The past year has been especially good to stations targeting adult African-Americans, with adult R&B leading the pack or in second in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Miami, Baltimore and Detroit, and consistently among the top five in San Francisco, Atlanta, Cleveland, Kansas City, Orlando and Charlotte. National Nielsen numbers show adult R&B stations up 0.7 in adults 18+ share since March 2020, on the verge of hitting a 5.0 share.

What's driving this growth is a combination of traditionalism, going the extra mile to serve the community and offering a unique music mix. In this two-part series, today's focus is on the importance of community to adult R&B 's success.

‘More Than Just The Music’

“The relationship we have with our audiences is something that has been cultivated over decades,” iHeartMedia National Programming Group's R&B Brand Coordinator and VP of Programming, Chicago Derrick Brown says. “When you look at enduring R&B brands like [“V103”] WVAZ [Chicago] and WDAS [Philadelphia], we are trusted voices that reflect what’s happening in our communities.”

That's a feeling shared by most adult R&B stations and those working with them. “The adult urban audience is loyal,” consultant and Gray Communications President Tony Gray says. “They've [been] listening to these stations for most of their adult lives.” Adds Coleman Insights Executive VP and Senior Consultant Sam Milkman, "It's more than just the music. These stations have a deep relationship with the community, which is very valuable to the listener [and] isn't the case with every format."

‘Allow your listeners to be heard’

“A good urban AC station should be a bellwether of the condition of the community it serves,” Cumulus Media VP Urban Formats and “92Q” WQQK Nashville Program Director Kenny Smoov says. “A great urban AC will lend its reach to influence those conditions.”

Other programmers are clearly on board with Smoov's philosophy. Brown says V103 has met the challenges in “seeking solutions to ongoing gun violence, and motivating our listeners to use the power of their vote. We also celebrate our successes, including WVAZ’s recent 'Women Who Win' initiative honoring women making a difference in Chicagoland.” Cox Media Group's “Kiss 104.1” WALR Director of Branding and Programming Terri Avery says, “With the addition of Frank Ski, who is the unofficial mayor of Atlanta, [we have] been able to advance [our] community connection. Recently Frank hosted a 'Crime Time' summit featuring police law enforcement leaders talking about the growing crime in and around Atlanta.” Al Payne, Program Director at Howard University's WHUR, adds, “Howard demands that we go above and beyond to 'sound like Washington' at all times. Howard Hospital was a leader in vaccine research, and we are one of their most effective ways to get that information out to the people.”

Just as important is giving adult R&B listeners a voice. “Always allow your listeners to be heard on 'their' radio station,” Cumulus' “Magic 107.3” KMJK Kansas City Program Director Jowcol "Boogie D" Dolby says. “We can't say we care about the community and then not allow them to vent on the air. We've all been through a lot in the last two years and are working through these issues together.” Bonneville KBLX San Francisco Director of Programming Operations Brian Figula says, “We conduct annual surveys, then respond with our megaphone and boots on the ground with a goal of positively impacting the needs in our communities.”

‘On-Air, Online, On The Streets’

Winning adult R&B stations serve core listeners in every way possible. “'Being in the moment' is our motto,” Smoov says. “You'll see our morning show doing the latest Tik Tok dance or our midday host giving away tickets to the hottest event in town. It's about being where [listeners] are: on-air, online and on the streets.” Shilynne Cole, Program Director at Audacy's WQMG Greensboro, NC says, “Our air personalities are all from the area, so they have strong ties to the community. [They help make] the format something listeners will choose every day, because we can give them a level of engagement and reciprocation they can’t get on any other platform.”

“It's essential for our on-air talent to tap into all moments and events that affect our listener,” Dolby says, which includes “fun community events so we can be in front of our listeners. The station needs to be a great neighbor and be in the neighborhood." Adds Smoov, “[We] take on the role of newscaster, entertainer, public servant and emergency assistance. Urban brands have walked this line for a long time. It's what differentiates us from other formats.” – Rich Appel

Tomorrow, Inside Radio looks at the other major driver of adult R&B: the music, and what makes it stand out compared to other formats.