Fresh Listen: KOLA Riverside In The New Millennium

99.9 KOLA-FM Riverside San BernardinoIt wasn’t that long ago that 99.9 KOLA-FM Riverside, Calif., was provocative among Classic Hits stations for its forays into the ‘90s. Other stations were planted in the mid-‘70s through late ‘80s, occasionally crossing the date line for an early ‘90s song with a throwback feel—Spin Doctors, Black Crowes, Michael Jackson, “Black or White.” KOLA pushed further, both in terms of era and texture, into the Modern AC ‘90s that most pop stations weren’t sure what to do with: Sheryl Crow, Green Day, Matchbox 20, even Sublime. 

Many of those songs are approaching 2,000 spins now, Last week, I got an e-mail from a friend within earshot. KOLA had cut its ‘70s down to less than one an hour, now playing only megahits of the “Stayin’ Alive,” “Hold The Line,” “I Will Survive” caliber. Filtered in over the last few weeks, according to monitors: Train, “Hey, Soul Sister”; Fergie, “Big Girls Don’t Cry (Personal)”; Green Day, “Holiday”; Justin Timberlake, “Rock Your Body”; 3 Doors Down, “Kryptonite,” and others from the early ‘00s.

The ‘00s aren’t entirely new territory for Classic Hits. Many stations had pushed forward to the Uncle Kracker version of “Drift Away”; (it featured Dobie Gray anyway). KOLA and KRTH (K-Earth 101) Los Angeles were playing the No Doubt version of “It’s My Life,” not the Talk Talk original. KRTH went as far as Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” has been OK by mashing up two playable ‘70s songs. But this is as far as a major successful station has gone without an outright transition to Mainstream AC like WOLL West Palm Beach, Fla.

The infusion of ‘00s is subtle—over the course of an hour, you might hear one song. And judging from monitors, KOLA is still figuring out what works. A few titles seem to have been backed off this week, including the Ataris version of “The Boys of Summer” and Kelly Clarkson, “Since U Been Gone.”

There’s always a balancing act between the need to share interesting developments with readers, and the potential to touch off copycatting for its own sake. KOLA is very successful, but retweets do not constitute endorsements, at least as it relates to your own strategy. KOLA has done well for years by being both Classic Hits and gold-based AC station to the Inland Empire. Not all the stations that have copied KOLA have as much room to maneuver, and that’s certainly true of the Kelly Clarkson/Pink-era pop that has become Mainstream AC’s omnipresent center lane. In most other markets, it’s where a Classic Hits station need not go.

One aspect of KOLA has turned out to be very relevant in other markets. Four years ago, Classic Hits was in danger of becoming “Classic Rock with Jingles”—Boston through Benatar and Bon Jovi, relying on an occasional Eurythmics or Tears for Fears title for the “pop” component. In a heavily Hispanic market, KOLA has proven that the format’s journey extends beyond Journey. Now, there are other Classic Hits success stories with a more pop feel, including nearby “Sunny 98.1” KXSN San Diego.

Some stations that venture into the ‘90s have added the decade to their positioner. Others have acknowledged it as “seventies, eighties and more.” So what about the early ‘00s. So far, KOLA has done well letting the music position itself. Over the course of an hour, it was “the Inland Empire’s Classic Hits,” “non-stop classics,” and “non-stop KOLA.” My favorite though, at a time of decidedly savorless positioning statements, was this one at the top of the hour: “The sound of summer in Southern California.”

Here’s KOLA just before 9 a.m., May 30:

  • Cranberries, “Dreams”
  • Eurythmics, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” (:00 song)
  • Men Without Hats, “Safety Dance”
  • Maroon 5, “She Will Be Loved”
  • Salt-N-Pepa, “Push It”
  • Bryan Adams, “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”
  • Cure, “Love Song”
  • Madonna, “Into The Groove”
  • Commodores, “Brick House”
  • EMF, “Unbelievable”
  • Dead or Alive, “You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)”
  • Mariah Carey, “Always Be My Baby”
  • Toni Basil, “Mickey”
  • Tommy Tutone, “867-5309/Jenny”
  • Soft Cell, “Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go”
  • Taylor Dayne, “Tell It To My Heart”
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  1. Davis says

    KOLA has been my go-to Classic Hits stream for awhile now. Admittedly, the ’00s give me a bit of a twinge, but the quoted playlist is full of rock solid smashes for people late 30s/early 40s.

  2. Les Talk says

    KOLA is a great station. It gives me the “oh wow” factor – not in the songs themselves. But, what songs are played on a classic hits station. It’s overall presentation and sound is one of the best in any format. Love it when I hear jocks still intro a song. Something you never really hear on a Premium Choice station.

  3. radiouser says

    I thought that kola is licensed to San Bernardino. That station has always been different in terms of music.

    1. Sean Ross says

      Since my days at R&R and Billboard, I’ve always identified stations by their market (and the largest or lead city) rather than COL. Always bemusing to see civilian press refer to WHTZ Newark. Nielsen calls the market Riverside-SB, so I call them Riverside. Could’ve said both.

  4. David @ USC says

    KOLA is owned by Anaheim Broadcasting, which has decades of experience operating innovative, aggressive format leaders in their SoCal markets. Anaheim Broadcasting operated the late great KEZY 1190 / 95.9 FM, which was a rim-shot station in Orange County that was a revenue giant due to its strong TSL loyalty. KOLA (and sister KCAL-FM 96.7) remain dedicated to the craft of local quality radio, in this McEra of dull corporate radio. KOLA benefits from a far superior signal than KCAL-FM, which reaches deep into OC and also into Eastern Los Angeles County.

    1. jason steiner says

      KCAL has changed recently too. They are now “90s to today” classic rock.

  5. Lee Chambers says

    KOLA’s long musical evolution from ’50’s/’60’s centric Oldies to ’70’s/’80’s Classic Hits to now the inclusion of select ’90’s and ’00’s titles has historically been enhanced by the station having never lost it’s forefront CHR sensibilities in a world of otherwise passive AC’s masquerading as Classic Hits. Merely playing old records on the radio alone will never win. Packaging, personality, presentation and promotion (yes, that means on-air contesting!) are just a few of the compelling listener values above and beyond the music base that KOLA has long excelled at.

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