminished in the early days of PPM, was on the rebound at year’s end, and one could only wonder whether it was improved measurement, improved available product, or improved processing.
So our continued look at the Most Intriguing Stations of 2015 leads off with:
KTWV (The Wave) Los Angeles – When crosstown KHHT (Hot 92.3) went Urban, KTWV segued from Urban AC to what can best be described as Smooth Jammin’ Oldies. (It were playing “California Dreaming” by Queen Latifah when I wrote this.) The results were instant, and a format that hasn’t generated much press in 15 years was again front-and-center in market #2. It was as clear-cut a case of a station successfully moving into an open position as you could hope for. And yet, there was still an article elsewhere attributing its success to Voltair. Such was 2015.
WXKC-HD-2 (104.3 The Vibe) Erie, Pa.—Erie was never one of those markets where hip-hop was the dominant pop music of the ‘90s. In fact, there was actually a moment where the market’s only Mainstream Top 40 got out of the format for a while, rather than follow the music to a more rhythmic place. And yet, Classic Hip-Hop managed a 4.9 on an FM translator in Erie this year, because Westwood One/Cumulus’ Classic Hip-Hop format made it possible for the format to be in Erie. Like other Classic Hip-Hop stations, Erie’s Vibe cooled dramatically in its second book, but not before proving again that the radio landscape outside the major markets is often shaped by what’s available in syndication, whether it’s conservative News/Talk, Bob- or Jack-FM, or Classic Hip-Hop. And since you can’t send people back to a childhood they didn’t have, Classic Hip-Hop in Erie is also proof that even in an era long before Spotify, people managed to hear music that wasn’t on the radio.
KRBQ (Q102.1) San Francisco — If Erie was the least-likely market for Classic Hip-Hop, San Francisco was rivaled only by New York as most-likely. For a generation’s worth of listeners, KMEL was the pop station in the market. Q102.1 launched as Rhythmic AC in 2014, but refocused as Classic Hip-Hop and became one of this year’s success stories, even as some of its predecessors were leveling off.
KJLH Los Angeles — The Stevie Wonder-owned Urban AC’s most-played song is “Hotline Bling” by Drake. Its second-most-played is “Hello” by Adele. That’s not unusual these days, but KJLH has been doing that for a while now. And when acclaimed rapper Kendrick Lamar has an appropriate current or recurrent, you’ll hear that, too.
KRTH (K-Earth 101) Los Angeles, WOCL (105.9 Sunny FM) Orlando, Fla., WODC Columbus, Ohio — This was the year that the line between the “Greatest Hits” format and the “Adult Hits” format of Bob- and Jack-FMs blurred beyond recognition. The passage of time brought most of the former oldies stations into the Boston-through-Bon Jovi-era-pop/rock that was Jack-FM’s calling card a decade ago. At the end of the year, there were stations such as WODC that officially segued to Adult Hits (hearing it play “When You Close Your Eyes” by Night Ranger a few months before that should have been the tipoff). But an official change was hardly necessary. By year’s end, L.A.’s K-Earth was playing “I Wanna Be Sedated” and the No Doubt version of “It’s My Life,” and remained the Greatest Hits format’s most-copied station. Then there was WOCL, which had also been early to embrace the late ‘80s, but had a presentation and jock edginess reminiscent of late ‘80s top 40 radio.
KOFX (The Fox) El Paso, Texas, – What if the late ‘70s evolution of rock radio into something more “kickass” had never materialized, forcing shorter lists, and pushing acts such as War and Stevie Wonder out of rock radio? KOFX has a deep library, continues to throw in those R&B acts who were part of AOR world in the early ‘70s, and sometimes plays “Boogie Nights” as well. And it was #1 in the market last year.
Sirius XM ‘60s on 6, Sirius XM Yacht Rock – “Yacht Rock” was the satellite radio pop-up channel specializing in late ‘70s/early ‘80s soft rock that coincided with a seeming resurgence in Christopher Cross and Orleans records on WCBS-FM New York and elsewhere. ‘60s on 6 stands out more with each passing year. At a time when even “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” is an act of throwback willfulness at the “Greatest Hits” format, “‘60s on 6” went far deeper. It was the channel with the greatest likelihood for surprise and delight this year.
WPLJ New York, WKTU New York — When WKTU debuted two decades ago, it was the anti-WPLJ: a Hot AC station built on rhythm rather than Rod Stewart. Last year, however, the two stations were fighting it out with ‘90s throwbacks from freestyle dance to Britney and Backstreet.
Sirius XM Velvet – When it launched last year, the description made it sound like another attempt at neo-standards. Instead, it was something that hadn’t existed on the radio for generations: contemporary MOR.
WTOP-HD-3 (The Gamut) Washington D.C. – Every now and then, there has been a station, usually one in transition, that was briefly populated by the chief engineer’s eclectic music collection. “The Gamut” did it on purpose, and at year’s end, there were rumors of it getting an FM translator, not just an HD subchannel.
Vuma FM South Africa — It can best be described as “Positive Urban AC”—a mix of spiritual and positive secular music with motivational jock talk. In America, such hybrids have always managed to leave one constituency or the other unsatisfied. And yet, it’s not seemingly that far from where Urban AC in America is now. Or could be.
KKAJ (Texoma Country) Ardmore, Okla. — If it were just “yesterday and today” country, it’d still stand out at a time when Country radio has becoming increasingly recurrent. But there’s also “Red Dirt/Texas Country” in the mix. And there’s all of today’s Country radio energy in the presentation.
KWHL Anchorage, Alaska – Active rock struggled elsewhere. Maybe it was the remote location, but KWHL forged ahead as the inverse of KOFX, the last kickass rock station in America.
What were your intriguing stations of 2015? Let me know at email@example.com.
And you can see Part I of the “Intriguing Stations” wrap-up here: http://www.goenvisionnetworks.com/2016/01/21/intriguing-stations-of-2015-part-i/