Radio Stations Winning With Classic Hip-Hop

Just as the classic rock format can still draw big radio audiences, “classic hip-hop” may be the next big thing in the radio programming world, judging by the events of the last few months. A string of stations have cleaned up, audience-wise, by playing the old-school greats of rap.

According to The New York Times, which first reported the trend, it all began in October when Radio One’s KROI FM in Houston dumped the news format for classic hip-hop, playing anthems and lesser-known gems from Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. Per Nielsen figures cited by the NYT, KROI’s audience soared from 245,000 to 802,000, while its market share more than tripled from 1.0 to 3.2.

KROI’s huge success was the signal for Radio One to switch a number of its other stations to classic hip-hop as well, including WPHI-FM in Philadelphia and KSOC-FM in Dallas. In the copycat world of radio programming it’s no surprise that other big broadcast radio groups are following suit, including iHeartMedia and Cumulus Media.

The former switched KMJM-FM in St. Louis and WSOL-FM in Jacksonville to classic hip-hop, while the latter dropped the Q100 format for classic hip-hop at 97.9 in Atlanta. In fact, the Atlanta market briefly went from having no classic hip-hop stations to three carrying the format, although one later dropped it.

Some programmers attribute the popularity of the classic hip-hop format to the loyalty of the original fan base -- mostly urban African-American listeners, who drove rap’s popularity as young devotees in the 1980s and 1990s. Now, as they reach their 40s, this cohort is reasserting their taste for the classics over more recent -- and perhaps lesser -- hip-hop artists favored by younger listeners.

Whatever is driving it, the emergence (or rather reemergence) of the classic hip-hop format is good news for urban radio broadcasters that have often struggled with declining ratings and advertising revenues in some of their key markets in recent years.

Discussing the failure of previous experiments with news formats in Houston and elsewhere in November, Radio One Alfred C. Liggins III admitted: “We just couldn't get any real significant ratings traction, and that's also kind of the history of these all news FMs in New York, in Philadelphia and Chicago, Atlanta, Washington. A great idea, but in practice, it really hasn’t proven out to be a winner.”

By contrast, Liggins noted that the switch to classic hip-hop began paying immediate dividends in audience growth.

"Radio" photo from Shutterstock

1 comment about "Radio Stations Winning With Classic Hip-Hop".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, January 3, 2015 at 10:41 a.m.

    I assume that the "audience" gain for KROI referred to by the NY Times is its weekly reach, not its average quarter hour audience. As for "cleaning up" with hip hop, I think that we should look at the nationwide picture, not a few potentially isolated examples, before drawing hard and fast conclusions. Perhaps someone from Nielsen Audio----formerly Arbitron-----can provide an analysis of the nationwide share of audience trends for the various radio station formats? Has hip hop seen a major upwards surge over the past three years in share of audience? Just asking.

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