What Do Award Winners Sound Like?

 

Marconi Awards 2017 First ListenI ought to treat our national radio awards as a “to do” list, a reminder of exemplary stations that I haven’t listened to lately. But there are just enough winners of the NAB’s Radio Awards–twenty of them this year—for the list to be daunting. Besides, they’re handed out when I’m busy at a convention, covering the NAB/RAB Radio Show itself.

But this year, I made a point of taking a “Fresh Listen” to as many of the Station of the Year winners as possible. I was listening to hear what made great stations great. I was also listening in hopes of hearing community and sense-of-place—always one of my hallmarks of a truly local radio station.

Different broadcast owners participate in industry organizations like NAB with varying amounts of brio. If a station makes it to the Marconi nominations, one senses an inherent endorsement of the broadcaster’s contributions to the industry itself. And having judged industry awards myself, it always takes a concerted effort not to allow longevity to become a consideration, when the question should be “how did this station sound this year?” It’s hard not to hand out a lifetime achievement award.

But most of the Marconi Winners I’ve listened to so far this year did not disappoint. Many sound consistently good. Most were in larger PPM-conscious markets, but still offered companionship and something going on between the records. Most had a sense of localism that went beyond the commercials, although I still count great local sponsors towards one’s sense-of-place.

Here is a first sampling of six station-of-the-year winners.

WKRQ (Q102) Cincinnati 

Hubbard’s Large Market Station of the Year, Q102 has been back and forth across the line between Mainstream and Adult Top 40 for 45 years. Recently, it’s blurred the distinction even more, billed as “Cincinnati’s Hit Music” and typically well ahead of CHR WKFS (Kiss-FM). Now, the station is planning October’s annual “Bosom Ball for Breast Cancer,” this year starring the Revivalists, Lights, and LP. They’re also one of the number of stations I’ve heard running a Secret Sound Contest this fall.

I always notice something interesting whenever I listen to Q102. The station’s jingle and imaging package is distinctive and kinetic. But when middayer Mollie Watson did a break, the tone was always conversational, and the music often stopped, even in the middle of music sweeps. And the first words of the break were often “Cincinnati’s Q102.” There was also localism in the stopsets—the first ad I heard was for a peel-and-win contest at Skyline Chili.

Here’s Q102 at 2 p.m., Sept. 18:

  • Imagine Dragons, “Believer”
  • Cheat Codes f/Demi Lovato, “No Promises”
  • Wiz Khalifa f/Charlie Puth, “See You Again”
  • Portugal, The Man, “Feel It Still”
  • Usher, “Yeah!”
  • Justin Bieber, “Sorry”
  • Halsey, “Bad At Love”
  • Zedd f/Alessia Cara, “Stay”
  • Pink, “What About Us”
  • Ed Sheeran, “Perfect”
  • Twenty One Pilots, “Heathens”
  • Lights, “Giants”

WHQT (Hot 105) Miami 

Michael Baisden Hot 105 WHQT Miami Rick PartyHot 105 PD Phil Michaels Trueba didn’t get to go to Austin to accept his Urban Station of the Year Marconi. He was at home preparing for Hurricane Irma. On Sept. 19, Trueba gratefully posted on Facebook that the award had just arrived(in the mail. Stations can’t win the same award two years in a row, but when I heard Hot 105 on Sept. 18, the heritage Urban AC was certainly earning the next one.

That day, early afternoon hosts Rick Party and Benji Brown were part of a multi-station relief drive from the Cox Radio studios. A listener who considered himself lucky to only have been without power for three days brought clothing, towels, and flip-flops. Then veteran middayer James T. did a cutaway from Delray Beach where a listener was at a local school helping feed displaced kids. A listener won $105 in the station’s version of the “Dollar Bill Game,” and her first reaction was, “I could buy some gas.” Syndicated late afternoon host Michael Baisden shouted out Trueba and noted that Hot 105 had already filled up an eighteen-wheeler with supplies and dispatched it to the Florida Keys.

One of Hot 105’s sweepers promises that “you know what you’re going to get every time you turn us on.” But I’m always pleasantly surprised, both by the songs that you don’t hear in every market, and by Hot’s evolution to one of the most contemporary, and contemporary sounding Urban AC stations—even as it continues to play the ‘70s and early ‘80s. I heard at least four different “power intros” over songs in the hour I listened.

Here’s Hot 105 at 2 p.m., Sept. 18:

  • Mary J. Blige, “Be Happy”
  • MAJOR., “Why I Love You”
  • Earth, Wind & Fire, “Let’s Groove”
  • Fantasia, “Truth Is”
  • Beyonce, “Irreplaceable”
  • Changing Faces, “G.H.E.T.T.O.U.T.”
  • Bruno Mars, “That’s What I Like”
  • Luther Vandross & Cheryl Lynn, “If This World Were Mine”
  • Stevie Wonder, “Isn’t She Lovely”
  • Trey Songz, “Slow Motion”

KSHE St. Louis 

KSHE 95 KSHE95 KSHE St. Louis 94.7 The Brew Rocks KHits K-Hits 96“It all began in 1967 … and in 2017, it rocks on,” declares an emphatic sweeper for “the Rock of St. Louis.” The heritage rocker is sponsoring a fiftieth anniversary concert this year starring Sammy Hagar, ZZ Top, and Collective Soul. But it’s also doing a second installment in a series that is just current and former air staffers sharing reminiscences of the Rock Station of the Year.

Here’s KSHE on Sept. 18 at 2 p.m.

  • Rush, “Working Man”
  • Metallica, “Enter Sandman”
  • Steve Miller Band, “Rock’n Me”
  • Eddie Money, “Think I’m In Love”
  • Def Leppard, “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak”
  • Electric Light Orchestra, “Don’t Bring Me Down”
  • Aerosmith, “Come Together”
  • Autograph, “Turn Up The Radio”
  • Pink Floyd, “Us And Them”
  • Seether, “Betray And Degrade”
  • Rolling Stones, “It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll (But I Like It)’
  • Rod Stewart, “Maggie May”
  • Kerry Livgren, “Mask of the Great Deceiver” (afternooner Favazz’s “Favazz Files” feature, saluting the Kansas band member on his birthday)

KPLX (The Wolf) Dallas 

Trey Morgan Fresh 102.7 WNEW 99.5 The Wolf KPLX DallasIt’s not just the Country Station of the Year. The Wolf was the station that reenergized the format in the late ‘90s and spawned dozens of howling offspring in the process; it will celebrate its twentieth anniversary next year. It’s still “Texas Country”—a signature part of the station’s initial appeal—but the top-of-the-hour ID now identifies it as “the most listened-to Country station in America.”

The Wolf and now-sister KSCS have traded places over the decades. KSCS has become the more recent station. The Wolf always had some library, but is now more clearly the yesterday-and-today Country station. In the hour I heard, station veteran Smokey Rivers was teasing Luke Bryan tickets throughout the hour, but the Wolf also had an album release party coming up with new traditionalists Midland. There were also four chances to text to win $1,000 a day.

While Wolf’s local credentials hardly depend on spots, it did have one of the best “sense of place” sponsors—local Rahr & Sons Brewing. Apparently the best times to enjoy a cold Rahr include cleaning falcons out of your garage, burning ant beds with gasoline, licking Cheetos cheese off your fingers, and installing a turbo charger on a Prius. 

Here’s the Wolf at 2 p.m. on Sept. 18:

  • Luke Bryan, “Huntin’, Fishin’ And Lovin’ Every Day”
  • LANCO, “Greatest Love Story”
  • Brooks & Dunn, “Red Dirt Road”
  • Alan Jackson, “Livin’ On Love”
  • Kenny Chesney, “All The Pretty Girls”
  • Keith Urban f/Carrie Underwood, “The Fighter”
  • Clay Walker, “If I Could Make A Living”
  • Blake Shelton, “I’ll Name The Dogs”
  • Gary Allan, “Songs About Rain”
  • Jon Pardi, “Heartache On The Dance Floor”
  • Travis Tritt, “Take It Easy”
  • Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”
  • Thomas Rhett f/Maren Morris, “Craving You”
  • Keith Urban, “Raining on Sunday”
  • Chris Janson, “Fix A Drink”

KNDE (Candy 95) College Station, Texas http://candy95.com/

Candy 95 KNDE College Station BryanWhen I heard Candy 95 morning co-host Katy, apparently working solo that morning, her topic was universal: “in-laws are coming; how can you prepare?” But you know that “Aggieland’s Hit Music Station” is uniquely local almost immediately. The fall contest is the SEC Challenge, soliciting listeners’ college football picks. There are ads for a sister publication, Brazos Wellness. The ad for regional chicken tenders chain Raising Canes ends with “gig ‘em, Aggies!” Every stopset at the Small Market Station of the Year ends with a PSA—a tradition you hear less of in major-markets these days.

Candy 95, the most recently launched of the stations profiled here (it only goes back to the mid-‘00s) isn’t rhythmic CHR. But it’s a young-feeling mainstream CHR of the sort where I heard Drake’s “Headlines” in mornings. Here’s the station at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 26:

  • Charlie Puth, “Attention”
  • J. Belvin & Willy William, “Mi Gente”
  • Machine Gun Kelly f/Hailee Steinfeld, “At My Best”
  • Twenty One Pilots, “Stressed Out”
  • Selena Gomez, “Fetish”
  • Shawn Mendes, “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back”
  • Blackbear, “Do Re Mi”
  • Justin Bieber f/Bloodpop, “Friends”
  • Cheat Codes f/Demi Lovato, “No Promises”
  • Why Don’t We, “Something Different”
  • Sam Hunt, “Body Like A Back Road”
  • DJ Khaled f/Rihanna & Bryson Tiller, “Wild Thoughts”

88.7 WRHU Long Island, N.Y. 

Broadcasting from “state of the art studios in the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication,” “New York’s #1 Non-Commercial Station” is the voice of the New York Islanders and the Long Island Nets, as well as Hofstra University sports. The “Non-Commercial Station of the Year” winner is bloc programmed. I could have gone for the “Rock N Roll Oasis” or the Saturday afternoon bloc of the “Long Ireland Show” and “That’s How I Spell Ireland,” followed by the Ska Show.  There’s also a morning news bloc positioned as being from the viewpoint of its student broadcasters. Instead, I went for the midday “Alternative Nation” show, hosted that day by Celia Earl, followed by the “Jazz Café.”

“Alternative Nation” was heavily ‘00s-based. I was thinking that it was more hit-driven than a lot of mainstream commercial Alternative stations, until Earl signed off with the “Teen Titans Theme” by Puffy Amyumi. “Jazz Café” spanned original Great American Songbook titles to ‘80s jazz/pop to the neo-standards movement. (There was an artist drop from Jaye P. Morgan, among many others.) Underwriters were mostly aimed at adult listeners—a mover specializing in arts and antiques, a local roofer, a local medical center specializing in bariatric surgery.

Here’s WRHU on Sept. 19 in “Alternative Nation”

  • Smash Mouth, “Walking on the Sun”
  • Nirvana, “About A Girl (Unplugged)”
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Give It Away”
  • Sublime, “Santeria”
  • Tegan & Sara, “Where Does The Good Go”
  • All-American Rejects, “Dirty Little Secret”
  • Cage the Elephant, “Too Late To Say Goodbye”
  • Muse, “Supermassive Black Hole”
  • No Doubt, “Hey Baby”
  • Puffy Amyumi, “Teen Titans Theme”

And here’s the “Jazz Café” that followed:

  • Billie Holiday, Nice Work If You Can Get It 
  • Dave Lalama Big Band, Moody’s Mood For Love
  • Deborah Cox, What A Difference A Day Made
  • George Benson, Give Me The Night
  • Nat King Cole, Unforgettable
  • Grover Washington, Jr., & Bill Withers, Just The Two of Us
  • Nikki Yanofsky, I Got Rhythm
  • Cannonball Adderley Trio, Mercy Mercy Mercy
  • Frank Sinatra, I Wish You Love
  • Sammy Davis, Jr., A Lot Of Livin’ To Do
  • Barry Manilow, Bandstand Boogie
  • Frank Sinatra, I Get A Kick Out Of You
  • Fred Astaire, Cheek To Cheek

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Sean Ross is author of the Ross on Radio newsletter and VP of music and programming of Edison Research.

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