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Fresh Listen: New York’s Hot AC Battle

The listening that went to WPLJ New York, which became the new area outlet for the K-Love Christian AC network on May 31, won’t all go to other Hot ACs. Some will end up at CHR “Z100” WHTZ  or Country WNSH. Some of it will undoubtedly end up on K-Love, which will prove very palatable for some AC listeners. (I’m only surprised that the first song played when 95.5 came online wasn’t “You Say” by Lauren Daigle, which has been Christian AC’s emissary to the AC/CHR world for the last nine months). There are also strong suburban Hot ACs in every direction. But it still seemed like a good time to take a “Fresh Listen” to “New 102.7” WNEW and 103.5 WKTU—the two stations that are closest musically.

New 102.7 WNEW New York Entercom FreshSo far, the beneficiary of WPLJ’s demise is WPLJ. In the May PPMs released earlier this week, WPLJ was up 2.5-3.1; (WKTU was up 3.1-3.4 itself). And that doesn’t count PLJ’s elaborate multi-day sign-off, which smartly drew on the nostalgia of PLJ’s Album Rock and Top 40 history as well as its last 25 or so years as a Hot AC. But one hopes for broadcast radio’s sake that listening will gravitate somewhere over the course of the summer, and some of my PLJ-loving co-workers are still making up their minds.

WPLJ, over the years, had ended up pretty much at the epicenter of WKTU, WNEW, and “106.7 Lite-FM” WLTW. Under PD Gillette, WPLJ was one of the first Hot ACs to move into the rhythmic ‘90s in a significant way, which brought it more into WKTU territory. Then PLJ re-added some ‘80s titles, something which had drifted on and off the station at various times in the last 15 years.

During WPLJ’s last years, the line between the three stations had seemed to blur. WNEW repositioned itself last year as “The New 102.7,” emerging with less of the developing pop/alternative music that never made it past the Adult Top 40 chart, and seemingly more of the EDM/pop being handed down from CHR (or maybe it was just more noticeable in the new mix with other things gone).

With WPLJ not in the center, WKTU and WNEW are clearer choices. WKTU has drifted in and out over the years of being just “Z100 with more library” but it’s very much its own station again here with a unique mix of rhythmic pop from the ‘90s to now. WNEW is the station closer to what a WPLJ listener was hearing musically. The qualifying prize to win their week at a Jersey Shore house was tickets to Train and the Goo Goo Dolls, which is definitely a secret handshake if you’re a longtime PLJ person.

There’s also a presentational difference. WNEW is the station with cold segues and “the commercial free workday.” (One liner is “how New York gets the workday done.”) KTU is more high-profile, especially with Hollywood Hamilton in afternoons. There’s “War of the Roses” and the follow-up listener calls; there are listener shout-outs to graduating seniors; there’s the longtime “droppin’ the beat” legal ID. If you want “the radio experience” of the sort that people came to appreciate anew in WPLJ’s final days, WKTU is catering to that. But in the same time frame, WNEW-FM played five more songs.

Here’s WKTU just before 4 p.m., June 12

  • D.H.T., “Listen To Your Heart” (the uptempo version)
  • Bad Bunny f/Drake, “MIA”
  • Jonas Brothers, “Sucker”
  • Mario Winans, “I Don’t Wanna Know”
  • Dua Lipa, “New Rules”
  • Ariana Grande, “Breathin”
  • Nelly, “Ride Wit Me” (with a “throwback” stager)
  • Benny Blanco f/Halsey & Khalid, “Eastside”
  • Maroon 5 f/Christina Aguilera, “Moves Like Jagger”
  • Chainsmokers & Bebe Rexha, “Call You Mine”
  • 5 Seconds of Summer, “Youngblood”
  • Ed Sheeran & Justin Bieber, “I Don’t Care”

And here’s WNEW-FM just before 4 p.m.

  • Ed Sheeran, “Shape Of You”
  • Cheat Codes f/Demi Lovato, “No Promises”
  • Benny Blanco, Halsey & Khalid, “Eastside”
  • Maroon 5, “This Love”
  • Dean Lewis, “Be Alright”
  • Pitbull f/Kesha, “Timber”
  • Panic! At The Disco, “Hey Look Ma, I Made It”
  • Kelly Clarkson, “Since U Been Gone”
  • Portugal. The Man, “Feel It Still”
  • Charlie Puth, “One Call Away”
  • Ava Max, “Sweet But Psycho”
  • Justin Timberlake, “Mirrors”
  • Pink, “Walk Me Home”
  • Backstreet Boys, “As Long As You Love Me”
  • Zedd & Alessia Cara, “Stay”
  • Lady Gaga, “Poker Face”
  • Sam Smith & Normani, “Dancing With A Stranger”
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  1. frankieagogo says

    Here in LA I’ve been trying for years to listen and like KISS, AMP, or Power 106, yet I can only tolerate about ten minutes of the lowbrow garbage these stations represent before tuning out. What passes for Top 40 or popular music now, both as music and culture is an assault on an intelligent mind. Ghetto slang, endless abuse of auto-tune and sonic plug-ins, endless commercials, and small market DJ talent, make these stations unlistenable. Herein lies the real reason so many stations are failing. These stations are catering to the lowest common denominator… The brain dead, the poor, and those who have yet to figure out how to stream music. Yes, there are occasionally some great songs I want to hear, but all I need do to here them is say, Alexa, Play… The days of terrestrial radio are numbered. And, one thing for certain, the days of great radio are decades behind us.

    As you know, the research long ago indicated that the average youth can not name the call letters of a single radio station, Triton Research 2009. Sean, I feel for you that you have to listen to so much crap, I don’t know how you do it. Good luck. And thanks for your efforts. It helps old radio guys like me stay abreast of things.

  2. Theater of My Mind says

    It’s funny how no one is looking at CBS-FM to pick up some of those listeners. I think there may have been more crossover than people realize there.

  3. donobrian says

    The guy who programs Lite fm now programs KTU. I’ve noticed KTU sounding a bit differently recently, for one they just jumped on the new Panic at the Disco song and it’s the regular mix, not the dance remix….and some other things musically that are diff. Maybe this is it, if so subtle not major, but if this is a path towards a different end goal then I’d really love to study the different between these 2 stations a scan away from each other. Sean, if you could revisit this one with an update at the end of summer, maybe a week before Labor day weekend, that might give us new insights on how close these two stations become. Thanks

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