Any time a company flips fourteen stations in one day it should be a big deal. Why was it that Cumulus’ launch of the “Nash Icon” brand on Friday came across very flat?
The brand, then called “Nash Icons“, was first announced in May as a partnership between Cumulus and Big Machine Label Group as a 90s centric brand of “old hits and new material by 1990s country stars such as Garth Brooks, George Strait, Shania Twain and the Judds, along with a handful of similar acts from the late 1980s and early 2000s”, while Big Machine built a record label based around those artists. Yet when the stations launched on Friday there was not much difference between the “90s To Now” positioning Cumulus uses at many of their Country stations outside of a few additional 80s tracks. In fact, the two existing Country stations that Cumulus rebranded (92.5 KJJY Des Moines and 95.5 WSM-FM Nashville) as “Nash Icon” used that branding prior to the relaunch.
For a brand that Cumulus is supposedly so high on where was the PR attack? Nary a press release or PR blitz followed the immediate launch. Normally when Cumulus launches a new product or brand initiative Lew and John Dickey are everywhere that day publicizing the product. That didn’t happen with the Nash Icon launch.
What about the twelve stations outside of Nashville and Des Moines? Has there ever been a bigger amount of stations that basically serve as fodder? Let’s run those down.
Since launching in 2011, 98.9 W255CJ Atlanta had four formats prior to Nash Icon. The new brand is promoting itself as commercial free 24/7 to help sister “Kicks 101.5” WKXH catch-up to Clear Channel’s “94.9 The Bull” WUBL. Who needs to have a pop Classic Hits opening all to yourself when you can just operate without revenue to prop a sister station up?
100.7 KLSZ-FM Fort Smith, 102.1 WZAT Savannah, and 102.5 K273BZ Kansas City were all among the launch affiliates of the Cumulus and CBS partnered “CBS Sports Radio” in January 2013. Now as Cumulus has moved on to the next initiative these stations with non-existent ratings have been transferred over to the next thing. In Kansas City, the translator will go up against THREE Class C Country stations with a combined 16.3 share. A similar competitive situation exists in Savannah where WZAT will flank sister “Nash-FM 96.5” WJCL against Alpha Media’s Country and Classic Country duo. In Fort Smith, KLSZ flips to Nash Icon with a 0.0 share in the last two ratings books. Sister Classic Country “Big Country 107.3” KOMS is second in the market with an 8.5 share and a playlist that includes much of the 80s/90s Country being featured on Nash Icon.
99.5 WZRR Birmingham is the most intriguing of the new Nash Icon stations. Clear Channel’s “102.5 The Bull” WDXB and Summit Media’s 104.7 WZZK are both top 5 stations in the market with a combined 14.5 share. As recently as a year ago WZRR out-rated Clear Channel’s 103.7 WQEN, but quickly became an afterthought with a 2.4 share to WQEN’s 5.1 in what is now the station’s final Nielsen Audio ratings book this Spring.
97.9 KQLK Lake Charles was the most successful of the stations that dropped their format. The now former “Hot 97.9” Rhythmic CHR format was fifth in the market with a 5.7 share. The new format will flank market leading sister 96.1 KYKZ against Townsquare Media’s “Gator 99.5” KNGT.
92.5 WLAW Muskegon, MI evolved from its previous “Outlaw 92.5” Classic Country format. 93.7 WJBC-FM Bloomington, IL is a rimshot that was simulcasting an AM News/Talker. AC “Warm 94.9” KRMW Fayetteville, AR, Classic Rock “96.3 The Mountain” KBZU Albuquerque, CHR “Q102.1” WNUQ Albany GA and “Classic Hits 106.3” KRRF Oxnard, CA were all low rated and in the case of KRMW and KRRF averaging a format change every couple of years.
Does this mean Nash Icon is destined for failure? Not at all. Cumulus is putting resources behind the Nash and Nash Icon brands that puts other formats to shame. This launch though has felt disjointed, rushed, and not what Cumulus and Big Machine first hyped it to be. Once the brand is fleshed out and additional features/shows are added, there could easily be additional demand for a brand to acts as the Adult Contemporary equivalent for Country listeners in a world where many of the format’s stations are evolving towards a CHR styling.