First Listen: Three New Year’s Format Changes—Dallas, Houston, Long Island
Okay, technically, August 20 is National Radio Day. But format watchers already have their national holidays — Labor Day, Memorial Day, and the 12 days of Christmas (or the 12 or so days that follow Christmas) when format changes take place. Whether broadcasters are willing to invest in a new format is often an indicator of radio’s optimism, and this year radio seems fairly optimistic.
The last few weeks have brought something for almost every radio fan. KISQ (The Breeze) San Francisco has seemingly reignited the interest in supersoft AC. But Classic Country continues to spread as well. And we took three First Listens to a variety of stations.
KKHH (The Spot) Houston
When Top 40 KKHH (Hot 95.7) became Adult Hits “The Spot” late last year, it was symbolic. In 2008, Hot 95.7 was the first CHR battle that CBS Radio launched itself into, a strategy that soon spread to New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and elsewhere. As recently as a few months ago, when KVIL Dallas finished its evolution from AC to CHR, CBS seemed determined to have a CHR in every possible market. But with the Jan. 5 change of WZMP Philadelphia, two of its major-market CHRs are gone.
Hot 95.7 forced rival KRBE into a war of attrition from which no consistent book-after-book powerhouse CHR emerged, even during the format’s good times elsewhere. Meanwhile, Classic Rock KGLK (the Eagle) thrived covering the Classic Hits position as well, sharing a few songs with AC KODA. Even with a wide-open hole, however, losing Hot 95.7 seemed to highlight CHR’s current musical malaise. The early Hot 95.7 had helped spread the practice of ultra-power rotation songs that played 120x a week or more. The Spot is running liners promising relief from too many of the same songs over and over.
Other format observers came to the same conclusion. Within minutes, I had tweeted and at the exact same moment, WJFX (Hot 107.9) Fort Wayne, Ind., PD Robbie Mack had tweeted me:
“Hot 95.7 was the station that launched the second CHR phenomenon nearly nine years ago. Now it’s adult hits. In 2008, KKHH launch said a lot about strength of CHR radio (including in PPM). As 2016 closes, what does its demise say?”
The Spot was telling about current format trends in another way. CBS Radio still has both Classic Hits and Adult Hits stations these days, and the Houston hole could have been addressed by either. And most of today’s large-market Classic Hits stations pretty much live on Adult Hits’ turf anyway. But Adult Hits was the choice here. (KBAY San Jose, which segued from Mainstream AC to Classic Hits, provided the opposing viewpoint.)
So far, the Spot’s music is so ‘80s-based that it perhaps could have followed KOSF San Francisco’s lead and declared itself all-‘80s. But I’ve heard mostly a smattering of ‘70s and ‘90s (the press release says they go through the 2000s).
Positioners included “your music, your way” and “all your favorite music, not just some of it” — two familiar liners not usually heard in this context — as well as “after a year like 2016, isn’t it nice to have a radio station like this?”
Here’s the Spot just before 2 p.m. on Jan. 4.
Duran Duran, “The Reflex”
Billy Idol, “Mony Mony”
Barenaked Ladies, “One Week”
Pat Benatar, “Heartbreaker”
Rod Stewart, “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy”
Belinda Carlisle, “Mad About You”
Billy Joel, “You May Be Right”
Aerosmith, “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)”
INXS, “What You Need”
Erasure, “A Little Respect”
Huey Lewis & News, “I Want a New Drug”
Stevie Nicks, “Edge of Seventeen”
Green Day, “When I Come Around”
Genesis, “In Too Deep”
.38 Special, “Hold On Loosely”
R.E.M., “Losing My Religion”
KDGE (Star 102.1) Dallas
We recently devoted an entire article to the significance of iHeart Radio deciding to fill KVIL’s Mainstream AC hole in Dallas. For a while, it looked as if broadcasters weren’t going to rush in when a Mainstream AC changed formats, or became unrecognizably hot. iHR launched “More Music, More Variety” Star 102.1 even though it already had a Mainstream CHR and Adult CHR in the building.
What we didn’t know last month was exactly where Star 102.1 would land. The only hint was a list of core artists that was split, like most AC playlists, between the ‘80s and today. Would it be the mainstream AC station that plays Michael Bublé or the mainstream AC that plays Chainsmokers? Within 20 minutes of turning on Star, I’d heard both “Home” and “Closer.”
Star isn’t at the WBEB Philadelphia/WLIF Baltimore edges of the format, but it’s evenly divided between yesterday and today, and as contemporary as most of its peers. Here’s Star at 11 a.m. on Jan. 4:
Rixton, “Me and My Broken Heart”
Starship, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”
Taylor Swift, “Style”
Michael Jackson, “You Are Not Alone”
Alannah Miles, “Black Velvet”
Adele, “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”
Bruno Mars, “Grenade”
Journey, “Any Way You Want It”
Pink, “Just Like Fire”
Lou Bega, “Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit Of….)”
Cyndi Lauper, “True Colors”
Timbaland f/One Republic, “Apologize”
Tom Petty, “Free Fallin’”
Charlli XCX, “Boom Clap”
Madonna, “Papa Don’t Preach”
104.7 WELJ Eastern Long Island
It’s nice to see former WBZO (B103) APD/PM driver (and former colleague) Keith Allen back in action. B103 opted for Adult Hits some time ago as “Max FM.” In recent weeks, two different Long Island stations have launched to address the pop gold hole (and, in WELJ’s case, the long-running evolution of B103’s sister, WALK, from Mainstream to Hot AC). The other is JVC’s new translator-driven Oldies 98.1.
There’s often a tendency with Supersoft AC to try and find a place of “hip wimp” as quickly as possible. Stations like KISQ and WFEZ (Easy 93.1) Miami evolved at different places, but stations often end up moving away from the most polarizing artists and songs at some point, sounding more like the mainstream AC of a decade or so earlier. That’s easier now that Mainstream AC has moved away from Firefall and Fleetwood Mac with equal determination.
WELJ is definitely not just “WALK of a few years ago.” The artists in its stagers are Phil Collins, Lionel Richie, and Elton John, but also Air Supply, Bread, Celine Dion, and Barry Manilow. The ‘70s songs aren’t just the songs that would still test for WALK or B103. That said, the “yecch” factor (and I use the term lovingly) isn’t that far beyond stations like WFEZ or KISQ.
Here’s WELJ at 1:20 p.m. on January 4:
Bette Midler, “Wind Beneath My Wings”
Roberta Flack, “Killing Me Softly With His Song”
Anita Baker, “Sweet Love”
Beatles, “Here, There and Everywhere”
Gloria Loring & Carl Anderson, “Friends and Lovers”
America, “Tin Man”
Paul Davis, “Cool Night”
Boyz II Men, “End of the Road”
Fleetwood Mac, “Say You Love Me”
Stevie Wonder, “I Just Called to Say I Love You”
Eric Carmen, “Hungry Eyes”
Harry Chapin, “Cat’s in the Cradle”