Could CHR Be A Better Upper-Demo Format?

Summer was, over the years, a Top 40 stronghold. For the last few years, however, it’s been mostly a vehicle for Nielsen press releases about the success of Classic Hits and Classic Rock. And it’s part of why I’m rethinking how CHR might rebound. I railed against CHR’s “25-54’itis” of the early ‘90s that turned the format into Hot AC, sapping it of the excitement readily available at Country and Hip-Hop/R&B radio. I cheered for the WHJX (Channel X) Jacksonville, Fla., and WKZW (KZ93) Peoria, Ill., attempts at an MTV-like blend of rock and Hip-Hop, and particularly for WHTZ (Z100) New York, which seemed to get traction before going too far Alternative. I was 30-years-old at CHR’s nadir and I remember thinking “what 25-54-year-old is this for”? It wasn’t me. Later, though, I had to admit...[Read More]

First Listen: Austin City Limits Radio (KGSR Austin)

This is not how the story usually ends. There’s a struggling heritage brand. A chain reaction of frequency flips. The sudden availability of a new, lesser frequency. A promo about a major announcement coming the next day. It would have been entirely reasonable to expect something far more anodyne on the 93.3 frequency of Triple-A KGSR Austin. Instead, KGSR rebranded as Austin City Limits Radio, which launched today at 5 p.m., on both the current and new frequency, promising “not a format, but [the] aesthetic” of the ACL TV series and festival. And by imaging around the festival scene, KGSR found the best hook so far for doing mixtape/playlist radio on a viable frequency in a significant market. KGSR, which spent several years as a Triple-A/Hot AC hybrid along the lines of KTCZ (Cities 97) ...[Read More]

Five New Stations To Stream

Radio needs a “new fall season.” Radio needs to do a better job of creating stations that can be streaming destinations—national tentpoles that satisfy needs not always met on the local level. Fortunately, while the “Ross on Radio” column was in the last weeks of summer vacation schedule, a number of new (or revamped) choices popped up that fit that description. Then a listener sent in a suggestion as well. Here’s some new listening for fall. WMYX-HD-2 (Me-TV-FM) Milwaukee WRME-LP Chicago, the station that just scored a 3.8 in the August Nielsen PPM ratings with its mix of soft AC and oldies doesn’t stream. But for about a month, it’s been possible to hear its now-syndicated format on the HD-2 channel of WMYX Milwaukee. As best I’ve been able to determine, the music parallels the Chicago l...[Read More]

When CHR Wins, Despite the Music

They are positive stories for CHR at a time when CHR needs positive stories. WJFX (Hot 107.9) Fort Wayne, Ind., rebounds sharply and goes No. 1, among published stations in the market, up 4.8–8.2. WDDJ (Electric 96.9) Paducah, Ky., is up 18.3–23.4, second only to its sister Country station, WKYQ. (That’s the usual hierarchy in the market, but sometimes WDDJ has only a 16 share.) Both WJFX PD Robbie Mack and WDDJ PD Mark Summer are among the PDs who have most actively engaged with this column over the years. Mack is a graduate of WDJQ (Q92) Canton, Ohio, during that station’s run as one of CHR’s musically unique radio stations. Q92 found its own records, and there are usually one or two enterprise titles on Hot 107.9. So I’m usually rooting for both stations. That said, I have the experienc...[Read More]

First Listen: Cities 97.1 Minneapolis

For roughly twenty years, basically as long as there’s been Modern AC, “Cities 97” KTCZ Minneapolis has been darting back and forth around the place where that format and Triple-A converge. About five years ago, it landed in a place I really liked, finding the songs in Triple-A that deserved to cross to pop, playing them in aggressive rotations, and interspersing a few songs from Pink or Bruno Mars that were compatible sonically, if not in terms of artist image. Then the pop component kept growing. Cities never relinquished its name. It was still early on a few Triple-A or Alternative titles. But it was clearly a Hot AC station, elbowing rival KSTP-FM (KS95) as that station crowded Cities’ heritage CHR sister KDWB. One might have wished them to instead target those Modern AC fa...[Read More]

Handicapping the Summer Song of 1979 (And Today)

I have place memories for a lot of songs, and I definitely have one for “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor Doctor)” by Robert Palmer. It was the summer after senior year — probably right around this time. My high-school buddy Matt and I were driving back to Washington, D.C., from Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va., exciting not just for the amusement park but because I was 16 and they were still lax about policing the free beer at brewery tours. I’m pretty sure that I’d heard “Bad Case of Loving You” already, but not on the radio. I knew WRVQ (Q94) Richmond, Va., often ahead of WPGC on well-chosen new music, was playing it. It came on just as we were whipping around the curves on the convoluted interchange of I-64 and I-95. Maybe that’s not something that you’d choose to remember fondly, but ...[Read More]

Fresh Listen: WKIC Hazard KY

I don’t know if today’s 15-year-old music geek needs a station like 97.9 WKIC Hazard KY. That would imply they were listening to the radio and waiting around to hear songs not normally heard on the radio. My options for that in 1978 were hanging out at the record stores that let you audition singles or hoping that a radio friend would let me go through their pile of junk 45s. Would a “Tomorrow’s Hits” playlist somewhere have avoided all that? In the absence of other options, stations like WKIC were my gold standard for daytime listening, until nighttime DX became available. They were the suburban or small-town stations, audible from Washington, D.C., that not only played new music, but did not necessarily weed songs from the gold library once they were established as something other than c...[Read More]

First Listen: Right Now Music Radio

What would it sound like if CHR really knew how to respond to streaming? Would it be the thing that repatriates young adult listening? Or just proves that Top 40 radio can’t be Spotify (and perhaps shouldn’t)? Would it pull the format out of the doldrums? Or plunge it further into the extremes? (Or is that ex-streams?) Trying to make sense of streaming stories now is like the early ‘90s when the advent of SoundScan sales information helped flag dozens of songs that wouldn’t have otherwise been on the radar. In that era when CHR nearly flatlined, most PDs threw up their hands, rather than try to pick and choose. Top 40 was correct not to play Ice Cube, “Wicked,” which had a good first week of sales in early 1993. But they didn’t play the real hits on the album, including “It Was A Good Day,...[Read More]

Sherwood Ross (1933-2018)

At age 4, my father made a tape of me with his handheld cassette recorder asking what I wanted to be when I grew up. The answer was a radio station’s music director (or maybe, at that age, it was “the person who chooses the records”). My father, Sherwood Ross, was public affairs director for Sonderling, the company that owned legendary R&B stations like WDIA Memphis, WWRL New York, and his home base of WOL Washington. I’d already been to the station a few times, and the only thing I liked more was when a stack of records came home. So that my career was set in stone at that point wasn’t so surprising. By that time, my dad had already been a Chicago Daily News reporter, a speechwriter for Chicago’s Mayor Richard J., Daley, the public affairs person for the city’s water commissioner (in ...[Read More]

Constructing The Next Decades of Classic Hits

There was genuine excitement last week when I reported that Classic Hits KOLA Riverside, Calif., was filtering in titles from the early 2000s. KOLA had been aggressive, and successful, by forging into the ‘90s ahead of most stations. When I reported that they were on the move again, some readers thanked me for telling them about the station. Cumulus VP of programming Brian Thomas called my attention to an earlier trade publication article where he was among several PDs predicting a move to the 2000s, partially because so many of us perceive the ‘90s to be a dead zone for mass-appeal hit music. Everything that follows comes with multiple caveats about doing things for the right reason. KOLA gets to be both Classic Hits and gold-based AC station for its market. Other Classic Hits stations ha...[Read More]

Bring Back for What?

For a long time, I regarded the act of holding on to a current title after its chart run as an act of independence on a par with going “off the menu” and adding a new song not being promoted by a label. Keeping a proven hit in power might not have displayed the same enterprise as finding a new hit. But both decisions represented a willingness to curate a distinctive station and put the audience first. In recent weeks, with Mainstream CHR in the depths of a current product crisis, programmers have been resorting to a lot of songs past their chart peak to fill their current rotations. Look at a major-market CHR now and you’re likely to see any or all of the following: Megahits that will not go away in power: Stations still powering Dua Lipa, “New Rules”; or NF, “Let You Down”; or G-Eazy &...[Read More]

Fresh Listen: KOLA Riverside In The New Millennium

It 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 t...[Read More]

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