Exclusive

What’s it take to be a double-digit ratings dynasty? It requires doing a lot of things right – consistently – from music, branding and positioning to the best personalities, promotions and community involvement. Based on an analysis of PPM data from Nielsen’s June survey, another key ingredient is market heritage.

To determine who the top performing stations are, Inside Radio ranked the top 10 stations in the June survey across all 48 PPM markets based on total week 6+ AQH share. The winners (see chart) are heavily tilted toward markets outside the top 30 where there is less competition. “Typically smaller market means less signals and therefore the average station has a larger slice of the pie, which is what AQH share measures,” notes Charlie Sislen, partner at Research Director, Inc. But getting past that, the common thread that unites these best-of-the best stations is longevity. “These are all stations with incredible heritage,” notes ratings historian Chris Huff. “The rough average of their time in format is over 24 years.”

Entercom’s “95.7 R&B” WVKL Norfolk, which tops the tally with an 11.4 share, has been programming urban AC for 18 years, according to Huff’s research. The No. 2 station on the all-PPM market ranker is iHeartMedia’s WCOL-FM Columbus, OH with an 11.1 share. It’s been in the country format since February 1992. Entercom AC “Lite 100.5” WRCH Hartford (third with a 10.4) evolved from beautiful music/easy listening to AC in 1990. WHJY’s 38-year rock heritage in Providence dates back to September 1981 – the iHeart station finished fourth with a 10.2. In a three-way tie for fifth with a 9.8 share is iHeart’s “Magic 105.7” WMJI Cleveland, which began life as an oldies outlet in September 1990 and, like most oldies stations, evolved into classic hits. If you include its oldies-to-classic hits journey as one format, WMJI has a 29-year legacy in the format.

Classic hits, in fact, has three entries in the top 10, more than any other format. The others are “Classic Hits 104.5” WJJK Indianapolis (No. 8 with a 9.7) and WGRR Cincinnati (tied for ninth with a 9.6), both Cumulus Media stations. WJJK has been classic hits since September 2006. But if you disregard its two years as “Jack,” its time classic hits/oldies legacy goes all the way back to 1997.

“A lot people believed that PPM would erase a lot of the heritage ‘halo’ advantage, but this just shows that strong, consistent brands are just as important as ever, if not more so,” Huff points out.

Sislen notes that these top performers not only have format longevity, they’ve worked hard to invest in – and protect – their brand over a long period of time. “I see a group of stations that mostly have had great brands for a long period of time, and they have worked hard to maintain that brand, which is not an easy accomplishment,” he observes. “If you protect the brand and take care of the radio station, you get shares like that.”

Another unifying aspect is that all the formats represented on the list target the 18-49 or 25-54 demo. That means they ply their trade in the most competitive demographic arena, as opposed to the 55+ zone, where there are fewer outlets in the hunt. That surprised Sislen, who expected to see some stations on the tally with strong 55+ appeal, such as news/talk and soft AC. “It is a real testament to these station’s strength that they win 6+ and most likely perform equally well in those highly competitive sales demos,” Sislen observes. – Paul Heine