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Fresh Listen: WMJI and WHLK Cleveland

Majic 105.7 WMJI 106.5 The Lake WHLK Cleveland Sean RossThe parameters of WHLK (the Lake) Cleveland, iHeart’s successful Adult Hits station, are pretty much what you’d expect for the format, especially with a Classic Hits station next door. The bulk of the music is in the ‘80s, but there are the usual handful of megahits from the ‘00s and even from recent years. The music essentially begins in the mid-‘70s with mostly rock titles such as “Sweet Emotion” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

I have no inside knowledge, but it seems likely that the parameters of WMJI (Majic 105.7) are influenced by cluster strategy as well. Majic lives largely in the ‘70s. It plays the ‘80s but has no depth; the most played ‘80s songs are “Billie Jean”-level superhits. As other stations bid farewell to the late ‘60s once and for all, even for the Beatles and Creedence Clearwater Revival, WMJI still plays “Twist and Shout” six times a week and “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers five times a week. And “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies six times a week.

Over the course of 2016, the transition by Classic Hits/Greatest Hits, the format once known as Oldies, to something more like Adult Hits (the format often branded as Bob- or Jack-FM) picked up speed. Stations like KRTH (K-Earth 101) Los Angeles successfully moved into the position that its Jack-FM sister, KCBS-FM, had occupied a decade ago. Listen to KRTH now and you’ll hear a few songs that were never pop hits in Los Angeles at the time, such as “No One Like You” by the Scorpions. Late ‘70s/early ‘80s corporate rock — sneered at by the industry when it was a calling card for Canada’s original Bob-FM in 2002 — is the center lane now.

When owners have to choose one franchise, they often land closer to Adult Hits. CBS saw two holes in Houston and chose Adult Hits for KKHH’s conversion from Top 40 to “The Spot,” even though that put it a little more head-up against Cox’s Classic Rock KGLK. iHeart itself gave up the successful WODC (which still used the word Oldies) for Adult Hits a year ago. So you may see Majic 105.7 as a station that exists only because its owners have the luxury, and the challenge, of covering the ‘70s and ‘80s with two different stations.

Cluster strategy was also responsible for one of the most distinctive CHRs of all time, IHeart’s KBKS (Kiss 106.1) Seattle in the early ‘00s. With longtime Rhythmic CHR KUBE next door, KBKS avoided the usual “fast on rhythm/slow on rock” strategy of most major-market CHRs in favor of the inverse. More unusually, it latched on to the local pop punk/emo scene of the time, making powers of bands like This Providence and the Maine that got no airplay outside the market.

Then KQMV (Movin’ 92.5) Seattle evolved to a more typical CHR shortly thereafter. Kiss didn’t collapse, but Movin’ became the format leader, sending Kiss through a series of evolutions (more rhythmic, back to pop-leaning) and finally to Hot AC last year. KUBE has become the more format-typical CHR KPWK (Power 93.1), but hasn’t usurped Movin’ yet either. If you’re looking for a cautionary tale about willfully defying format trends, Seattle has to be mentioned.

But at this writing, anyway, WMJI is the larger piece of a market that has both Classic Hits and Adult Hits. Both stations would be enviably successful to any owner, but in the fall, WMJI was the 6-plus leader. In December, when Majic played Christmas music, the battle was actually at its closest (8.7 WMJI, 8.3 WHLK). In October, WMJI led by almost two shares, 9.6 to 7.7. That lead has flip-flopped, and likely will again, but Majic’s strength in the market won’t likely be in question any time soon.

This isn’t a brief on behalf of playing the ‘60s or keeping Classic Hits older. The filing here is on behalf of “the second way” to do any major format, whether it’s Classic Hits or today’s hits. Much of format evolution is driven by composite monitored playlists of stations that may or may not have done their own research. Some stations have their own informed reasons for their actions. Some are watching another station that’s running a composite playlist as well. WMJI’s other way of doing Classic Hits isn’t just enduring because of market strategy. It’s also winning.

Here’s Majic at 11 a.m. on Jan. 17:
Manfred Mann, “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”
Gordon Lightfoot, “Sundown”
John Mellencamp, “Pink Houses”
Barry White, “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love”
Simon & Garfunkel, “Sounds of Silence”
Meat Loaf, “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)”
Jackson Browne, “Somebody’s Baby”
Thin Lizzy, “The Boys Are Back in Town”
Norman Greenbaum, “Spirit in the Sky”
Journey, “Any Way You Want It”
Eagles, “Take It to the Limit”
Thelma Houston, “Don’t Leave Me This Way”
Beatles, “Eleanor Rigby”

Here’s the Lake at 3 p.m. on Jan 17:
Earth, Wind & Fire, “September” (Part of the thematic “Three-Play at Three”)
Guns N’ Roses, “November Rain”
Four Seasons, “December 1963 (Oh What a Night)”
Pat Benatar, “Invincible”
Tonic, “If You Could Only See”
Prince, “I Would Die 4 U”
Steve Miller Band, “The Joker”
Cyndi Lauper, “Time After Time”
Sheryl Crow, “All I Wanna Do”
Bon Jovi, “I’ll Be There for You”
Jason Mraz, “I’m Yours”
John Parr, “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)”

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Sean Ross is author of the Ross on Radio newsletter and VP of music and programming of Edison Research.

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