Monday, July 19, 2010

The Beat & The Groove - Rhythmics of Different Breeds

Advertising agencies and advertisers have had a profound effect on radio.  They have defined their target consumers as 18-49 or 25-54 for the most part.  That the bulk of the ad money was chasing these demos forced radio stations to program for them.  During the 1990's, after a new FCC rule allowed FM move-ins to proliferate, major markets had numerous stations looking for basically the same audience.

The result was niche formatting to the nth degree.  Over the years, AC, Soft AC, Hot AC, CHR Pop, CHR Rhythmic, Adult CHR, Today's Country, Classic Country, Active Rock and others became the music choices.  In some cases, the descriptor does not necessarily reveal the programming.

What is Classic Hits, for example?  Atlanta has Classic Hits 97.1 The River (WSRV-FM), whose playlist is comprised of Rock-oriented songs that are not quite Rock, in other words a softer version of Classic Rock with emphasis on the 70's.  At one point during its Classic Rock period, the former Z93 (WZGC-FM) used the Classic Hits label and defined it the same way as The River.

Over the past several years, Oldies format listeners outgrew the younger demos for whom advertisers are looking.  Consequently, the format's stations decreased their 60's and segued more into the 70's and 80's.  And, to distance themselves from the dreaded "O" word (which also could have stood for "old people"), they positioned the stations as Classic Hits.  These days, a mention of Classic Hits is more likely to bring to mind the former Oldies purveyors.

CHR Rhythmic is a term that has described a number of format permutations.  CHR Rhythmic came to the fore in the mid 1980's, when WPGC in Washington, a longtime Top-40 station, moved to the rhythmic side of the format to differentiate itself from its direct competitor, Q107.  In the late 90's, CHR Rhythmic came to mean black music programmed for young white people.

Chicago's B96 (WBBM-FM) had been highly successful with mainstream CHR.  Around 1990, the station, owned by CBS, started adding dance-oriented songs to the playlist and evolved to CHR Rhythmic.  Late in the decade as dance product dried up somewhat, B96 mixed in R&B and Hip-Hop that was acceptable to a general market audience.  B96 was a huge success and became the paradigm for the Rhythmic CHR format.

When Atlanta's 95-5 The Beat (WBTS-FM) launched in 1999, the format was CHR Pop with a Dance and Rhythmic lean.  In 2001 when Q100 signed on as Atlanta's third CHR, Cox made a decision to shift The Beat to CHR Rhythmic in the B96 mold.  Positioning following the format adjustment remained "Atlanta's new #1 hit music station" until 2005, when vaunted consultant Steve Smith changed it to "Atlanta's new #1 for Hip-Hop."

Its positioner notwithstanding, The Beat under Smith and current PD (Lee) Cagle is musically on the CHR side of the Hip-Hop/CHR border.  Both Hot 107-9 (WHTA-FM), Atlanta's true Hip-Hop station, and The Beat share some artists, including Drake, Young Jeezy, Rihanna, DJ Khaled and Usher.  Yet the majority of Beat performers, though having an Urban lean, are not heard on Hot 107-9.  Jason DeRulo, B.o.B., Lady Gaga, Eminem and Katy Perry are in heavy rotation on The Beat but never played on Hot.  Conversely, The Beat never touches such Hot 107-9 mainstays as Soulja Boy, Rick Ross and California Swag District.  The Beat's jocks are almost all white and very good at sounding black.

Although 95-5 The Beat pretty much follows the B96 model, targeted to young whites, its audience is 47% black and 9% Hispanic.  B96 does not use Hip-Hop positioning, but The Beat has had a multicultural audience composition since it glided into the CHR Rhythmic space.

Clear Channel over the past couple of years has delved into a different kind of Rhythmic radio.  The company first introduced a Rhythmic AC format called "Movin'" in several major markets.  Movin' had mixed results and was not deemed a major success.  Nevertheless, Clear Channel hit it big with Rhythmic in New York and Miami with KTU (WKTU-FM) and 93.9 MIA (WMIA-FM), respectively.

In New York, the historic WKTU call letters were resurrected at 103.5 in 1996.  Clear Channel was careful not to cannibalize the ratings of its huge New York CHR, Z100 (WHTZ-FM), and took KTU in a dance direction.  Over the years, format modifications were made and since 2006, KTU has been defined as Rhythmic AC.  I tend to classify KTU these days as CHR Rhythmic, though far different from B96, and with a nice dose of older songs.  In the Miami market, 93.9 flipped to 93.9 MIA on Christmas, 2008 and, modeled after KTU, achieved success.

Atlanta's 105.7 The Groove took flight late last year.  When it launched, Rhythmic AC probably was the best format descriptor.  As the months passed, The Groove has trudged closer to the CHR Rhythmic side of things.  However, like KTU and 93.9 MIA, industry trades define The Groove as Rhythmic AC.

The Groove has evolved into a product similar to its New York and Miami counterparts.  Those markets, unlike Atlanta, have a huge Hispanic population that is heavily predisposed to Rhythmic sounds.  Atlanta's lack of a pure CHR station does provide at least a small opening for The Groove, as does the still modest but growing Latino population.

The Groove shares several artists with The Beat, including B.o.B., Lady Gaga, Taio Cruz, Kesha and Jason DeRulo.  From there, 105.7 The Groove swerves into a non-Urban, pop direction with the Black Eyed Peas, Gwen Stefani, Train, Enrique Iglesias, La Roux and others of their ilk.  The Groove plays a dance version of I Need You Now by Lady Antebellum and of Whataya Want from Me? by Adam Lambert.  While The Groove has become more current, almost half the songs each hour are former hits by such stars as Michael Jackson and Shaggy.

The Beat has a younger presentation than The Groove, and The Beat is music-intensive in the morning while The Groove is importing Elvis Duran's syndicated show from New York.  While both stations occupy the CHR Rhythmic space, The Beat appeals to a younger, more African-American audience, including teens.  The Groove is somewhat older, and more Hispanic and general market-friendly than The Beat.

One factor that manifests itself in the ratings is The Beat has a far better signal overall.  Moreover, the station has filed an application with the FCC to move its transmitting facility into Atlanta from its current site in Hall County.  As discussed in a previous column, The Groove could come closer to signal parity by moving to Clear Channel's 105.3 signal.

As is the way of today's radio world, every format comes in various shades (or is that flavas?).  The Groove version of CHR Rhythmic is executed with almost all current product at Panama City's 107-9 PFM (WPFM-FM).  PFM's presentation has a straight-ahead CHR sound.

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