12 Station Sign Offs That Defined 2017
The first big change this year signaled that, even in a PPM world, there was not room for an unlimited number of stations playing Mainstream CHR. It ended with a prominent departure from Throwback Hip-Hop and R&B, capping a year of defections from the format. In between, there were viable stations that nonetheless became affiliates of the Christian AC K-Love network.
In other words, the departures typified radio in 2017, and said as much about the landscape as the format launches. Sometimes it was a product of the available music, but as often the decision said as much about an owner’s priorities and comfort zone. Classic Country saw significant traffic in both directions. Throwback Hip-Hop and R&B lost many of its showplaces throughout the year, but ended the year with another new success story.
Just ahead of the list of “Intriguing Stations of 2017,” here are a dozen stations that changed format (or went dark altogether), and what they said about the radio landscape.
“Hot 95.7” KKHH Houston – Houston wasn’t supporting two CHRs. Houston needed a Classic Hits station. But Hot 95.7 was the station that began the “second CHR” boom in the late ‘00s, fostered ultra-high spins on power rotation songs, and signaled CBS Radio’s renewed commitment to the format. It changed format just weeks after sister KVIL Dallas had moved into the format. And CBS’s Amp 96.5 Philadelphia would go away as well, both before and independent of the CBS/Entercom deal.
“Real Fun Beach Radio” 1290 WDIZ Panama City, Fla. –It lasted two years on an FM translator with a mix spanning from Kenny Chesney to Jimmy Buffett to Ziggy Marley. On the radio dial, it was no surprise to see WDIZ go Active Rock, even as the mood-based “playlist” became a staple of streaming services. But iHeart sister WDAS-AM Philadelphia is now doing a similar concept of “feel-good” songs on behalf of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
WBRU Providence, R.I. – It was there at the outset of the New Rock Revolution of the ‘90s. It outlasted a rival’s attempts to wrest the Alternative franchise away from the student-operated but commercial outlet that also went Urban on Sunday. It launched careers. It survived a boom/bust cycle for the format and was on the cusp of another, but couldn’t avoid the K-Love juggernaut. And like many of the college-owned stations that cashed out in recent years, the college tried to position it as a forward gesture to better serve digitally inclined students.
“Y100.9” KSXY Santa Rosa, Calif. – A few years ago, it launched an unusual all-current CHR format: leaning pop and with a strong element of Country titles. Later, rhythmic product filtered back in. Country became less prominent, but never entirely disappeared. Two years on, Y100.9 switched outright to Alternative. But even that version is quirky, full of pop and EDM crossovers.
“100.3 The Sound” KSWD Los Angeles – First it was Triple-A, then deep-cuts Classic Rock, then the hits of the genre with even greater success. Its demise was hardly the first case of a viable radio station being sold to K-Love, but unless you were one of the broadcasters already displaced by such a sale, it was the most painful and most public for many. But old-fashioned Album Rock sign-offs were great, and with time to prepare that few stations get, PD Dave Beasing did give The Sound a Viking funeral — one stager joked about going from rock to the Rock of Ages — and a big final ratings month.
“92.3 Amp Radio” WBMP New York – It did a lot of the right things. It aggressively found and championed new music, even as that became a rarity. It played Urban and Latin crossovers early, as you’d expect in New York. It was quick to acknowledge the streaming-driven Hip-Hop hits that so confounded CHR radio. It launched with a significant music quantity statement. Still, it was hard for Now/Amp 92.3 to find a place between CHR Z100, WKTU (which sagely went CHR itself to block the new launch many years ago) and Hip-Hop Hot 97. When it became “Alt 92.3,” it didn’t just fill the Alternative hole, it felt in many ways like a more satisfying CHR choice as well.
“Rock 98.9” KVRQ Seattle; “105.3 Rock Hard” KZTI Reno – Active Rock’s declining numbers and lack of current hits began spurring stations like these — gold-based but newer than the average Classic Rock station, and sometimes with Bob- and Jack-FM-like variety. (KZTI got my attention by playing UFO’s “Too Hot to Handle,” which I had loved for years and never heard on the radio.) The building boom lost steam relatively quickly, but Rock 98.9 changed because another Seattle station did.
94.1 KMPS Seattle – In recent years, Country in Seattle became a war of attrition for the “new Country” position between KMPS and KKWF (The Wolf) that ended, briefly, with the CBS/Entercom merger and a switch to Soft AC. A few hours later, KVRK was relaunched as “Country 98.9” and also positioned around “new Country.” But many years ago, in the time before Garth Brooks, KMPS helped redefine what constituted a “good” market for the format.
104.9 KUBE Seattle – In 1992, it segued from Mainstream to Rhythmic CHR in a market that had long resisted Urban music. For the next 15-20 years, the sound of pop music in Seattle was R&B and Hip-Hop. Before it went into exile on another frequency, KUBE would actually segue practically back to pop Top 40, then correct course too late. It spent its final year on a suburban frequency that had once unsuccessfully tried to compete with KUBE as an Urban AC. Now it exists only on HD-2.
1410 KQV Pittsburgh – It was already News/Talk by the time I began to follow radio programming, and I knew it mostly through airchecks — as a ‘60s top 40 powerhouse; as “14K,” trying to compete with phenomenal upstart “13Q” (with a then-unknown Rush Limbaugh); as Joey Reynolds’ Dadaist Hot AC format in 1975. On New Year’s Eve, one of America’s oldest stations went dark, unable to immediately lure a buyer that would, among other things, be willing to look for a new transmitter site. And among those aware of the shutdown or its implications for the AM dial, the loss is as devastating as any chronicled here.
“93.9 The Beat” WRWM Indianapolis – The original Radioinsight headline said it all: “From Worst to First to Gone in Three Years.” Several throwback Hip-Hop stations moved on in 2017, but the Beat was the one that led the market with a 7.7 share in its first full book, generated national press, and prompted Cumulus to syndicate the format nationally. One day after WJMK (104.3 Jamz) became the latest convert to throwbacks, WRWM dropped them, ultimately for CHR. But when it was successful, the Beat reminded us that Indianapolis, too, was a market where Hip-Hop eclipsed CHR in the ‘90s. And it showed radio’s continuing power to galvanize, especially in medium markets, with the right programming.