Rhythmic AC: In Search Of The Funky Cold Medina

As you might expect, Alan Burns’ “Movin'” format has been a big phone topic this week, between the promising first ratings for KQMV (Movin’ 92.5) Seattle and last week’s surprise flip from Country at KZLA Los Angeles. In between came the Clear Channel’s Smooth Jazz WJJZ Philadelphia switch to a like-minded but differently executed Rhythmic Hot AC as Philly’s 106.1 FM. And already, when somebody asks, “So what do you think of this Rhythmic AC format?” you have to ask them, “Which one?”
WJJZ goes back about 10 years further on music than KQMV, including some ’60s Motown and plays more ’70s disco. And in a market with no traditional Hot AC, WJJZ also has a pop/rock component. KZLA’s musical parameters are similar to KQMV, but its “oh wow” factor is a little more aggressive. Consultant Guy Zapoleon, who is also involved with KZLA, has used the term “Rhythmic Jack” to describe his older-skewing “Rhythm & Gold,” but it’s not inappropriate here. And just as there turned out to be a lot of ways to do the Classic Hits/Hot AC hybrid, there is already a lot of variance here.

…already, when somebody asks, “So what do you think of this Rhythmic AC format?” you have to ask them, “Which one?”

And other broadcasters have had similar ideas, going back even to the ’90s Rhythmic AC formats at WBMX (Mix 98.5) and WYXR (Star 104.5) Philadelphia. WKTU New York’s initial wedge was ’70s disco, but it’s added more music from the late ’80s and early ’90s in recent years. KBIG Los Angeles is older in era than KZLA, but does have some late ’80s rhythmic titles. And KDAY Los Angeles briefly tried what could best be described as “the greatest hits of KPWR [Power 106]” a few months ago, before returning to Urban. Now KPWR owner Emmis is tapping that legacy as well.
What the three markets have in common is a similar heritage. Because of KUBE Seattle, KPWR, and WIOQ (Q102) Philadelphia, rhythmic music, not pop/rock, has been the dominant sound with younger listeners for more than a decade. And even in markets without a particularly rhythmic legacy, there’s as much top-of-the-page music test passion among Hot AC listeners for “Let’s Get It Started” and “Hollaback Girl” as there is for any recent Modern AC title.
Then there are the late ’80s/early ’90s rhythmic titles that can best be described as “Lost Churban.” A handful of them-“Gonna Make You Sweat” or “Funky Cold Medina”– have popped up on the Bobs and Jacks, or on CHR and Hot AC special programming. For the most part, however, they are the last major group of songs to disappear from the radio and not come back until you get to the recently vanished late ’90s teen-pop era.
Until recently, the lost Churban era was lost for a reason. It was very hard to get anything built around that era to show any significant research strength. The listeners who grew up with those songs seemed to be a fairly isolated group. Those songs, while hardly edgy now, were too rappy for older siblings and disappeared from the radio before younger listeners could hear them. Burns has said that there was a format study done before KQMV’s launch. If what the Sandusky folks saw holds in other markets, it will be a significant turning point.
The same goes for finding a viable number of titles. In the same way that the universality of “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me” doesn’t extend to Winger’s “Headed For A Heartache” or other hair-band hits, there’s been a pretty clear line between “Gonna Make You Sweat” and, say, “Do Me” by Bell Biv Devoe. One hopes that a station like KQMV that starts with a core of like-minded listeners will identify more hits from that era. But you can already see some of the songs-that-have-never-tested spreading among stations in the same way that equally marginal pop/rock titles did in 2005 when new Bobs and Jacks were popping up every week.
Rhythmic Hot AC also has the same challenge as its big sister, Jammin’ Oldies. A lot of the listeners who grew up with “Gonna Make You Sweat” also liked “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” That forces you to strike a balance between not being focused enough and not being the one station that plays the hits of a generation-something that the Jacks and Bobs finally seemed to solve for listeners 10 years older. And one of the issues for Rhythmic music on Top 40 for the last 15 years has been whether women who like it do so to the ultimate exclusion of everything else.
Finally, there’s “freestyle”-the late ’80s/early ’90s dance music that was very much a part of the Rhythmic era in many markets, particularly in New York, Los Angeles, Philly, Miami, and San Jose. WKTU plays some freestyle. “Classic Dance” rival WNEW started to, and then backed off. And the likes of Stevie B and Lil’ Suzy are noticeably absent from WJJZ, even though Top 40 sister WIOQ has itself thrown in an occasional freestyle record over the past few years. Freestyle is unlikely to be a viable-testing cluster in any research project, but the very vocal people who do love it passionately are likely to gravitate to this format because there’s so much other music from similar years and adjacent genres.
And even during KDAY’s short-lived fling with Rhythmic AC, there was speculation about whether there was room for both KDAY and KBIG. Hiring Rick Dees, who many thought would end up on KBIG after his KIIS tenure ended, is an important point of differentiation for owner Emmis. And it’s a move that could be replicated in any markets where the early ’90s heritage morning show is finally running its course at a Mainstream Top 40. And radio strategy fans have noted that KZLA gives Emmis to flank the dominant KIIS at both the upper and lower ends.
Ultimately, a lot of the potential success of this format is going to come down to balance issues, and if that declaration seems a little too obvious, well, not a lot of Jacks or Bobs have worked out that balance either. Playing enough lost songs to service somebody who graduated high school in the early ’90s without overindulging them will be key. But there’s no reason it shouldn’t be made to work.
Here are some of the other articles we’ve written about Rhythmic AC:
So What Is AC Going To Do About The Early ’90s?
First Listen: KQMV Seattle (Alan Burns’ Movin’ Format)
First Listen: “Philly’s 106.1”

6 replies
  1. Bob Burke
    Bob Burke says:

    Sean, your comments on “Freestyle” music are right on the money! Having helped launch and program WBSS (Boss 97)/Atlantic City from 1987-1994, much of our success was do in part to that genre music.It’s sure great to hear any of those Rhythmic hits from that era. I’m tired of having to listen to satelitte for my fix. Hot AC can’t all be Sheryl Crow and Rob Thomas no matter what the research says, can it? 28-40 year olds grew up on Rhythmic hits in late 80s and early 90s and they were very passionate about them. Don’t forget WMWX (Mix 95.7)/Philadephia (now WBEN “Ben-FM” playing “anything you want”)also did a form of this format from 2000-2002. The target was a 28-40 year old female who had out grown Top 40 Q102 but was still too young for AC B101. I think this format has some real legs as long as it mixes in the right amount currents. It won’t survive without the right current product added to the mix at the right time.

  2. David Gariano
    David Gariano says:

    Sean, it seems a glaring omission that you didn’t include WILV Chicago (100.3 Love fm) — which I have to believe was the first Rhythmic AC in the US flipping last January –
    They are one great sounding station that seems to get better by the day — and keeps zeroing in their core demo –
    Just a thought –

  3. David Martin
    David Martin says:

    Which Rhythmic AC is exactly the right question. Bravo Sean. Back in the last century when Don Kelly and I flipped the Detroit VIACOM lite fm replacing it with rhythmic AC WDRQ at the time the station was one of three or four rhythmic ACs. DRQ’s sign-on playlist was rich with 80s and 90s titles, we played four currents an hour. We launched jockless with Bobby Ocean doing an excellent job on vo. In honor of home-state girl Madonna’s birthday we featured a six hour tribute including dub material from local mixers. We repeated the feature which took our phones down during the first run.

  4. The Infinite Dial
    The Infinite Dial says:

    When My Supermarket Changed Format

    Radio people don’t usually expect to hear their personal “oh wow” oldies on the radio. Those who even still have access to an Oldies station usually figure that if they’re enjoying it too much, the program director is probably playing…

  5. The Infinite Dial
    The Infinite Dial says:

    When My Supermarket Changed Format

    Radio people don’t usually expect to hear their personal “oh wow” oldies on the radio. Those who even still have access to an Oldies station usually figure that if they’re enjoying it too much, the program director is probably playing too many…

  6. RJ
    RJ says:

    The new format has taken over wktu in New york. Its getting very mixed results here. Of course freestyle music has always been played and the fans are passionate about that. The problem is the increase of disco era songs and old pop songs. The biggest problem is that wktu has dropped all NEW Dance & Club music (house,trance etc) and the top 8 at 8 which played the latest club hits. hearing the reaction on the street the station is headed toward failure without new dance hits (this does not mean justin timberlake in the mix thats not considered DANCE club music in new york. Reina,Lucas Prata,Tina Ann etc. are examples of dance artists dropped from playlists.


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