With the loss of 50-year rocker WAAF Boston last month, the rock format has one less outlet in the largest markets, leaving only three in the top 10. Yet the number of rock stations in the U.S. is up slightly year-over-year, with a total of 304 outlets programming either Active Rock or Mainstream Rock in February 2020 compared to 300 one year earlier, according to an exclusive Inside Radio report that tallies monthly Format Counts.
Rock radio is more likely to be found in markets outside the top 10. While less than one third of the Top 10 markets have a Mediabase-monitored Active or Mainstream Rock station, the format boasts 11 signals in the top 25 and 21 in the top 50. Outside the Top 50 markets you’re more prone to find a station rocking the FM dial with 24 rock stations monitored by Mediabase located in markets 51-100.
While boasting a higher station count than Rock, Alternative Rock lost 14 stations during the same time frame. Alternative Rock declined from 471 signals in February 2019 to 457 in February 2020. Close cousin Modern Rock experienced a similar downtrend (147-134) year over year. However, with a combined 591 signals in February 2020, Alternative/Modern Rock has nearly twice as many outlets as Rock. And the Alternative format gained a pair of high-profile outlets in top 10 markets during the past 2+ years with Entercom’s launch of new “Alt”-branded stations WNYL New York and KVIL Dallas in November 2017.
Under the broad rock format umbrella, Classic Rock remains far and away the most programmed niche with 585 outlets in February 2020. What some have dubbed the “cockroach format” for its indefatigable longevity added new stations in eight of the past 12 months and grew 5% year over year. Classic Hits, while not a Rock format per se, has more than double that, clocking in with 1,127 to rank No. 7 based on the number of signals in the U.S.
As for WAAF, it did not go quietly into the night. Its audience nearly tripled during the station’s final day on the air as the two remaining air personalities, Mistress Carrie and Mike Hsu, joined by special guests, reminisced about the history of the station. And before Entercom announced the sale of the WAAF frequency to Educational Media Foundation for $10.75 million, the beloved station was deep into a celebration of its 50th year anniversary and planning to roll out a newly revamped, harder rocking format on March 2.
“Mike and I grew up listening to the radio station so the reaction the audience is having about how they’re losing a part of their adolescence and their upbringing, so are Mike and I,” Carrie told Worcester Magazine. “I don’t remember a time that WAAF wasn’t there.
While the loss of WAAF is a blow for rock radio, Nielsen VP of Audience Insights Jon Miller explains that the format is far from dead. In a recent episode of the “Billboard Chart Beat” podcast, Miller suggests rock is far from being written up in the obituaries. “From a radio ratings perspective we know that classic rock has been and continues to be popular format,” Miller says on the podcast. “It’s the biggest rock format if you look at share of audience on a national basis.” And as Classic Rock continues to evolve, infusing more titles from the 80s from the likes of U2, Tom Petty, and Guns N’ Roses, it “continues to attract more and more younger audiences,” Miller explains.
Alternative, meanwhile, “has been having one of its best stretches we’ve seen in I would say a decade,” Miller adds.
Reviewing the top 10 U.S. radio formats, based on the number of outlets, Country continues to lead with 2,189 signals, followed by Religion, which includes Teaching and Variety (2,034), News/Talk (1,997), Contemporary Christian (1,273), Variety (1,260), Spanish (1,218), Classic Hits (1,127), Sports (700), Top 40 (627) and Adult Contemporary (586).