Ross On RadioInsight

What Top 40 Must Do Now

  Maybe it’s not fair to look at Top 40’s numbers during the fall. The time after back-to-school has, traditionally, been a bad time for the format. But have you seen the numbers? It’s been common for a while to look through monthly PPMs and find only a station or two at the top of their market. But crunching just the 6+ PPMs makes the story more explicit. There are only two CHRs that are No. 1 in their market this month: WXKS-FM (Kiss 108) Boston and WNCI Columbus, Ohio. There are two others, KDWB Minneapolis and WRVW (The River) Nashville at No. 2 in their markets. There are only ten CHRs with a five-share or higher. Of those, only five are in a top 25 market. When you look at just the top-rated CHRs in their market, more than 50% of those are somewhere in the 4-5 share range, or be...Read More

Fresh Listen: K-Love

One of the first stations I worked with as a researcher, more than a decade ago, was the iconoclastic Classic Hits format on WKLU Indianapolis. Back when “Classic Hits” was not yet a euphemism for “Oldies,” WKLU was one of the first stations to bend the distinction between the two terms with a wide list that stretched from “Play That Funky Music” to Collective Soul’s “December” to an obscure Stephen Stills song, left over from the station’s unusual “jam band” Triple-A predecessor. After my involvement with them, WKLU went to a more typical Oldies/Classic Hits format. Then, they were sold to the Christian AC network K-Love. And both these things were true: I was happy to see K-Love come to Indianapolis. I was sorry it was on that particular frequency, especially since Indianapolis never got...Read More

Great Second Helpings From “One-Hit Wonders”

Okay, technically it passed on Sept. 25, but, really, every day is “National One-Hit Wonder Day” in Ross On Radio. Also, “National Local Hit Day.” Also, “National ‘Oh-Wow Oldie’ Day.” And “National Songs That Sound Vaguely Like Each Other Day,” too. And now I’m declaring October 12 to be “Worthy Songs That Should Have Given an Artist Their Second Hit Day.” Many “One-Hit Wonders” have their second hit already, of course. Go through any list of “one-hit wonders,” and you’ll see Eddy Grant, A Flock of Seagulls, Quarterflash, John Parr, Animotion and any number of others whose follow-up, or follow-ups, did well enough to disqualify them, even if one song endures more than the others now. (My own chart cut-off point is usually somewhere in the low 20s, but even then, not all No. 28 hits are cre...Read More

First Listen: Mod 102.3 New Haven

So let me be clear, I like Connoisseur’s “Mod 102.3” W272DO/WPLR-HD2 New Haven, Conn.,  which launched last month with a pop-leaning Alternative format that it positions on the air only as “The New Sound of New Haven.” I had tweeted my intended approval of the station’s segue from R&B artist Khalid to “The Man” by the Killers, adding “because once you decide that the Chainsmokers are alternative, keep going.” A few hours later, Keith Dakins, PD of Mod and its Connoisseur/Connecticut rock brethren, tweeted back, “Wait are you making fun?! We never use word alternative on air and remember KROQ in the 80s played Prince, Bob Marley and more.” I tweeted, “No I’m with you. I fought that battle for years. I’m glad you’re doing this.” You can blame any misundersta...Read More

Two Song Mysteries Down, One To Go

Of the three outstanding song mysteries featured in last week’s Ross On Radio column,  I had thought that two of them might remain unanswered forever. Instead, the first song was figured out within minutes; the next one within a day. (A fourth mystery in the column was presented to you already solved.) That leaves just one, from a Ross On Radio reader, that I hope we’ll figure out this week. If you scroll down to the comments in last week’s column, you can see the two correct guesses. But here’s a summation of the two songs we’ve figured out, and the one we’re still waiting on. Mystery No. 1: The Illusion, “Together” This was the one I didn’t expect to get. I was open to the possibility that it might not have been an actual song. Instead, this mystery was solved almost immediately. These w...Read More

What Do Award Winners Sound Like?

  I 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 no...Read More

Four More Mystery Songs To Uncover

I suspected my column on the mystery songs that I’d accumulated over my life as a music lover and record collector would be only of interest to a certain strata of music geek. So for every likely “hoo, boy!” likely generated by the topic, it was gratifying to see how many readers it did resonate with. Of course, other readers sent me the stories of the songs they needed years to untangle, or never figured out. Then, upon further reflection, I realized I still had a few more songs I was trying to hunt down as well. So here are four more, only one of which has actually been solved. The One I’m Solving for “A Friend” In the very early ‘70s, there were still some places that would sell you a bag of ten mystery singles for a dollar. This one, which I’m pretty sure I got on a visit to New York, ...Read More

First Listen: WPNA-FM (103.1 FM) Chicago 

When WKIE Chicago was dance-formatted Energy 92.7 in the early 2000s, my favorite record that then-PD Chris Shebel played was Zero’s “Bania U Cygana,” a pounding, high-energy Polish-language dance hit. Because, of course, that was what you should play in Chicago. In my ongoing quest for local hits and oddities, I kept hoping that Chicago’s major Polish community would make “Bania U Cygana” so popular that bigger rival WBBM-FM (B96) would have to acknowledge it, but that never happened to my knowledge. By the early ‘00s, every language had a record that sounded like “Bania U Cygana,” but I knew there was a special connection between Eastern Europeans—there and here—and dance-pop. The danceable new wave of the late ‘80s, still largely underground here, was mass-appeal music and still shows u...Read More

Why Don’t You Tell Me ‘Bout the Mystery Song?

Even as a lifelong record collector, it’s been a long time since I had a formal “want list.” The last one was exhausted close to 15 years ago, just as both used record stores and my willingness to deal with them were both starting to wind down. The obscure oldies that catch my interest now can almost always be bought, or at least streamed, somewhere online. Soundhound and Shazam help me identify the bulk of them, even those in languages other than English. But it was not always thus. There were a handful of songs that couldn’t go on my want list, much less be crossed off, because I didn’t know what they were. They were fragments of songs I’d heard on airchecks. Or heard on a distant AM signal. Often the issue was that they were in a language other than English. Usually there was just enoug...Read More

Your Summer Song And My Summer Song

It’s interesting that I’m still getting e-mails, tweets, and other communications from readers asking me when I’m going to name my Song of the Summer. Maybe, in their busy lives, they missed that moment where I knowingly went entirely off the grid and gave it to “Praying” by Kesha. Maybe it’s their way of saying “for real, though.” I’ve been ready for the last month to write the column acknowledging that “Despacito” is, at the very least, the Record of Summer 2017. If it were just the song that I’d heard the most for the last two-thirds of summer, it would be Shawn Mendes’ “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back.” But “Despacito,” by claiming the summer crown for a song (largely) in another language, was clearly more of an event and cultural signifier. “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back” was a big ...Read More

Modern AC’s Greatest Hits

First Listen: Sirius XM PopRocks It’s pretty inevitable now that the hits of the ‘90s will continue to resurface on the radio in different ways. The R&B and Hip-Hop crossovers are already there, thanks to the throwbacks boom of the last few years. The teen pop that came and went over a 15 year stretch—from New Kids to Backstreet—is starting to surface for any AC radio station that will test it. And much of the Alternative music of the era, including Modern AC, never left. With the imprimatur of being “rock,” there was never the same programmer eagerness to turf it out as there was for, say, “Wannabe.” If anything, the question was where the greatest hits of Modern AC would end up. Ever since the first incarnation of WNEW (Fresh 102.7) New York, now more than a decade ago, it seemed ine...Read More

Sixties MOR That Rocks

The narrative that the birth of rock ‘n’ roll essentially eliminated the ‘50s MOR that preceded it with one big blast in 1956 has been pretty well discredited now. It took a while for the obvious vestiges of pre-rock to be eliminated. Even in the late ‘50s, you could find holdover hits like the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra’s “So Rare” (1957) or Doris Day’s “Everybody Loves a Lover” (1958) that were absolutely of a piece with what preceded rock ‘n’ roll. But I’ve been thinking of just how blurred the lines between pop, rock, and MOR remained throughout the ‘60s. Just as anything worked first to the Alternative format seemed to qualify as Alternative for a while, even if it was Hootie & the Blowfish or Haim, almost any artist who broke after 1956 started with a clean slate, and a number of oth...Read More