The Most Intriguing New Stations of 2004

by Sean Ross, VP of Music & Programming

For most radio people, it’s no stretch to say that programming innovation has gotten a lot less attention in recent years, due to the changing nature of the business. But that certainly felt like the case in 2004, when the post-Super Bowl indecency hysteria, Howard Stern’s move to satellite radio, radio’s travails on Wall Street and the related move to finally address spotloads got all the attention. Stern’s move led many observers to comment that radio’s No. 1 job was locking down existing talent and developing new Sterns, but while the importance of doing so can’t be understated, format innovation deserves more attention than it often gets from our industry, particularly in light of the greater innovation we’ve seen in recent years.

The intriguing stations of 2004 didn’t all have the same “anti-radio” thread as their predecessors.

In 2003, we observed, “broad” had become the new “narrow,” as stations finally found a way to market variety and (carefully managed) depth. The intriguing stations of 2004 didn’t all have the same “anti-radio” thread as their predecessors. Some had a distinctly retro feel—whether recalling the Rock 40 stations of 15 years ago, the early days of Hip-Hop or the Young Country boom of the early ‘90s. We also saw satellite radio, which had been built on marketing variety, start to add some more established and mainstream content. But there were still some instances of broadness taking hold with consumers.

For starters, we finally saw Jack/Bob gain a foothold in America at stations like KBPA Austin, Texas, (3.8-5.6 since summer), KKLT Phoenix (2.6-4.3 since spring), and KJKK Dallas (1.9-3.0 since spring). Realistically, the American version of the Classic Hits/Hot AC hybrid won’t invariably achieve the sort of market dominance it did in Canada. Most markets are too fragmented and too diverse here. But KBPA, which is now Top 5 12-plus, is getting close, while most of the other stations are definitely better off than they were under their previous formats.

More important, KBPA, which replaced Oldies KEYI, is one of the first signs that a broad-based Classic Hits might be able to establish itself as Oldies for the next-generation. So far, neither Jammin’ Oldies nor traditional Classic Hits/Classic Rock has been able to make a one-for-one swap because neither could play all the songs listeners grew up with.

In the consumer press in 2004, the calling card for Jack/Bob definitely became its wide variety. Yet, the ‘80s rock hole which first powered the format at stations like WMVX (Mix 106.5) Cleveland and CFWM (Bob 99.9) Winnipeg was hardly insignificant, as evidenced by:

  • WQBW (Brew 97.3) Milwaukee—If there were any genre with less initial respect than ‘70s pop and disco, it was early ‘80s AOR, the “kickass” era when Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, and the Eagles gave way to Journey, Loverboy, Pat Benatar, Billy Squier, and a slew of one-hit artists who researched but never sold records. For a while, it looked like corporate rock and its late-‘80s hair band counterparts would resurface not at rock radio, but at Hot AC, where “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” and “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” have all become reliable testers. Now those records have become the center of Milwaukee’s Brew 97.3, which has managed to cover some much of the same territory as Jack/Bob with a significantly different package, as well as sister WDTW (The Drive) Detroit, which has evolved to a similar position in recent years.

Some of the intriguing new or revamped stations of 2004 have already been covered in other Ross on Radio columns, among them WQCD (CD101.9) New York’s attempt to reimage around chillout music, WRDA (Red 104.1) St. Louis’ younger targeted Adult Standards format, WILV (Love 100.3) Chicago’s Soft AC/R&B Oldies hybrid, the retro-modern boom, and WRDW (Wired 96.5) Philadelphia’s Rhythmic Top 40 with a not-so-surprising number of retro touches (15 song playlist, live ID, “Baby Got Back” as a current), courtesy of consultant Jerry Clifton. We’ll follow-up on many of the stations we’ve already written about in a forthcoming column. Here are some other intriguing stations and format trends of 2004:

  • WWVA-FM (Viva 105.3) Atlanta—When Spanish-language radio began making its way on to FM in some markets that hadn’t been strongholds in the past, it yielded some modest (and gradually building) successes: a three-share in Omaha, Neb.; high threes in Raleigh, N.C. Then Clear Channel launched the first Spanish AC in a market of smaller Regional Mexican-formatted players and the results were instantaneous, perhaps helped by Atlanta having Hispanic sample targets where those other markets did not. While its format flips in Atlanta, San Jose, and Houston have the industry wondering where Clear Channel will launch a new Spanish-language station next, there are a number of markets where any operator would be advised to start totaling up the format’s shares on AM and asking, “Has this market changed more than I realize?”

  • Air America—At its inception, the liberal talk network had to endure the jibes of not just conservatives, but other liberal broadcasters who would have executed the format differently, as well as its own highly publicized financial difficulties. From a programming standpoint, it’s still finding its way. (“The Daily Show” did more this year to shatter the notion that liberals were not entertaining.) But if not every market yields a success story on the order of KPOJ Portland, Ore., or KLSD San Diego, Air America still did a lot this year to prove that there was room for another type of Talk station.

  • KQKQ (Q98.5) Omaha – It’s got the Maroon 5 and John Mayer records you’d find on a Modern AC, but there’s also a Good Charlotte/Simple Plan/Sugarcult component that nudges it into being something else: an updated version of late ‘80s-style “Rock 40” radio. (The only other one of those in recent memory was the early version of KRBZ Kansas City.) Even if you regard it as just another Hot AC, it’s one of the few successful current-driven launches that format has seen recently, and one of the few to post boxcar 12-plus numbers at all.

  • KKRG (the Range) Albuquerque, N.M., and WTGE Baton Rouge, La.—If more station owners or GMs had grown up with the music now played on Classic Country, we wouldn’t be seeing a mere boomlet, but the boom that’s been waiting to happen in Country lifegroup markets for years. As it is, it was still gratifying as a longtime format booster to page through the ratings in summer and early fall and see several Classic Country stories developing at once, and KKNG Oklahoma City leading the market.

  • WMTR/Morristown, N.J.—So far, the industry’s apparent plan to move the Oldies format back to AM hasn’t been working so well. FM stations may have been bailing out at a rapid clip, but so have some of the pre-Beatles AM outlets that were supposed to pick up the slack, including the movement’s flagship, WSAI Cincinnati. So far, Greater Media’s WMTR is the most successful instance of a pre-Beatles AM doing better than the Adult Standards AM it replaced (up 2.4 – 4.6 in the spring book). WMTR had two advantages. It was in a smaller market with only a few local stations of significance, so that its changes had a chance of being noticed, even on a music AM. And WCBS-FM’s decision to excise doo-wop and other pre-Beatles music was a consumer press story in New York, in a way that it was not in other markets. It’s also worth noting that WMTR actually did outside marketing, unlike many of the others.

  • KDAY Los Angeles—Urban AC’s few experiments with Hip-Hop, even the classic Hip-Hop that their audience grew up with, have all ended pretty decisively. So if PDs are going to acknowledge that the audience moving into 25-54 is more interested in 2pac than Gerald Levert, it’s going to have to be on new stations, either adult-leaning mainstreamers like WWPR (Power 105.1) New York or yesterday-and-today Hip-hop outlets like this one.

A few other trends that bear discussion here:

  • The continuing evolution of Spanish-language CHR and Hip-Hop formats. KLOL Houston’s recent flip from Heritage Rock to “Hurban” was the most-publicized attempt to target younger Latinos with a hybrid format, but it wasn’t the first. WVOZ San Juan, P.R., shook up its market with a mix of “reggaeton” (Spanish-language dancehall reggae) and Urban several years ago, and that music had become a significant part of stations as diverse as WSKQ (Mega 97.9) New York and WPOW (Power 96) Miami. KIBV Monterey, Calif., and XHMOR San Diego had already tried a similar Spanish/Hip-hop mix, with the former eventually changing formats and the latter edging further toward a more mainstream Hip-hop format. Even in Houston, there had been English/Spanish hybrids going as far back as the mid-‘80s when I remember hearing KXYZ (Radio 13) backselling a current Loverboy hit as “Reina de los Corazones Rotos.” So far, the the Spanish-language hybrid has had a hard-time in the U.S., but a lot more people are having a go at it these days.

  • The continued growth of Urban Gospel on FM (and the move by Susquehanna and Cumulus in to Christian AC): In last year’s review of new stations, WDBT (the Beat) Jackson, Miss., had just made an unusual transition from Top 40 to Gospel. At this writing, the new WHLH (Hallelujah 95.5) is leading the market with a 10.5 and has been as high as an 11.9 share in the summer. By then, there had been enough Gospel success stories that WHLH’s success was phenomenal, but not surprising. As with Classic Country, there could be similar big wins in a lot more markets, but the prospect of selling this format scares potential GMs in the same way that Urban scared them a decade ago. One can only hope that it won’t take as long to educate broadcasters and advertisers on this front.

  • The return of “New Country”: It’s more a trickle than a boom, so far: last year’s launch of ABC’s KTYS (the Twister) Dallas; this year’s Cox-owned WNCB (New Country 97.3) Birmingham, Ala. But we’re starting to see the return of the younger leaning Country flanker strategy that so many Country stations applied during the format’s last heyday in the early ‘90s. And the conditions are right: with Gretchen Wilson and Big & Rich, younger country stations finally have a bandwagon to ride (if not necessarily 35 songs to play). And just as important, the early ‘90s library titles that so many Country stations have relied on for years are now 13-15 years old. To put that in perspective, Dan Seals’ “Bop” and Mel McDaniel’s “Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On”—the mainstay gold titles in those days before Garth—were only 6-7 years old when Brooks and his cohorts rendered them unnecessary.

  • The stubborn tenacity of the dance format. Every year, it loses one or two of its handful of outlets. Every year, a WDVW (Diva 92.3) New Orleans or KNGY (Energy 92.7) San Francisco shows up. And while WKTU New York’s continued support of new dance music was seemed, on paper, like it would make them vulnerable to the gold-based Rhythmic AC on rival WNEW, so far the score is still WKTU 2.9 and WNEW 1.3.

2 replies
  1. Ken Wells
    Ken Wells says:

    Thanks for the updates.
    “Retro” radio might not be the best term. In my opinion, “rock n’ roll” minus the doowop, flowers, acid, heavy metal, disco, hiphop, etc. hasn’t changed too much. Some things that were recorded in the late 5o’s, for example Barrett Strong’s “Money,” will fit with T-Rex’s “Bang A Gong,” circa 1971, which fits with Salt ‘n Peppa’s “Shoop,” from the mid 90’s, which fits with “Who Let The Dogs Out.”
    Too bad so many radio programers use chronology to define and catagroize music selections.


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