Monday, December 5, 2011

Clear Channel's CHR Strategy

The holiday season is a time of sharing, and Clear Channel has the spirit.  The company definitely believes in sharing air talent among markets.  I drove to Maryland for Thanksgiving this year and listened to Clear Channel CHR stations in Baltimore, Washington DC, Richmond, Greensboro and Charlotte.

CHR is a format in which Clear Channel enjoys a lot of success.  And in light of Arbitron's PPM, where big cumes usually translate to average-audience success, CC has not been at all timid about flipping stations to CHR, a historically high-cuming format.

I was disheartened but impressed by what I heard.  Clear Channel puts a fair amount of thought into its approach in each market.  In some large markets, CC has great stations, such as New York's Z100 and Los Angeles' 102.7 KIIS FM.  Frankly, I thought DC's Hot 99.5 bordered on being a great station.  On the other hand, I thought Z104.3 in Baltimore sounded horrendous but was well designed for that market.

Z104.3 in Baltimore is targeted to the very young.  That makes sense because CBS owns a station in the market with a very hot, Hot AC format, Mix 106.5.  Z104.3 is voice-tracked to the hilt.  Even the morning show is voice-tracked; it's done by Jackson Blue, who also does afternoon drive at 99.7 DJX in Louisville and evenings at Kiss 108 in Boston.  I guess never hearing any news or weather, let alone a temperature, doesn't faze the station's budding audience.  Nor does giving away money on the 10's and never announcing the winner.

That you can be in two places at one time is proven in middays by Nicole Shay, who in her live body is Shamara, middays at Philadelphia's Power 99.  This brings to mind another aspect of Clear Channel's strategy for its very young CHR's, CHR names.  Z-104's staff consists of Jackson Blue, Nicole Shay, Mick Lee, Staxx and JoJo Wright.

Still another part of Clear Channel's strategy for its very young CHR's is for the jocks to have a distinctive young CHR "accent."  And as bad as it sounds to me, most of the Z104.3 jocks nail it, and it apparently works.   The combination of a very young playlist, jocks who really sound the part and names that fit the lifestyle have led to ratings success among the 12-34 demographic; and the ratings combined with the heavy use of voice-tracking probably convert to some nice profitability.

In Richmond, Q94 used to be a great station.  For years and years, it was #1 or #2.  Of course, to be #1 or #2, you have to be a mass-appeal station.  These days, Q94 is a niche station using Clear Channel's very young CHR approach, and ranks #8 in total persons 12+.  I wonder, however, whether the profit margin is greater now at #8 than in the glory days.

Q94 also makes minimal use of live, local talent but in a slightly different way than Z104.3.  The Richmond CHR relies on CC syndication, kicking off mornings with Elvis Duran.  Then it's On Air with Ryan Seacrest, meaning the first regular music show starts at 2PM.  I listened to Q94 during a couple of shifts.  Jackson, on from 5-8PM, sounded live and local.  Kash, who follows him, sounded voice-tracked.  The CHR names are part of the deal; other jocks are Randi, Sisane and Boy Toy Jesse.  And the music is young.

In Greensboro/Winston-Salem, Clear Channel has taken on 107-5 KZL, long the market's sole CHR provider.  105.7 NOW is another very young CHR that deploys Clear Channel's profitability techniques, including a morning show simulcast in Charlotte and Chicago as well as liberal use of voice-tracking. Of course, the youthful CHR jock accents are there as are the names--Maxwell, JoJo and Nick D in this case.  Surprisingly, 105.7 NOW has given fits to KZL, despite a not-as-good signal or processing, and the fact that KZL has a heritage morning show.

In Charlotte, Channel 9-6-1, which has gone through a couple of metamorphoses in the past few years, has unabashedly taken on Kiss 95-1, one of the best CHR stations in the U.S.  Channel 9-6-1 sounded somewhat broader and more conservative in terms of music and presentation than Clear Channel's very young Baltimore, Richmond and Greensboro CHR's.

In a rare situation for a Clear Channel CHR, Channel 9-6-1 is getting clobbered by Kiss 95.1 after showing some initial promise.  Some predict Ace & TJ, Kiss 95.1's star morning show for years, will replace current Channel 9-6-1 wake-up host Brotha Fred, estranged son of legendary Top-40 jock Charlie Van Dyke and originating in Chicago, and once again challenge Kiss.  And that's possible since Ace & TJ are still in Charlotte and already syndicated on 4 Clear Channel stations.

With very young CHR's in Baltimore, Richmond and Greensboro, and a somewhat broader one in Charlotte, Clear Channel has the broadest of the five in Washington.  Hot 99.5 is #2 among total persons 6+ in the PPM ratings.  It has the best personalities of the 5 stations, but that does not mean the famous Clear Channel profitability measures are not in place.  Its live and local Kane Show in mornings is heard on 7 other stations.  Following Kane comes On Air with Ryan Seacrest.  Hot 99.5's live and local afternoon host, Toby Knapp, is one of the best.  He has a CHR accent tempered for dual appeal among somewhat older folks.  And as if I have to tell you, he also performs on other Clear Channel stations.

When all is said and done, Clear Channel does an excellent job of basing which type of CHR station goes into a market based on the competitive landscape.  And CC makes maximum use of its profitability tactics, syndication and voice-tracking.  CHR is a format that Clear Channel executes as well as anyone and makes some much-needed money with.

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Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog:


  1. I'm pretty sure Jackson Blue is live at Z104.3. If he's not he does a great job of hiding it on his twitter account.

  2. Looking at the mess that is Clear Channel Atlanta, it's almost like John Hogan is instructing the folks at The Building of Death to intentionally run the stations into the ground. There is no excuse for all of the stations to be performing poorly for so many years.

  3. Why can't Clear Channel run an awesome station here in Atlanta?! WILD has the most potential, but they are not giving it the signal it deserves and they need new voice overs/more exciting sweepers!!! It just makes me sad when I hear HOT 99.5 in DC and Z100 in NY, and then listen to the crap that is Q100 (Cumulus, ugh) and well, WILD is decent but it still needs some work.

  4. Lance, you may be right, but his Twitter account says, "Mornings on Z in Baltimore. Midday napper. Afternoons in Louisville. Nights in Boston. Celebrity Top 10 & Party Playhouse too."

    What is he saying that convinces you that he's live in Baltimore?

  5. What are the chances CC moves signals around in 2012? If they were smart they would put WILD on 96.1 and move Project to 105.3, then use 105.7 for WGST and blow up El Patron.

    WILD will not do any better without a more powerful signal... and it already sounds 100% better than Q100 which is still mixing in HOT AC music during the day (no current major market CHR is mixing in Train - Drops of Jupiter, John Mayer - Daughters, Crazy Town - Butterfly, Coolio - Fantastic Voyage, etc... this is NOT a good thing). Plus, their DJ's are so boring. It's really strange.