My Virtual Road Trip, Part I
Shortly before Christmas 1973, my family drove from New York to Miami. It was my first South Florida visit that I was old enough to remember. And it was a road trip that was defined by the radio. Just as I was starting to understand market-to-market differences, here were the Southern secondary markets, then Atlanta, then South Florida, all of them playing songs I couldn’t yet hear in New York. It was a trip that did a lot to define the excitement of radio for me.
Two years ago, I did the same drive as an adult. Satellite radio was playing most of the time. Nobody else in the family would put up with static or button-punching, and besides, CHR was in decline even then. It had also been a long time since Top 40 radio in the South had been appreciably different or faster on new music than other places. After the long slog of I-95, we were all quickly resolved to go back to flying next time. And we did.
But I always wondered if the experience I was looking for was impossible now. If you were both cynical and versed in radio history, you could say that it was as if my Dad had spent that same 1973 road trip looking for ‘40s-style radio drama and a chance to win a Jack Armstrong decoder ring. But, hey, radio drama was actually making a comeback in 1973. Besides, I’d done a subsequent Salt Lake City to Las Vegas trip and found it surprisingly rewarding.
This holiday, I decided to re-create the drive via streaming — starting with Miami and listening to CHR stations (and a few Adult CHRs) in sequence as I “headed north.” That’s easier now because of monitoring services like Dar.FM. I waited until after Christmas to try and hear stations in regular format, which I hoped would increase my chances of hearing new music. It being a holiday week, I heard a lot of stations on irregular jock schedules. But I managed to mostly avoid year-end features.
Since these weren’t real conditions, I started monitoring after morning drive and tried to schedule around noon-hour shows. And the times I chose to monitor stations reflect an unrealistically speedy trip; (two days without driving through the night). On a real road trip, I would have stumbled across more small-market curiosities and listened to more formats than just CHR. But I was still happy to immerse myself in the format, and in some prominent stations I hadn’t heard in a while.
Here are the market-to-market notes from Day 1 (beginning with South Florida radio the afternoon before). Next week, Day 2 and overall observations. But one note now. While I haven’t yet declared “Havana” to be the defining record of the trip, it was as unavoidable as you’d expect the No. 1 song to be. While I’m sure there was a lot of “The Joker” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” on my ’73 trip, power rotations weren’t 75 minutes. Now, listening to any CHR for an hour pretty much guarantees you will hear the No. 1 song on most of the stations you listen to.
DECEMBER 26: MIAMI CHR
“Power 96” WPOW Miami (4-440p) – “Close the office door. It’s time for the Four-play at Four,” said the stager. Number one on the countdown, part of a two-hour commercial-free sweep, was Post Malone; #2 was CNCO & Little Mix, “Reggaeton Lento.” But Power usually has several Latin crossovers at any one time, and Maluma’s “Felices los 4” played during this stretch as well. Also notable: it was the midtempo remixes of Ed Sheeran, “Perfect,” and Sam Smith, “Too Good At Goodbye,” that I heard on Power. Did play “Havana” when I monitored them.
“Y100” WHYI Miami (4-440p) – “Miami’s #1 Hit Music Station” was doing its own “Y-5 Countdown” with night host Frankie P. filling in, as part of a 100-minute sweep. Sofi Tukker’s “Best Friend” was #2; Luis Fonsi & Demi Lovato, “Echame La Culpa,” was #3. Nicky Jam’s “El Perdon” played that hour. So did the new Demi, “Tell Me You Love Me.” You could also win tickets to see Lovato and Kygo on New Year’s Eve. “Havana” did play as part of the countdown.
“Hits 97.3” WFLC Miami (4-440p) — I tuned into Khalid’s “Young Dumb and Broke,” just ahead of its countdown, as the “Hit Four at Four” kicked off with “Reggaeton Lento.” “Your Girl, Dia” was giving away tickets to “the world’s largest paint party, Life in Color Miami.” There were also Charlie Puth tickets. The countdown winner was “New Rules” by Dua Lipa. There was also Coldplay’s “A Sky Full of Stars,” one of the surprise golds of the trip. WFLC wasn’t commercial-free during this hour, but was at 5 p.m. Played “Havana.”
97.9 WRMF West Palm Beach (10-10:45a) – It’s “90s to Now” Adult Top 40 as billed, which meant gold from “Demons” to “Give Me Everything.” But it also started the “drive” out with Pink’s “Beautiful Trauma.” Middayer Bryan LaRoche was giving away Maroon 5 tickets (via the app) and Taylor Swift tickets (via the Website). Played “Havana.”
“Wild 95.5” WLDI West Palm Beach (10:25-11a) – “The Palm Beaches’ #1 Hit Music Station.” Heard in middays, which meant Ryan Seacrest, who did two breaks, a teaser and payoff for a story about Bryan Cranston and the current “Power Rangers” movie. Newest current heard: Taylor Swift, “End Game” (with a new music stager). Played “Havana.”
“Kiss 95.1” WFKS Melbourne (10-11a) Promoting “Pay Your Bills” after January 1. Also running “On Air With Ryan Seacrest.” Heard the same Cranston bit, as well as a bit with a caller complaining about her mother-in-law. Best new current heard: Sofi Tukker, “Best Friend.” Played the uptempo version of “Too Good at Goodbyes.” Played “Havana.”
“107.1 W-A1A” WAOA Melbourne (11-11:45a) – The first Cumulus CHR of the trip is “proud to be your No.1 Hit Music Station for 2018.” Apparently jockless in the stretch I heard. Interesting jingles. Edgier imaging. Slightly more aggressive on new music, but it usually just plays, without the “new music” stager. Newest currents: Calvin Harris, “Faking It,” and Louis Tomlinson, “Miss You.” Didn’t play “Havana” (I missed it in adjacent hours by about 10 minutes).
“XL 106.7” WXXL Orlando (11a-12n ) – Five years ago, XL was distinctively more pop and faster on new music than many large-market CHRs. In the midday hour I heard this year, it was more adult by dint of being mostly powers and recurrents; the two new songs heard in the hour were Max and Khalid. But the imaging and production remain attention-getting. Artists from Taylor Swift to Charlie Puth to Liam Payne voice sweepers that actually say more than just “this is Taylor Swift.” Morning host Johnny Magic turns up several times an hour on imaging. Seacrest was here, too, but his bits were well integrated. And no “Havana” this hour.
“103.3 The Vibe” WVYB Daytona Beach (11:30a-12:15p) – If it’s sense of place you want from your radio station, the Vibe talks a lot about local events: a screening of “Despicable Me 3” on the Beach that evening, a New Year’s Weekend series of concerts featuring tribute bands for Jason Aldean, Kid Rock, and Aerosmith co-sponsored by the station. Morning co-host Kaylee is also the voice of middays. The music is also newer overall; this was the first time I’d heard N.E.R.D. & Rihanna, “Lemon,” on the drive. No “Havana.”
95.1 WAPE Jacksonville (1-2p) – The top-of-the-hour “ape call” has been its signature since the Big Ape’s AM top 40 days. Now it’s accompanied by a plug to listen online at work (making it the “app call”)? This week, morning producer Justin was doubling as midday host. The promo was a chance to win a Grammys trip. No “Havana,” but Jacksonville was the tightest market I’d encountered heading north, at least in middays. WAPE sometimes goes off-the-national-chart-menu for Country crossovers or something like Ed Sheeran’s “Galway Girl,” but it’s also the type of station where French Montana, “Unforgettable,” can move back into sub-power, as it did this week. And it was just as tight at …
“97.9 Kiss-FM” WKSL Jacksonville (1-2p) – An iHeart CHR still positioned as “all the hits,” not “#1 hit music station.” Running Seacrest and “playing 97 minutes of non-stop hits” when monitored. Teasing “Pay Your Bills” after Jan 1. The first song I heard was also “Unforgettable.” The second was “Havana.” And it was the first place I heard “Feel It Still” heading north.
“103Q” WQGA Brunswick GA (2-245p) – Billed as “Today’s Hit Music,” but actually iHR syndicated Adult CHR (it was good to hear Toby Knapp hosting afternoons). After a fairly tight swathe of currents/recurrents/very recent gold, it was nice to hear the hour ending with Lady Gaga, “Poker Face,” when I tuned in; the next one started with Pink, “Just Like Fire.” (I also heard “Party in the U.S.A.” and “Dreams” by the Cranberries.) There was no current newer than “Too Good at Goodbyes,” although the hook promo featured Andy Grammer’s “Give Love.” No “Havana.”
“Kiss 97.3” WAEV Savannah (2:55-3:35p) – A little deeper with both new and old than a lot of the iHeart CHRs encountered so far. Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar We’re Going Down” was playing in the :57 slot just as I tuned in. Sofi Tukker, “Best Friend,” was the song that got the new music stager, but I also heard Fergie, “A Little Work,” and “End Game” with a power intro from Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, and Future “on my station, Kiss FM.” Voice-tracked by Letty B., and also teasing “Pay Your Bills.” Heard “Havana.”
“95SX” WSSX Charleston SC (4-4:45p) – Cumulus’s “Hit Music Now” 95SX was playing Rihanna, “We Found Love,” seemingly sped up, when I tuned in (it also seemed as if it might be editing songs). Then there was a legal-ID donut jingle in which Johnny O. told listeners how to enable the station’s Alexa skill. When he played “Perfect,” he directed listeners to the Snapchat filter that allowed Ed Sheeran to sing to them. The newest song was Fergie; no “Havana.”
“103X” WJMX Florence (6-6:45p) – “The Pee Dee’s #1 Hit Music Station” was also running Letty B. (Best line, backselling Khalid with “can you believe he’s got five Grammy nominations and he’s a teenager?”) The music was seemingly a little more R&B than other iHR CHRs, but we had also crossed into evenings at this point. Newest song heard: Calvin Harris & Kehlani, “Fakin’ It.” 103X did play “Havana” (set up with the same break I’d heard on WAEV).
“Q98” WQSM Fayetteville NC (7-7:45p) – Station veteran Bill Baker was hosting nights, with the sort of big voice that you don’t hear much on Mainstream or, in this case, Adult Top 40. He teased, then executed, a relatable about the job most likely to cause hair loss (it was sales). Following a recent Cumulus smart-speakers initiative, Alexa also made a top-of-the-hour appearance here (“ask me to play music, and we’ll get the party started”). Q98 is more Hot AC in timing than texture, but with a lot of gold, including “All About That Bass,” “Black Widow,” and Iyaz, “Replay.” No “Havana.”
“Bob 93.3” WERO New Bern (8-9p) – Night host Austin Moore was counting down the “High Five at Eight.” (“Havana” was #1, but not before G-Eazy and Kendrick Lamar.) There were also new-music stagers before Macklemore and Liam Payne, “Bedroom Floor.” A lot of the imaging was intense/sparse, but there was one attitude liner, “We don’t want to creep you out or anything, but we’re feeling your vibe right now.”
WXNR (Hot 99.5) New Bern (8-9p) – Bob’s new Curtis Media competition is more rhythmic-leaning. G-Eazy’s “Him and I” led off the 8 p.m. hour, but “No Limit” was at 9 p.m. (and in power). Hot 99.5 is “#1 for new music,” even when it’s playing “Don’t Let Me Down” or “Despacito.” Hot 99.5 was jockless when I heard it, and in the middle of a two-hour sweep, but the stagers are more aggressive/urgent than anything I’d heard so far. (“Yeah, we know, it’s about time,” declared one. “Hits! Hits! Hits! Hot Hits!” exclaimed another.) Played “Havana.”
Next: Day 2 — Raleigh, N.C., to N.Y.C.