Intriguing Stations of 2017, Part 1

posted in: by Sean Ross | 4

The building boom in Alternative was the one everybody talked about, but it wasn’t the only format trend of note in radio in 2017. That’s partially because FM translators have ensured that many more formats can find an FM home now, although part of what propelled Alternative at the end of the year was seeing the format added on significant signals like KVIL (Alt 103.7) Dallas, WBMP New York, WQMP (FM101.9) Orlando, and WDTW (Alt 106.7) Detroit. But I was happy to have the translators, too, since they made about half this year’s wrap-up of Intriguing Stations possible.

I was especially happy to have a new group of Classic Soul stations: Radio One’s launches in Cincinnati, Detroit, and “Classix 102.9” Atlanta at year’s end; Cromwell’s new WPRT-HD-3 “The Ville” on FM, joining longtime WVOL-AM Nashville. And it’s been around for several years, but I just discovered a stream for “The Soul of Dayton,” heard on WHKO-HD-3 locally, which I decided deserved their own story. Like Classic Country, R&B Gold doesn’t always last on broadcast radio, so I’m enjoying it now.

There was a burgeoning resurgence in the ‘90s format. I’ve written about my involvement with WBEL (The Beat) Janesville, Wis., but there are a lot of other programmers realizing that the ‘90s might not be as weak as thought. Those include the early version of WXAJ (the Mix) Springfield, Ill., CFJL (Hot 100.5) Winnipeg, and the new Sirius PopRocks channel which doesn’t quite reunite Jewel and Tool, but goes into both the punk/pop and singer/songwriter ends of ‘90s/early ‘00s Modern AC.

The most covered “station” in the consumer press this year was undoubtedly Spotify Rap Caviar. It was observed more than once that the influential playlist has become WQHT (Hot 97) New York for this generation. It is certainly a key reason that CHR grapples with how to acknowledge Cardi B and Lil Pump—besides waiting for them to feature on pop hits. I regard them more as the biggest, most available underground mixtape ever—one with more than 8.6 million followers. But if they’re not the full-service town square of Hip-Hop that Hot 97 was in 1996, what radio station is?

Another sign of Hip-Hop’s health in 2017 was its expansion in medium markets, including some where the format hadn’t existed on the radio for a while, or ever. New stations included Hot 92.9 Binghamton, Loud 99.3 Reading, Pa., Fly 98.5 Ft. Myers, Fla,; and The Beat 105.5 Rochester, N.Y.

And then there was the Alternative land rush. When Bell Media pulled its Windsor/Detroit stations away from each other, leaving the market with a Triple-A station, an Active Rock, and no true Alternative per se, nobody rushed in right away. But a few days after Entercom’s New York and Dallas launches, iHR moved in Detroit with the latest in its series of “Alt” brandings. Radioinsight’s Lance Venta correctly notes that KDKB (Alt AZ 92.3) Phoenix deserves some credit for proving the format could be successfully returned to a market, and also for helping rebuild the sort of single-owner “rock wall” of multiple male-targeted formats within a cluster that was so popular 15 years ago.

“Intriguing Stations” isn’t just a roll call of top-rated stations or new launches but stations that helped typify or drive format trends in the previous year (or defied them in an interesting way). I asked ROR readers and friends for their own list, and we’ll spotlight those next week, although Triple-A KINK Portland, Ore., deserves a mention now for its inclusion on multiple lists. And even though I tried to spotlight stations we lost in 2017 in a separate column, there’s already one departed station (except online and on HD-2) on the list.

Mod 102.3 New HavenThree months ago, I compared it to WHTZ (Z100) New York in its early evolution to a CHR/Alternative hybrid. The better comparison turned out to be KNRJ Houston, which did a similar, equally terrific format for a month, as a placeholder on its way to its longtime incarnation as KHMX (Mix 96.5). Mod 102.3 lasted three months as an Alternative station that played Khalid and Logic (and never said “alternative”). Then it was sold to the owners of rival WMRQ and flipped to Spanish. But there was definitely validity in trying to acknowledge a “non-siloed” generation of listeners. And it’s a little dismaying in knowing that it can seemingly only exist as a limited time offer.

WLIT (93.9 Lite FM) Chicago, CHFI Toronto, CHFM CalgaryThis year, with CHR product not quite the draw it was in the early-to-mid ‘00s, AC radio in general tried to lock down a more mainstream ‘80s-to-now position that didn’t represent a complete retrenchment. So WLIT returned to being “Lite 93.9” coming out of Christmas music. CH FI, one of AC’s first edgy stations, had already adjusted. After the holidays, its sister station, CHFM also reclaimed the “lite” word, and is even playing a handful of ‘70s.

WMXJ (102.7 The Beach) Miami – When they started two years ago, they were more ‘80s than the Classic Hits format overall. And by following the musical history of South Florida, they diverged sharply from the usual “Classic Rock with jingles” approach to the format. Since then, they’ve only gotten bolder and done better. “A beast of a radio station,” says reader Allan Nosov. “It reminds me of the time I spent in Florida in 1980,” adds Brad Lovett. KCCT (Retro  104.1) Corpus Christi, Texas, was also enjoyable and seemed to be a deliberate extension of the Beach model.

WGH (Famous 1310) Norfolk; KONO-AM San Antonio – Each is a heritage AM playing ‘60s and early ‘70s music, each made possible (or necessary) by the evolution of an FM Classic Hits sister station. Each is an obvious labor of love. And I would have spent an entire recent San Antonio trip listening to KONO if I hadn’t also discovered low-power KCJV San Antonio and its format of collectors’ oldies. Or been listening to the Texas Country/Classic Country hybrid on KOKE-FM Austin.

WZFL (Revolution 93.5) Miami; iHR Pride Radio (National);  – Revolution 93.5 was profiled in Ross On Radio in April, and I appreciated their accessibility, as well as the tempo and energy often lacking in today’s CHR. iHeart’s Pride Radio was always lurking on the HD-2 signal of WKTU New York. But I’m going there more often because they play a lot of ‘00s dance music—heard on only a handful of stations at the time—and a lot of it really holds up well now.

CKOI Montreal — They’ve also gotten no shortage of ink in Ross On Radio this year, but they remain the best place to hear Alternative hits in a CHR context. (Not unlike what Montreal and Toronto offered during CHR’s early-‘80s doldrum.) In English, their slug line translates to “let’s change the world, one hit at a time.”

WPNA-FM (103.1) Chicago – Every now and then, a CHR shows up in Southern California or El Paso, Texas, with more ties to Mexico City CHR (and thus to Europe) than to the U.S. charts. WPNA-FM is doing the equivalent with a mix of Polish and English hits (also including acts like Lost Frequencies that you’re more likely to hear there than here), trying to draw younger listeners than their heritage AM.

WBCN  (94.7 Smoke) Charlotte, N.C. – Charlotte is where the Country/Classic Rock hybrid began nearly 30 years ago, and quickly evolved to mainstream Country. On a translator, 94.7 Smoke is doing a unique version that probably always made sense, but particularly makes sense in the playlist age. And I share reader Andy Cahn’s respect for a station that knows to play the bands Nantucket and Cry Of Love in that format, in that market.

Sirius XM The Beatles Channel – One of those channels that should have been easy to find on the Infinite Dial, but for the rules governing Internet radio. And it arrives as even the Beatles become less a part of the Classic Hits format.

Next week, it’s your turn. So please reach out or post a comment about your most intriguing stations of 2017.


4 Responses

  1. David Moore

    Thanks for the props on KDKB Alt-AZ 93.3. 2017 was a great year for the station with huge ratings increases over 2016.
    David Moore KAZG/KDKB/KSLX Operations Manager

  2. Stogieguy7

    Hey Sean, check out KJQN (103.1 The Wave) Salt Lake City. Classic alternative that’s heavy on 80’s new wave in a market that may have embraced it more than any other. Truly unique for 2018 from what I can tell, and worth a listen!

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