At the end of December, Clear Channel Media and Entertainment launched the company's first electronic dance music station, known as Evolution 101.7, on WHBA Boston.
The station took its name from an iHeartRadio channel that had launched six weeks earlier, and which had become the platform's No. 1 digital-only channel in just seven days. Both the station and the online channel focus on EDM acts like Skrillex, David Guetta and Calvin Harris and feature a number of mixshows crafted by such popular DJs as Diplo, Fatboy Slim and Paul van Dyk.
Boston may not seem like an obvious choice for an EDM station, but Dylan Sprague, Clear Channel VP of programming for Boston, explains that there are 53 colleges in the city, which has led to a vibrant EDM scene. "You can see it in music sales, downloads and especially the concerts and events, which sell out as fast as some of the name-brand pop acts."
So far Sprague says the response has been great. As he'd hoped, the students are leading the charge, creating a buzz about the new station on social media: "The college kids have been tastemakers and they are telling the story for us." Awareness was almost instantaneous. Just six days after the station's launch the station street team went to a series of EDM shows, "and people were already recognizing the radio station and coming up to us," Sprague says.
It's still too early for any initial ratings results, though that's not Sprague's main concern at this point. "The most important thing is to create a credible radio station for the [EDM] community. If we don't do that first and foremost, there won't be an opportunity to do anything in the future."
Frank Murray, VP of promotion at Robbins Entertainment, home to a number of EDM acts, says he's thrilled that Clear Channel has stepped out to represent the music: "We're all thinking about where else can they do this." Capitol Music Group VP of pop promotion and marketing Joe Rainey says it proves how big the movement is. "This shows that it's growing and penetrating the mainstream."
But not everyone agrees with Sprague's purist approach. Joel Salkowitz, president of Sound Ideas Programming and owner of Pulse 87 Online, who programmed Mega Media's New York dance station Pulse 87, believes a more mainstream approach would be more prudent.
He notes that Arbitron's Portable People Meter ratings system tends to favor mass-appeal formats like top 40 and worries that a niche approach won't resonate with a large enough audience to drive ratings and, therefore, revenue. "My belief has always been that for this to work as a format it has to be a dance-leaning top 40 as opposed to a dance station," he says.
Add in the fact that WHBA isn't a full-market signal and his concern becomes that if the station doesn't get ratings, the format will be dismissed by other broadcasters as ineffective. "If it doesn't work," Salkowitz says, "everyone will say, 'See? We told you it's not a format.'"
But Sprague, who says the station plays more mainstream music during the day to attract aang that brings this music to a wider audience."