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They Were Intriguing, But Where Are They Now? posted on April 17th, 2014

By Sean Ross @RossOnRadio

To make the “Intriguing Stations of the Year” column, a station doesn’t have to be a ratings success. “Intriguing” is a salute to those stations that were different enough to be notable, or at least indicative of a change in our industry’s programming mentality. But four months after ROR’s look at “Intriguing Stations of 2013,” some trends continue to gather momentum. At a reader’s urging, here’s a cross-sample of stations that made the “Intriguing” list for 2012 and 2013 and how they’re doing now.

KIFM (Easy 98.1) San Diego – When I wrote about them in January for “Intriguing 2013,” the ’70s/’80s-based super-soft AC where you could hear “Seasons In The Sun,” Christopher Cross, and a lot of Hall & Oates was building quickly, and a few similar stations had just been launched. Since then, the building boom has slowed. Some broadcasters just don’t want to be in the Air Supply business. But KIFM was the market leader in the just-released March PPMs. So look for that to change.

WNSH (Nash FM) New York – It was up 1.5 – 1.7 in March. Nash-FM still hasn’t pushed past the two-share that format detractors said country would draw in New York just for showing up. But that’s not the point. Nash’s appearance in “Intriguing 2013” was as the face of nationalized radio. That march has continued through New Orleans, Nashville, and Detroit (and elsewhere). And if the intent was to improve Music Row’s relationship with a more centralized Cumulus by giving them a New York country station, that seems to have happened.

WMIB (The Beat) Miami Clear Channel’s relaunched urban was notable for its harsh attacks on rival WEDR and for going all hip-hop, a once-common strategy that we haven’t seen much of lately. Since November, the Beat is up 1.7-3.0. WEDR is off 6.1 – 5.1 and was fifth this month (although still ahead of the 5.0 it had two months ago). Notably, Clear Channel’s KQBT (The Beat) Houston has had more spoiler impact on rival KBXX (the Box), down 7.8-5.0, and done a little better (3.6) with a more mainstream approach.

WBQT (Hot 96.9) Boston, KHTP (Hot 103.7) Seattle – Seattle’s version of the ’90s/’00s-based “Rhythmic Hot AC” format visibly disrupted the market for a few months and leveled off. Boston has built more gradually. Both have settled into similar comfortable positions at this point, while similar stations have launched in San Diego, Albuquerque, and Portland, Ore. In Portland, the franchise was important enough that Clear Channel’s existing rhythmic top 40 reimaged to make sure that it claimed Notorious B.I.G. and TLC.

Sirius XM The Highway – Their willingness to start country hits is undiminished, and earned them a recent Wall Street Journal feature celebrating satellite’s role in breaking Florida Georgia Line and Cole Swindell. Sirius XM’s Alt.Nation (which appeared in “Intriguing 2012”) has long gotten that kind of attention in the alternative community as well. The recent game changer is that Sirius XM’s top 40 channel Hits 1, which has always cheerfully done its own thing, is getting more notice as well, with an early role in songs like MKTO’s “Classic” or AJR’s “I’m Ready” that might not have gone as far beyond its walls in the past. A few years ago, a Hits 1 story was often dismissed by broadcast PDs as irrelevant to stations with ratings competition. Now, at least, labels are noticing and taking the same sort of cues from Hits 1 as its counterparts.

KMVQ (Now 99.7) San Francisco – To some extent, Hits 1 has taken on greater importance because there aren’t as many broadcast FM top 40s breaking the hits. KMVQ continues to be aggressive on new music and remains successful. They’re also leading consistently in the market’s tough top 40 battle these days, although in March, their lead over KYLD (Wild 94.9) was closer, 4.1 to 3.9.

Quickhitz – They edit the hits to somewhere between 1:50 and 2:30. Broadcasters love or hate the concept and initial outlet WYDS Decatur, Ill., hasn’t done much to dissuade believers or skeptics yet, In its first book last fall (when it was not airing the format all day due to other syndication obligations) it was flat with a 2.8. But proponents say more stations are on the way. And I’m still happier to have certain songs finished with faster.

WEDX (Evolution 101.7) Boston WEDX made “Intriguing 2012” both for bringing electronic dance music to a major-group owned station in a major-market and for having been incubated on Clear Channel’s iHeart Radio. This month, it goes 0.9-1.1 on a limited signal. Since its launch, nothing has happened to shatter detractors’ claims that EDM doesn’t work as a self-contained format (although the decision to launch it in Gainesville, Fla., must count for something). But the EDM community’s Avicii, Martin Garrix, Cash Cash, Zedd, Tiesto, Chainsmokers, Calvin Harris, and DJ Snake all have current songs in play at top 40. Whether that means that a standalone format is overdue, or not needed, is entirely dependent on one’s own reading of the inkblot.

WWPW (Power 96.1) Atlanta They made “Intriguing 2012” by filling one of the last major-market holes for a second top 40, and for their fast ascent. Then they tapered off and Cumulus rival WWWQ (Q100) rebounded. If this story had been written four months ago, the morale would have been that Elvis Duran and Clear Channel’s ability to stage station concerts weren’t enough to automatically demolish a competitor and an entrenched morning show. Q100 still hasn’t been demolished, but since removing Duran, WWPW has edged ahead again 4.3 to 4.2.

Radionomy Radionomy continues to be the engine for many of the hobbyist stations that I discover, as well as worthy professional broadcaster projects like Journal Milwaukee’s Radio League. Rival Live 365 has also shown a burst of new activity since the arrival of Dennis Constantine. In fact, at the RAIN Summit West earlier this month, one of the interesting recurring themes was the rise of hobbyist radio. For Cox’s Tim Clarke and LDR’s Daniel Anstandig, two of the few people who can be called “young guns” at the moment, having one’s own Internet station was an entry to radio. And MusicMaster has just rolled out its Personal Edition music scheduling software scaled and priced for hobbyists. For a moment, it looked as if the increased attention of the majors in pureplay channels might overshadow the hobbyists, but I’m finding the latter to be more, not less intriguing these days than some of what the insiders create.

Radio HamburgI gave German CHR a collective mention in “Intriguing 2012,” for its early warning system on alternative and triple-A songs that often become pop hits in Europe and Australia while they’re still on a six-month crossover journey here. With more time to think about it, AC stations like this one deserved more than a passing mention. Germany’s early pop appetite for Passenger, Of Monsters and Men, and Family of the Year isn’t really a difference in taste as much as the presence of strong mainstream AC stations that still break and play currents.