Friday, July 24, 2009

Is Playing It Safe Dangerous for Q100?

The Top-40 format has always been known for familiarity and repetition. The format has always cumed high; lots of people listen for short periods of time. In the old days, the short time spent listening and high cume were attributed to young people being “button pushers.” In those days, there were no such things as music sweeps and stop sets. (But there were “twin spins!”) However, the pattern still reflects CHR station ratings.

Throughout the years, repetition has worked. In the days of AM Top 40 in the 60’s and 70’s, WABC in New York played about 25 songs and repeated them continuously. The number one record was played once an hour. Every song aired on the station had to be a bona fide hit; new music was not part of the equation unless it was by the Beatles, Rolling Stones and the like. WABC’s ratings were huge for 20 years until FM took over.

Jan Jeffries, CHR programming chief for Cumulus, has always believed in playing it safe. The company’s CHR’s, which were in medium and small markets, did not take chances. They played the softer CHR product from a playlist replete with recurrents. And the stations did—and do—pretty well ratings-wise.

When Cumulus Media Partners, half brother of Cumulus Media, took over the Susquehanna stations in 2006, “All the Hits Q100” (WWWQ) was just that, the only Atlanta station playing straight-ahead CHR. Q100 used to promote the fact that Star 94 did not play some of the hits, but Q100 did.

Well, that all changed quickly. Q100 became a Cumulus CHR clone, and the music shifted to the softer side of CHR, with some rhythmic product in the evening. Recurrents played a starring role in every hour.

I took a look at what Q100 played in the 6-7PM hour on July 22nd:
Jason Mraz – I’m Yours
Avril Lavigne – Keep Holding On
Shinedown – Second Chance
Christina Aquilera – Come On Over
Jesse McCartney – How Do You Sleep
Pink – Please Don’t Leave Me
Lifehouse – Whatever It Takes
Katy Perry – Waking Up in Vegas
Daughtry – Feels Like Tonight
Lady Gaga – Love Game
Nickelback – If Today was Your Last Day
Kelly Clarkson – Behind These Hazel Eyes
David Cook – Time of My Life

Of the 13 songs played, 6 are on Billboard’s Hot 100. Moreover, rhythmic product was obviously left out of the mix (although some is played on Adam Bomb’s evening show).

Back to the subject of the column. The Jan Jeffries “condom formula”—always play it safe—has worked in medium and small markets. But is it a dangerous way to compete in Atlanta? My answer is probably not.

Let’s look at a few things straight out of the June PPM numbers. Q100’s listeners break out like this: 6-11 – 3%, 12-17 – 8%, 18-24 – 14%, 25-34 – 36%, 35-44 – 24%, 45-54 – 11%. Star 94’s age composition looks like this: 6-11 – 10%, 12-17 – 12%, 18-24 – 17%, 25-34 – 23%, 35-44 – 19%, 45-54 – 12%.

Now, let’s check out one more station. Here is B98.5’s demo breakdown: 6-11 – 4%, 12-17 – 3%, 18-24 – 6%, 25-34 – 16%, 35-44 – 20%, 45-54 – 19%, 55-64 – 22%.

As you can see, Q100 predictably skews older than Star 94 and younger than B98.5, but closer to Star 94 than B98.5.

Consider this: Based on weekly cume, 47% of Q100’s audience also listens to Star 94; 46% of Star 94’s audience also listens to Q100; those are comparatively high numbers. Of B98.5’s audience, 26% listen to Q100, and 28% listen to Star 94; those are moderately high numbers.

Star 94 and Q100 both use CHR formatics, but Star’s music is more current. (Star is somewhat heavily recurrent in middays.) Neither plays rhythmic product (with the exception of evenings on Q100, when the audience is smaller). B98.5 is positioned as an AC station but has a somewhat unconventional playlist, leaving out current and for the most part recurrent songs.

So who says you have to be a straight-ahead CHR to be successful? Q100 is really claiming the market’s Hot AC space and has likely taken some of the younger end from B98.5, a station with excellent personalities but a questionable music mix. Q100 is also vying for the older end of the younger end, so to speak. Of course, Star 94 is also in hot pursuit of the CHR and to some extent the Hot AC listener, and outshines Q100 in the younger demos almost by default.

In the Houston market, Cumulus Media Partners’ legendary KRBE has adopted the Jeffries condom formula and remains very strong in the Hot AC demos. Meanwhile, CBS introduced Hot Hits 95-7 to the market with a real CHR format and has stolen the very young folks.

Q100 could remain strong; it has one of the best morning shows in the U.S. and good personalities who, with the possible exception of Adam Bomb at night, are acceptable to a Hot AC audience. If Star continues to pilfer the younger end of Q100’s listeners, Q100 might be forced to adjust its music somewhat. But unless B98.5 moves to a more traditional AC playlist, Q100 just might continue to happily occupy most of the market’s Hot AC space.

Roddy Freeman

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