Inside the Big Debut of The Bounce, Detroit's Throwback Hip-Hop Radio King

Outkast photographed in 1995.
Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Outkast photographed in 1995.

If the throwback Hip-Hop and R&B format was going to be phenomenal anywhere, it was going to be Detroit. 

Detroit loves Hip-Hop, R&B and radio. For the most part, Hip-Hop and R&B have been the mass-appeal genres of music in the market for more than 25 years -- the thing that unites city and suburbs. When Top 40 has been successful in Detroit, it has been rhythmic leaning, with few interruptions or exceptions. 

Even during radio’s greatest period of music and cultural primacy, broadcast radio always seemed to mean even more in Detroit than elsewhere, and that still feels like the case now. 

In 1980, Doubleday’s WLLZ galvanized the market by grabbing a 7.8 share of 12-plus listening in its first ratings book. But in the four years I spent within earshot of Detroit radio in that era, numerous stations had their moment, often (but not always) with some form of R&B.  Every station had its core, but some listeners followed the excitement from Country to Adult Contemporary to Urban.

WMGC (105.1 The Bounce) Detroit, Greater Media’s recently launched throwback R&B and Hip-Hop station, didn’t just match WLLZ’s early days. In the Nielsen’s July radio ratings, WMGC debuted with a 3.1 share of market listening that covered just a few weeks of July. After that, the only suspense was just how big The Bounce was going to be. In the August monthly, the Bounce posted an 8.0 share among 6-plus listeners. Ratings periods in WLLZ’s day lasted three months; the Bounce did this in six weeks.

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With The Bounce’s debut, every R&B/Hip-Hop and Urban AC station in Detroit was down in August. But so were both Top 40s, including WKQI (Channel 95.5), which played most of the Bounce’s music when it was new. Altogether, fourteen music stations were down in August. Only three were up. And given the history of the market, it’s not ridiculous to think that the Bounce might have siphoned listening from Hot AC/Adult Top 40, Classic Rock, and Country stations as well.  

The Bounce also topped the throwback Hip-Hop/R&B format’s most publicized success story so far. WRWM (the Beat) Indianapolis went 2.8 to 7.7 in January 2015. That station inspired owner Cumulus Media to launch a syndicated throwback format that managed a 4-share on a low-powered FM translator in Erie, Pa.-- a market that had never had any form of commercial Hip-Hop/R&B radio before.

The Bounce’s owner, Greater Media, also owns WBQT (Hot 96.9) Boston, which began the throwback trend several years ago. The rapid levelling off of stations like WRWM has thus far kept the throwback format from ever really exploding, but WBQT remains a solid performer after more than three years, and leads the current-based Hip-Hop station WJMN. In Seattle, KHTP (Hot 103.7) is still growing after three years, partially because it essentially forced out WJMN’s Seattle counterpart, KUBE. (That station is now a minor player on a suburban FM signal.) And with the success of the Bounce, it seems likely that somebody is preparing a similar flip, even as you read this. 

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At this writing, the Bounce is primarily unhosted music and promos. The launch list is tight -- 250 songs -- and a few songs are playing 20 times a week. There’s nothing from before 1990, and almost nothing from before 1993. There’s also none of the underground East Coast Hip-Hop that stations outside the northeast often grapple with -- no Wu-Tang Clan, no A Tribe Called Quest, no Eric B & Rakim. Even in Indianapolis, WRWM tried to play some of those records.

Here’s the Bounce at 2 p.m. on August 30, shortly after the ratings were released:

  • Akon f/Eminem, "Smack That"
  • Chris Brown, "Run It!" (this was hours before Brown’s arrest)
  • 2pac, "Changes"
  • Outkast, "Hey Ya"
  • Usher, "Nice & Slow"
  • Big Tymers, "Still Fly"
  • Blackstreet, "No Diggity"
  • Jay Z, "Dirt off Your Shoulder"
  • Aaliyah, "Miss You"
  • Snoop Doggy Dogg, "Ain’t No Fun"
  • Dr. Dre, "Forgot About Dre"
  • T.I., "Whatever You Like"
  • Joe, "I Wanna Know"
  • Junior M.A.F.I.A., "Player’s Anthem"
  • Chris Brown, "Kiss Kiss"
  • Nas, "Hate Me Now"
  • Luniz, "I Got 5 On It"
  • Nelly, "Ride Wit Me"
  • Montell Jordan, "This is How We Do It"
  • Ludacris, "Pimpin’ All Over The World"
  • 2pac, "Keep Ya Head Up"
  • Lil’ Kim, "Magic Stick"

Between the July and August ratings, after it became clear that The Bounce was headed for a phenomenal debut, it was announced that Greater Media had been sold to another well-respected operator, Beasley Broadcast Group. Speculating about the Bounce’s future isn’t the intended focus of this story, but the history of the market suggests both that Detroiters will always care about hearing ‘90s Hip-Hop and that the pieces in the market will keep moving. 


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