For our review of 2014 we decided to focus on what we know best. Let’s look back at the ten most influential format changes and rebrandings of 2014.
10 106.9 WCCC Hartford hasn’t been a powerhouse in quite some time. But it was one of the few remaining relics to a previous era. The longtime Rocker and its AM sister operated up against three big clusters, but couldn’t keep up in the end. It was quite appropriate in a way for its end to come with a sale to Educational Media Foundation and flip on August 1 to the Christian AC “K-Love” network. The first station to give Howard Stern a job in mornings back in 1979, was now at the opposite end of the programming spectrum. With no terrestrial signal to fill the void, a few former WCCC staffers launched a webcaster to fill the niche in the market. It was just another purchase of an independent station no longer willing to make it on its own with WKTZ Jacksonville, WHWT Huntsville, and the duo of WMHK Columbia/WRCM Charlotte among others to sell to EMF.
9 There were many flips to Country music in markets large and small this year, but for Clear Channel to launch a second in a northeastern market like Boston cemented the explosion of the format this year after Greater Media’s 102.5 WKLB knocked “Kiss 108” WXKS-FM from its longtime #1 perch. From the time then 101.7 WFNX was purchased in 2012 it bounced from Variety Hits to Dance until becoming “101.7 The Bull” WBWL on June 13. While the station still has a signal limiting its success, the company is in the process of downgrading stations in Cape Cod and Providence to improve WBWL’s coverage in the Boston market.
8 The 2011 sale of WRXP New York and WKQX Chicago to Merlin Media and subsequent format changes was the low point for the Alternative format in the 21st century. Thanks to translators the format gradually grew in the following years to markets long lacking the format such as Cincinnati and Raleigh. It would be the return of the WKQX call letters and Alternative format to 101.1 on January 10 that would state that Alternative was back as a viable radio format. 101KQX quickly rose to the middle of the Chicago radio pack settling in around a 3 share. By the end of the year the format would be back in more markets with places like Atlanta finding itself with two stations in the markets. Now if we can find a place and make it viable in New York.
7 Clear Channel began 2014 by dropping Rhythmic CHR format of “Wild 105.7” K289BN San Antonio on January 17. So when the company flipped Classic Rock 104.5 KZEP to Rhythmic Hot AC “Hot 104.5” on August 8, nobody saw it coming. While it quickly rose to the top of the market with a 6.9 share in September it has since dropped down to a 4.1 in December even before Univision launched Classic Hip-Hop “Yo 95.1” to protect Urban 98.5 KBBT from the damage incurred by KZEP. The launch of “Hot 104.5” predated the explosion of Classic Hip-Hop by a couple months, but used many of the same library titles that would be part of the Boom boom. Is its lack of staying power a sign of things to come for all the other converts?
6 On January 2, Clear Channel relaunched three major market talkers as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity moved to new homes in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. 710 WOR New York tried to flank the Conservative duo with Alt Rock morning show Elliot in The Morning and New York Mets baseball to bring in younger listeners. Just six weeks later Elliot was gone and the station has now gone over ten months without naming a new morning show. Concurrently, 1150 KEIB Los Angeles and 960 KNEW San Francisco were relaunched as “The Patriot“. Los Angeles has seen little traction for the new Conservative format as it stood at a mere 0.8 share at the end of the year, while San Francisco lasted just nine months before Clear Channel made a deal to move the syndicated talkers back to Cumulus’ 560 KSFO and leasing KNEW to Bloomberg for Business programming as the moves showed that Conservative Talk and the AM band are no longer guaranteed to bring even the strident Conservative listeners over.
5 Its rare that legal threats and the recording industry take down a format change as it becomes a national story, but that’s what happened in Calgary in August. On August 1, Newcap’s “Amp Radio 90.3” CKMP began utilizing Sparknet and Paragon Media’s “Quickhitz” abbreviated versions of songs to play 24 songs per hour. After signer/songwriter Jann Arden began a backlash against the format, eventually record labels and other artists began to threaten legal action against the station building a format around unauthorized edits of songs. By August 18, CKMP was back to full-length songs and the controversy subsided. The move did nothing to help the station in the ratings as it trended from a 4.9 share in the February-May Numeris PPM ratings to 4.5 in the September-November survey.
Bonus Move: It wasn’t a format change, but no move shook up market #1 in 2014 like Scott Shannon’s “retirement” from Cumulus Hot AC 95.5 WPLJ and subsequent move to CBS Classic Hits 101.1 WCBS-FM in February. While WPLJ was unable to find its way and plans on revamping its morning show again in 2015, Shannon’s move to WCBS-FM allowed the station to solidify its shift to a 70s/80s music base and dominate the market for most of the year with a 7.1 share in the November PPM monthly.
4 Many stations stunt with a loop of one song prior to a format change, but only one went viral to the point major news outlets were reporting about it. The flip of Univision’s “Latino Mix” 105.7 KVVF/100.7 KVVZ in the San Francisco Bay Area to Rhythmic CHR “Hot 105.7” in March should’ve been like any of the other format changes to take place following basic stunting, but thanks to the nostalgia that would later lead to the Classic Hip-Hop explosion of the fall the looping of Nelly’s “Hot In Herre” would reach levels unseen by any format change stunt before or after. The new format hasn’t done much to build off the viral nature as “Hot 105.7” has settled into the 2 share range in the San Jose book and no-longer appearing in the San Francisco book.
3 Cumulus launched not only a national brand with “Nash Icon“, but helped continue break the Country format in half. First announced in May as “Nash Icons” to be “old hits and new material by 1990s country stars such as Garth Brooks, George Strait, Shania Twain and the Judds, along with a handful of similar acts from the late 1980s and early 2000s” along with a corresponding record label managed by Big Machine that has since signed Reba McIntyre and Martina McBride to release new albums in 2015. Fourteen Cumulus stations debuted the brand with a slightly more current base than first announced in August and have been joined by four others since. The company plans on offering the brand to other companies via Westwood One in 2015.
2 Clear Channel transitioning from a name arising from a type of AM signal to one coming from their mobile app was the best way to depict the rapid changes facing the radio industry. The September rebranding to iHeartMedia was made to give the company a fresh perspective to investors and listeners. Gone was “The Evil Empire” of consolidators and the “Cheap Channel” known for its layoffs and in its place was just the content company known for Ryan Seacrest and Christmas music in November. With the company still nearly $20 billion in debt, will just a new name change give iHeartMedia the boost it needs to turn itself around? That’s doubtful, but keeping the status quo wouldn’t work.
1 Boom! New formats have exploded in the past from All 70’s in the early 1990’s through Jammin Oldies and even Variety Hits. But the format boom that defined 2014 was the explosion of Classic Hip-Hop following the launch of “Boom 92” KROI Houston on October 13. Despite their claims to the contrary, KROI wasn’t the first Classic Hip-Hop station ever as 93.5 KDAY Los Angeles and Univision’s launch of “Yo 101.3” KKRG Albuquerque as well as defunct attempts in Montgomery and Phoenix predated KROI’s debut. As mentioned earlier the seeds were planted by the early success of “Hot 104.5” San Antonio and the success of the Nelly stunt in San Francisco. What followed was a landrush. Following the out-of-the-gate success of KROI as it jumped from a 1.0 share in its final monthly rating as All-News to a 3.2, Radio-One quickly duplicated the format in Philadelphia and Dallas. iHeartMedia would bring the format to St. Louis, Jacksonville, and Cincinnati. Cumulus would launch a second station in Dallas before backing out, and three companies would launch the format on translators in Atlanta. By the end of 2014, Classic Hip-Hop would also find footholds in Denver, Indianapolis, Memphis, Montgomery, and San Antonio. Time will tell if this another fad like the All-Decades and Jammin Oldies or a new format with longevity like Classic Rock or Variety Hits turned into.