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When CHR Wins, Despite the Music

Hot 107.9 WJFX Fort Wayne Electric 96.9 WDDJ PaducahThey 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 experience all the time of listening to acquaintances’ CHR stations all the time these days and not wanting to tell them about it, lest they ask what I thought. It’s probably the records, not what’s between them, that I’m reacting to so viscerally. But I’m never quite sure. I don’t schedule CHR for a living, so when I hear, say, Halsey, “Now or Never,” next to Camila Cabello, “Never Be the Same,” I’m not sure whether I have a philosophical disagreement with the person at the helm, or whether he or she sat at the scheduler and had nothing to play besides two like-sounding midtempo EDM ballads.

I wish I could tell you that Hot 107.9 and Electric 96.9 were almost entirely uptempo with only a few murmuring ballads or stuttering, chopped-up vocals. Instead, they’re choosing mostly from the same music as everybody else, although mostly is a significant difference these days. Much of the difference was in brush strokes, which reinforces the importance of brush strokes at this difficult moment for CHR.

Here’s one difference I noted. In the hour of each station I monitored, there was only one Post Malone song. Two weeks ago, I monitored a major-market CHR battle. One station played both “Psycho” and “Better Now” within a half-hour of each other. The other played both of those and “Rockstar” in the same hour. When I checked a monitor, all three songs were still in the top 10. When radio programmers threw up their hands a few years ago on artist separation, they saw it as acknowledging an audience that didn’t care about such piddly details. I asked my three 20-something, very rap-friendly office-mates if they were okay with three songs by any artist. “No, it’s too much,” they said.

So what were the little touches I heard? A lot of them were presentational. Both stations were heavily imaged around summer. Both were locally hosted during the midday hours I monitored. WDDJ had a few talismans of classic CHR. I heard a reference the “fun and games” department. Summers did a top-of-the-hour crossover break with the afternoon host of the sort you don’t normally hear any more because the midday-to-afternoon transition rarely involves two people in the same studio. WJFX’s timbre was more conversational — not unlike Q92, which has always had an “every shift is a show” feel. (The station is also a syndicated Burt show affiliate.)

And while both stations are working with the available hits, Hot 107.9 in particular seems to have a few more of the songs that break up the same-sounding product that dominates CHR right now. In this hour, it was Jason Mraz. But it could have been Twenty One Pilots, “Jumpsuit.”  WJFX is starting to play teen pop act Prettymuch, “Summer on You.” A few months ago, Mack was early on In Real Life’s “Tattoo (How About You)?”

Here’s WJFX just before 11 a.m., August 6:

  • Alessia Cara, “Growing Pains”
  • Imagine Dragons, “Demons”
  • Cardi B, “I Like It” (the :00 ID song)
  • Bruno Mars, “That’s What I Like”
  • Taylor Swift, “Delicate”
  • Camila Cabello, “Never Be the Same”
  • DJ Khaled, “No Brainer”
  • Zedd & Alessia Cara, “Stay”
  • Post Malone, “Better Now”
  • The Weeknd, “I Feel It Coming”
  • Jason Mraz, “Have It All”
  • Dua Lipa, “New Rules”
  • Maroon 5 f/Cardi B, “Girls Like You”
  • Drake, “In My Feelings”
  • Halsey, “Bad at Love”

Here’s WDDJ at 1 p.m., August 10:

  • Bruno Mars f/Cardi B., “Finesse”
  • Taylor Swift, “Delicate”
  • Imagine Dragons, “Believer”
  • Charlie Puth, “The Way I Am”
  • Post Malone, “Psycho”
  • Max, “Lights Down Low”
  • Khalid, “Love Lies”
  • Selena Gomez, “Same Old Love”
  • Zedd f/Maren Morris, “The Middle”
  • Camila Cabello, “Havana”
  • Ariana Grande, “No Tears Left to Cry”
  • Shawn Mendes, “Mercy”
  • DJ Khaled, “I’m the One”

Then, out of curiosity, I decided to check in with CKOI Montreal, the station that had done so much to perk up the previous summer. I’d come across CKOI on Sunday morning on a driving vacation, and been excited by how different it sounded, and how it still found tempo. So I decided to listen to the same stretch on Sunday morning, nearly a year later.

Some of the CKOI difference was, in part, due to Canadian regulations that limit both spin count and familiar hit music in French-speaking markets. There was, and remains, a lot of gold, not all of it played all the way through (a remnant of how CKOI used to skirt a requirement on English-language hits by playing a minute or so of a half-dozen of them). A lot of the songs that make the station stand out now are the same ones it was playing a year ago. With lower spins by legislative fiat, CKOI gets to 800 spins on most of its songs over the course of a year, not by the time they reach power.

Here’s CKOI just before 11 a.m. on August 12:

  • 5 Seconds of Summer, “Youngblood”
  • Ofenbach, “Katchi”
  • Bloodhound Gang, “The Bad Touch”
  • Pearl Jam, “Better Man”
  • Portugal. The Man, “Feel It Still”
  • Sonique, “It Feels So Good”
  • Shawn Mendes, “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back”
  • Justin Timberlake, “Can’t Stop the Feeling”
  • Loud Luxury f/Brando, “Body”
  • House of Pain, “Jump Around”
  • Liam Payne & J. Balvin, “Familiar”
  • Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, “Can’t Hold Us”
  • 2 Freres, “Leo Gagne” (like a lot of the station’s French music over the years, a song with a folk/pop feel)
  • Alice Merton, “No Roots” (a song that CKOI was helping to break internationally a year ago)
  • Nico & Vinz, “Am I Wrong?”
  • Calvin Harris f/Dua Lipa, “One Kiss”
  • New Radicals, “You Get What You Give”
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  1. Les Talk says

    There are many CHR listeners who do NOT like the yack fests of Ryan Seacrest and the shrill cackling on Elvis Duran. Not exactly sure why IHR is so blind to that. Even worse, the non IHR owned stations who actually subscribe to Elvis Duran. Problem is many markets only support the typical cookie cutter IHR top 40/chr station. We need more smaller market CHRs that are live and local to bring the format around. There is Iheart CHR and there is CHR – almost two different formats.

  2. Markie63 says

    But, the differences from America Radio and Quebec radio is strikingly different:
    -Quebec radio sounds alive and lively;
    -Quebec radio doesn’t constantly give station ID’s between each songs;
    -Quebec Radio mixes music into each song, creating an excitement listening experience;
    -Quebec radio doesn’t give stupid names to their stations like Hot 107.9 or Electric 99.
    -Quebec Radio draws from different music types to create a great mix. On Friday afternoon at 1:00, I heard “Mony Mony” mixed into George Ezra’s “Paradise “ followed by a Mylee Cyrus song. It was totally out of the ordinary, but it worked and was exciting.
    You never hear anything like that on US radio.

    1. Stelly says

      “Quebec radio doesn’t give stupid names to their stations like Hot 107.9 or Electric 99.”

      You mean like “C-Koi,” “Rouge,” “Wknd,” “Virgin,” and “the Beat?”

    2. T C Thomas says

      ?? to the second point. Why does these stations do that?

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