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What Does Last Week’s Format Action Mean For The Rest Of 2017?

The Christmas/New Year’s season is normally busy for format changes, but with the amount of action (including five PPM market changes in one day) has put the entire radio industry on notice.

While the circumstances behind every change were different, there was one noticeable similarity about many of the new format launches. Escaping younger demographics for older.

We all know that reaching the 18-34 audience has become more difficult for broadcast radio, especially if you are not the heritage player in a market. Lots of words have been written elsewhere about the struggle for radio to reach millennials but has finally come back to hit radio in the wallet where it hurts most.

New AC’s launched in Philadelphia and Tampa. Gold leaning Urban AC in Boston. Adult Hits in Houston. Only Radio One’s flip of 92.1 KROI from Classic Hip-Hop to fill the CHR opening made by CBS, went against the grain in the big markets. The biggest gain for a a format overall was Soft AC which launched in Chattanooga, Columbia MO, Fresno, and Long Island.

With revenues dropping and 18-34’s becoming lost to broadcast radio, the industry is starting to double-down and focus on the audiences it already has. CBS’ “95.7 The Spot” Houston fills the long open Classic Hits void in the market. “Today’s 96.5” Philadelphia will help prop up sister Classic Hits 98.1 WOGL against market leading AC “101.1 More-FM” WBEB. If CBS’ CHR burst of 2008-2010 is over, why should they stop there? A pop leaning 80s/90s hits station like Houston would fill a wide opening in Boston. AC like Philadelphia could flank Classic Hits 104.3 WOMC Detroit. Multiple format options could exist in Orlando and the company has seen 97.1 KAMP Los Angeles and Alternative 106.7 KROQ struggle in the past year.

As AC and Hot AC sounded more like CHR and Oldies was supplanted by Classic Hits, more stations were playing the same songs. The glut made Soft AC a viable option again and allowed 1980s Hits to come back from the dead. Classic Hip-Hop has not proven to have legs in most markets, but radio is showing its desperation to find the next way to keep its 25-54 audience core in place as it says goodbye to the younger audience.

What’s next? Single artist stations as permanent formats as SiriusXM has done? All early 90’s grunge? The return of Jammin Oldies? There’s only so many ways to keep repackaging the same music in different forms.

Profile photo of Lance Venta
Lance Venta is the Owner and Publisher of RadioInsight.com and a consultant for RadioBB Networks specializing in integration of radio and the internet. Lance has two decades of experience tracking the audio industry and its use of digital platforms.

9 Comments

  1. Profile photo of mposeymil


    Don’t forget the big elephant in the room- the GMR/RMLC deal which will increase royalty rates for radio stations playing GMR material such as what’s listed here:
    http://globalmusicrights.com/faqs
    Even BMI is suing RMLC, demanding that they join in on the new deal. This has the potential to a game changer for music radio, even life, death or major changes for stations, especially those in small markets.

  2. Profile photo of johndavis


    I don’t know if this is a sign that radio is giving up on 18-34 or not. Face it, 25-54 has always driven revenue. Back in 1990 when I lived in a city with 5 AC stations all chasing the same demo and CHR in decline we didn’t dismiss the demise of CHR as radio giving up on my generation, we just acknowledged that pop music was stuck in the extremes and nobody made money playing hair bands into 2 Live Crew…

    I gave the Long Island Soft AC a good listen and it reminded me of WDUV… before WDUV shifted younger towards more saleable demos. Unless they can drive a lot of direct business (and on that signal they need all the direct dollars they can get) they’re going to need to tweak it. Of the more recent Soft AC launches up until this point, WFEZ Miami tweaked younger following the WDUV playbook, KIFM San Diego flipped mainstream, and KOAI Phoenix tweaked younger. The money is in 25-54 and not 55+.

    In the case of KKHH, it was hard to tell Hot and its sister KHMX apart most of the time save for KHMX’s gold category. Both stations were powering Maroon 5 and giving heavy airplay to Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars. Unlike in 1990, it isn’t Hot AC’s job to save it’s audience’s sensitive ears from today’s pop music; today’s mothers and daughters listen to a lot of the same music. So it comes down to who bills more?

    If advertisers start falling all over themselves to demand 18-34 year olds on their buys, then radio has an obligation to chase that demo. But if the buys are all coming in 25-54, can you blame radio for going where the money is?

    So just as in 1990, you’ll get a cluster of stations all chasing the same demo until one of the weaker ones decides to do something different. Kind of like Radio One blowing up Boom and going CHR. Circle of life, y’all.

    • Profile photo of Jack Bayes


      What you’ve asked — “can you blame radio for going where the money is?” — leads to what is basically an existential crisis for the business.

      Having paid too much for stations, cut staffing and eliminated marketing and research for the benefit of debt service and quarterly targets means that no, you can’t blame them for going where the money is. Certainly, if you’re in a standalone situation like Entercom in Atlanta, you have to chase the dollars, no question, and CBS was right for taking two stations that were too close together and separating them.

      That said, even with our 90+ percent penetration rate, if we don’t start doing things to attract younger demos, we’re going to kill the business. People aren’t going to magically find radio when they turn 25. The old rules of when essentially the only sources for finding new music were MTV and radio, don’t apply anymore. In a perfect world, the wiser long-term course of action in Houston might have been to push 95.7 even younger to develop an audience they could graduate to Mix. With all the debt CBS Radio just took on, though, that’s not an option, and we continue down the path that leads us to our eventual demise.

      I don’t really know the answer to balance long-term goals with short-term needs, but I know what we’re doing isn’t it.

      • Profile photo of johndavis


        When has radio NOT gone where the money is? RKO General did not hire Bill Drake out of a desire to serve the public. If your station doesn’t make money, you go off the air.

        The long term strategy is to evolve into digital with your audience. But you can’t pay the bills on digital alone today so you need your broadcast properties to perform.

  3. Profile photo of Rob Zerwekh


    If everyone is chasing the same demo and re-packaging the same music, your station better have the best talent and presentation. That’s what we always say in TV news. We all cover the same stories, so the viewers need to like the people who are delivering it.

  4. Profile photo of Nathan Obral


    Two things to keep in mind:

    1) We are already 21 years removed from the 1996 TCom act. Already you have one generation, going on two generations, who ONLY know terrestrial radio as being owned by the Clear Channeles and the Cumuluses and the CBSes.

    2) Why would the youngest generations thus have ANY loyalty to terrestrial radio? I can’t think of anything right now. Anything done to harm the industry which has jaded us composes their entire frame of reference for how the industry operates.

    Couple that with AM talk radio’s audience simply dying off with no replenishment whatsoever, and the industry could be in for a world of hurt. There’s not enough lipstick to put on this pig.

    • Profile photo of johndavis


      You’re implying that the people using radio know (or care) who owns the stations. They don’t.

      Why does anyone have loyalty to terrestrial radio? Why does anyone have any loyalty to internet radio? Why does anyone have loyalty to their mobile device? People don’t listen to the radio for the sake of listening to the radio, they listen to what we put on the radio. If we don’t do a good job of putting something entertaining on the radio, they find something that serves them. Serve your audience.

      Dedicated music players (iPod, Walkman, etc.) have basically died off because the functions those things provided are done better by phones. And pretty much every radio station on the planet has a way of being accessed on the phone through some form of app (or several). AM is a graveyard. FM may follow. Even the tiniest of stations have a digital strategy. It really doesn’t matter as long as you are everywhere, anytime, on any device. Serve your audience wherever you find them.

      • Profile photo of Dan


        Yes, you are right, people don’t care who owns the stations they listen to. But as a former fan of radio that has stopped listening and now watches from the sideline, they DO care about the product put on the air. I’m not saying there are not talented DJ’s out there, but cost cutting and voicetracking have killed the medium, ESPECIALLY for the younger audience. What made radio “special” back in the days when I listened, was live and local DJ’s (and I’m in Market 16). DJ’s that could connect with the audience, and did more than just read a card or sell what is coming up next, and DJ’s you could actually call.

        Even when radio was in it’s prime for 18-34 year olds, you heard more often “did you hear what happened on so and so’s show” to the point you felt like you missed out if you DIDN’T listen, and certain segments were appointment listening. Even now, if you look at the stations that are doing really well, they are the ones with the good personalities. Want to voicetrack? People will catch on to it, and they’ll pick Spotify, where at least they can control the music. Because if I am going to listen to a computer, it might as well be my own.

  5. Profile photo of joseph_gallant


    Radio has to start convincing young (read: under 30) people to listen and listen more.

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