My Virtual Road Trip, Part 2
I wanted to re-create the New York to Florida road trips that had been so influential in instilling a love of radio at a young age. I didn’t want to drive them. So I taped radio from Miami to New York and listened to CHR and some Hot AC stations in the order that I would hear them on a real radio road trip. Last week, I made it to Eastern North Carolina at the end of “Day 1.”
I was looking for the hallmarks of a trip taken in a very different time — significant differences and sense of place from market to market; songs that weren’t on the radio yet in New York. Was I setting myself up for disappointment? As a kid, I wasn’t attuned to much more than the music. I didn’t pick up on any similarities between the screaming Top 40 “Super-Q”’s that I would have likely heard from town to town in late 1973. Now I was very conscious of encountering Ryan Seacrest on “The #1 Hit Music Station” in a succession of markets.
(It’s worth noting here that I have never begrudged the hard-working Seacrest his ubiquity. Even if I had, my alternative would have been to turn to satellite radio and deliberately hear the same thing from market to market. I will say that some stations did better than others in the assembly of the show than others. And the same went for other voice-tracked talent. There were a lot of random “breaks from nowhere.”)
But I did hear things that impressed me. South Florida CHR was a legitimate example of competition making the three-station race better, and all displayed ample sense of place. In the ‘70s, what set the South apart was the Country crossovers. Now it was CNCO and Maluma, and you heard at least the biggest Latin crossovers until Jacksonville. I did hear new stations that I enjoyed. The exercise also focused me on my locals — hearing and appreciating touches on Z100 and WKTU again for the first time.
I’ve been noting throughout whether I heard “Havana” on a given station, and I usually did. but the song that I will probably identify this “trip” with is Halsey, “Bad at Love.” And as the duet partner on G-Eazy’s “Him & I,” she was also the voice of the ascending current heard most on this trip, although I’m choosing to remember this drive for Sofi Tukker, “Best Friend,” as well. It also says something about the current tightness that when I talk about the “newest” song I heard on most stations, I really mean lowest-charting, and in most cases, that meant somewhere between No. 20 and No. 40. I heard little new music beyond that.
Timing definitely played a role here. Because I chose Dec. 27-28, none of the New Year’s releases had dropped yet. That was a less important distinction in 1973-74, although that particular road trip did carry past New Year’s Day. This year, it would have been a much different trip if I had done this exercise a few days later when the new Bruno Mars/Cardi B and Justin Timberlake singles were out.
“Pulse-FM” WPLW Raleigh NC (10-11a) – Hot 99.5’s sister station was still in its morning show, which runs from 7-11 a.m. Morning host Frankie was working with the flu because “I didn’t want to miss Throwback Thursday.” (“I appreciate you cuddling with me on the radio,” he added later.) The hour I heard kicked off with “Hollaback Girl,” but the “oh wow” factor ratcheted up over the next hour — Eminem, “Just Lose It”; Naughty by Nature, “Hip-Hop Hooray”; Pussycat Dolls, “Buttons”; Aqua, “Barbie Girl”! The currents included Jake Miller, “Can’t Help Myself,” which is over 1,100 spins on the station. One stager took a swipe at national contesting, declaring, “Live here, win here!” No “Havana.”
“G105” WDCG Raleigh (10-11a) – There was no “Barbie Girl,” but G105 was playing Bruno Mars, “Locked Out of Heaven,” which I hadn’t heard on a Top 40 in a while. Middays here was Seacrest and the music was very adult/familiar, but with a different set of recurrents and gold than I’d encountered so far. The imaging was also busy/kinetic/intense in a way that played off nicely against the otherwise friendly/adult feel of the station. Did play “Havana.”
“Q94” WRVQ Richmond VA (Noon-1p) – It’s Entercom-owned now, but there were still some trappings of the former management. The hour kicked off with Ryan Seacrest and the iHeartRadio Top 5 countdown. (“Bad at Love” was No. 1; Pink, “Beautiful Trauma,” was in the countdown.) It was “Throwback Thursday” here as well, although not quite as far-reaching as the Pulse. (There were two in the hour I heard, including N’ Sync, “It’s Gonna Be Me.”) No “Havana.”
“B101.5” WBQB Fredericksburg (12:45-1:30p) – Here’s another reason the virtual road trip was better than a real one. B101.5 was running traffic reports in middays about major backups in the “mass exodus” taking place on I-95 in both directions. Musically, B101.5 has always cheerfully had the texture of an Adult Top 40 (Dua Lipa at the hot end), but with ample library. Middayer Kristin Nash played “Despacito” (“Song of summer, I’d say it’s official now,” she joked), followed by Plain White T’s, “Rhythm of Love.” B101.5 was running promos for a seminar on digital sales, including “the truth about Facebook.” No “Havana.”
“99.3 The Vibe” WVBX Fredericksburg (12:45-1:45p) – It was playing “Despacito” when I tuned in, too, but here it went into Bebe Rexha, “Meant to Be.” Then “Havana.” The Vibe was another small-market CHR that was actually tighter/more recurrent than the majors; the newest song I heard in the hour was Macklemore. Middayer Alana had one of the best bits, playing Halsey’s “Bad at Love” and noting that there was now a Kidz Bop version. “I can’t think of any line of that song that is appropriate for Kidz Bop,” she noted, before directing listeners to Facebook to discuss.
“Hot 99.5” WIHT Washington DC (1-1:55p) – Seacrest was in his “Tell Me Something Good” segment during this hour. He was punctuated by some different gold — including Jason DeRulo’s “In My Head.” Also by different-sounding imaging, including one promo where the parents of the New Year’s Baby are modeling the phrase that pays, “Hot 99.5, D.C.’s #1 Hit Music Station.” Did play “Havana” (after a multi-artist sweeper that included Camila Cabello herself). Also, the “back to the hits” sweep starter shouted out different towns (Bristow, Va., in this case).
“94.7 Fresh-FM” WIAD Washington DC (1-1:55p) – The hour began with the jingle associated with KIIS Los Angeles. Night host Britt Waters was in for middayer Dana, so the usual “Dana’s Dirt” celebrity feature was replaced this day by “Britt’s Buzz.” Adult Top 40 Fresh FM had one of the most satisfying segues of the “trip,” going from Revivalists, “Wish I Knew You” (the first time I’d heard it), into Pink, “Raise Your Glass.” No “Havana.” It was also teasing its 2017 countdown, making Fresh, surprisingly, one of the few stations I heard doing so.
“Z104.3” WZFT Baltimore MD (2-3p) – Z104.3 shares both the morning Kane Show and middayer Elizabethany with Hot 99.5. There was also a shout-out to suburban Bel Air (“thank you for making Z104.3 Baltimore’s #1 Hit Music Station”). But the imaging was as good as Hot’s and distinctive from it. There was a DJ Earworm-type hook promo that beat-matched the hits of 2017 and promised “more Kane Show, more cash, more hit music” in 2018. “Tweet your requests, because we will actually read them” declared another stager. “B’more’s hit music all day” said the :00 ID. Played both Sofi Tukker and G Eazy as well as “Toxic” and “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” on the gold side. No “Havana.”
“Mix 106.5” WWMX Baltimore (2–3p) – Because Mix evolved from Hot AC to Top 40, there are sometimes new titles that you wouldn’t normally hear on a Northeastern CHR, which always gives it a fresh sound on a real road trip. Today, however, the difference was all in the Throwback Thursday cuts, including the trio that kicked off the hour: Dave Matthews Band, “What Would You Say”; Johnny Gill, “Rub You the Right Way”; and Depeche Mode, “Enjoy the Silence.” Evening jock Neci was filling in on middays here and had a great line, backselling Bebe Rexha, “Meant to Be”: “I love Florida-Georgia Line. They can sing with anybody!” Played “Havana.”
93.7 WSTW Wilmington DE (3-4p) – It’s officially Hot AC now, positioned as “Today’s Best Variety,” but even as a CHR, it played a lot of gold. This hour, that included “Apologize,” “Some Nights,” and “Story of My Life.” P.M. driver Brian Soscia’s “Soscia Network” topic this hour was Christmas songs that you’re sick of (“Dominick the Donkey,” “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” “Wonderful Christmastime.”) The newest current was Pink, “Beautiful Trauma.” No “Havana.”
“Mix 99.5” WJBR Wilmington (3-4p) – Perhaps Soscia was talking about being sick of Christmas songs because WJBR was still playing John Lennon, “Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)” in the hour I heard. I haven’t included any Mainstream ACs in this trip, but WJBR recently rebranded as Mix 99.5, and I would have made a point of checking them out. While a station like WLIT Chicago may be reclaiming its “Lite FM” name and steering away from CHR/Hot AC, Mix 99.5 plays two ‘80s an hour, and while I didn’t hear “Havana,” I did hear “Slow Hands” and “Boom Clap.” I also heard Taylor Swift, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” The imaging is an interesting combination of pleasant voice/urgent delivery. “One great song after another,” a great line that goes back decades, was the chief positioner here and sometimes used more than once a stager.
“Q102” WIOQ Philadelphia PA (3:30-4:15p) – I always feel that Q102 p.m. driver Casey is trying to do something creative, even in the execution of station business. She set up Taylor Swift, “End Game,” by teasing the final Eagles game of the year. She used the Powerball and MegaMillions jackpot to tease the forthcoming cash giveaway (“$16K A Day”) and didn’t make it sound puny by comparison. Q102 was also teasing its on-air New Year’s Eve countdown, which was branded to the station, not iHeart Radio. Imaging had an intense feel that recalled Q102 in the late ‘90s, when it was one of the format’s most distinctive stations.
94.5 WPST Trenton NJ (3:30-4:15p) – WPST, meanwhile, was the only station I’d heard so far teasing an actual station event on New Year’s Eve, at a Bordentown, N.J., restaurant. P.M. driver Shinn was a consistent presence throughout the hour I heard, directing listeners to alleged Kylie Jenner baby-bump pictures on the station site. (“I’m pretty sure that’s all the evidence we need.”) WPST has also done something that a lot of other stations wish they could do: moved traffic reports to the website, but kept the sponsorship. Newest current was Niall Horan, “Too Much to Ask,” but like nearby Z100 New York, WPST was also going through a late run with Lady Gaga, “The Cure.”
103.5 WKTU New York (4:15-5:15p) – If at any point you felt any sameness going from market to market, don’t blame WKTU. It remains a unique entity: CHR recurrents, throwback gold (Rihanna, “Pon de Replay”), Michael Jackson (“The Way You Make Me Feel”), and even G-Eazy at the new end. Its success redefined Hot AC and emboldened other CHRs to go more recurrent. As I got close to New York during Hollywood Hamilton’s afternoon drive shift, there was an hour of teasers for the “War of the Roses” feature; there was a call from a listener who was getting married to his girlfriend of 12 years; there were two references to the “dropping the beat” slogan that “The Beat of New York” made famous 20 years ago, including “Dropping the Beat from the Greatest City in the World” at :00. No “Havana.”
“Z100” WHTZ New York (4:15-5:15p) – And if it’s famous :00 IDs you want, Z100 is “serving the universe, from the top of the Empire State Building” again these days as well. Night jock Brady was in afternoons, and doing something I hadn’t heard in a while, or elsewhere on this trip, trying to crack the callers up. In fact, I hadn’t heard a lot of callers on this drive. Z100 was in the middle of two hours commercial-free (“that’s like a million New York minutes”). There was also a lot of new year-end-related imaging, including the 11:59 countdown that declared “Five! Four! Z! Two! One … Hundred!” Newest song was Demi Lovato, “Tell Me You Love Me”; oldest was Alex Claire, “Too Close.” No “Havana.”