KTCZ (Cities 97) Minneapolis has pushed the boundaries of its format before. At various times during the past decade, it's been essentially a modern AC station without losing its triple A credibility. But during the last year, it's gone further, adding P!nk and Bruno Mars, then Rihanna featuring Mikky Ekko's "Stay" and, most recently, Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines."
Cities is the most pronounced example of a handful of triple As that are becoming more cume-friendly in the era of Portable People Meter measurement. Billboard Top 40 Update's Rich Appel will look at that this coming Thursday (July 18), but Cities in particular has some implications outside of triple A. With Conclave taking place in Minneapolis later this week, it seemed like a good time for a "Fresh Listen."
Presentationally, Cities still sounds like a triple A station. The first break I heard began with back-selling Matt Nathanson's appearance at the station's Studio C. Then it segued into a similarly cadenced teaser for a Mars ticket giveaway. There are still library titles that never went beyond triple A. The iHeartRadio new music spotlight during the stopsets was for former Moody Blues member Justin Hayward.
But top spin on Cities is 66 times a week, aggressive not only by triple A standards but also faster than many alternative stations. You'll also hear two currents in a row on the station, something that has only recently started to happen in an alternative format that, not so long ago, was afraid to play two songs without returning to Green Day and Red Hot Chili Peppers as a center lane.
Cities 97's Clear Channel sister station is top 40 KDWB. That station, which leaned rhythmic for years, went noticeably more pop last year when PD Rich Davis arrived. Adult top 40 rival KSTP-FM (KS95) has moved closer to KDWB through the years, giving Cities room to fill its former modern AC franchise.
Modern AC has been inchoate in recent years, despite a seeming bonanza of music, but if Cities is able to play "San Francisco" by the Mowgli's 50 times a week—the second-highest spin count of any monitored station—it lends validity to the concept of the right alternative and triple A product getting relatively high spins early on, as opposed to nine months later when it crosses to top 40.
A lot of Cities' recent stretches are provocations in terms of artist image only. Rihanna may seem like a step beyond Mars and P!nk, but after the first two acoustic pop ballads went on the station, the third seemed inevitable. Retro-soul has also been a big part of triple A recently. What separated Thicke from Mayer Hawthorne and Fitz & the Tantrums was his home format (adult R&B) and a relative lack of irony that "Blurred Lines" corrects. Conversely, if "Stompa" had been by Selena Gomez instead of Serena Ryder, it would already be a pop hit, but not a triple A No. 1.
The industry has always believed that adults weren't really ready to give up on new music. There's never been as much proof of that as in recent years, but nobody has quite figured out how to capitalize on it. Top 40 has proven adults' ability to enjoy some of the same music as their kids, but not every station can be top 40, and that doesn't give adults anything of their own.
I'd be happy if Cities helped birth the alternative/top 40 hybrid that I've been waiting for. Or the American version of BBC Radio 1—top 40 but with a strong component of quality music discovery. What it may be instead is a new model for AC, which has seen adults' desire for "now," but hasn't quite known what to do with it. Not coincidentally, Minneapolis has lost its only mainstream AC station twice in the last 19 months. Minneapolis is a unique market and Cities has a special heritage. But if adults like Thicke, Frank Turner and Imagine Dragons can hear new music in significant rotations, then the industry ought to be able to do something with that.
Here's KTCZ (Cities 97) Minneapolis at 11 a.m. on July 11:
Rihanna feat. Mikky Ekko, "Stay"
Jet, "Are You Gonna Be My Girl"
Matt Nathanson, "Modern Love"
Alpha Rev, "Sing Loud"
Phillip Phillips, "Gone, Gone, Gone"
Train, "Meet Virginia"
Capital Cities, "Safe and Sound"
fun., "Carry On"
Walk Off the Earth, "Red Hands"
Plain White T's, "Shoulda Gone to Bed"
Sara Bareilles, "Brave"
Snow Patrol, "Chasing Cars"
Kopecke Family Band, "Heartbeat"
Goo Goo Dolls, "Rebel Sound"