R&B Building Boom Is Back, Mood Service, Quick Hits And More

For a year whose format trends were often reactionary (super-soft AC, for instance), one of the most interesting was the mini-building boom in R&B and urban AC at the end of the year. In 2013, a few of the hip-hop/R&B powerhouses whose ratings had been abnormally low in the early days of Portable People Meter measurement started to stabilize. And when an adult R&B or R&B station could get the market to itself, like adult WBLS New York http://www.wbls.com, the numbers could be even better than before the days of PPM.

A lot of the R&B boom was powered by the continued proliferation of FM translators that effectively gave markets an extra frequency or two. On one hand, it was discouraging that it was so easy to launch a low-cost attack on the most successful stations in an already-challenged format. But it was also a reaffirmation of the format's strength that Cox's WJGL-HD-2 (Power 106) Jacksonville, Fla., or Clear Channel's WUSY-HD-2 Chattanooga, Tenn., could be in the 3- to 4-share range on translators. And at the end of the year, Clear Channel was committing to the format with two full-signal launches in Miami and Houston.

So then, followig Part I here is Part II of the Intriguing Stations of 2013:

WMIB (103.5 the Beat) Miami: In the '00s, Clear Channel's hip-hop/R&B stations did a lot to steer the format toward a decidedly more R&B, more recurrent approach. So it was interesting to see the Beat return as all-hip-hop with its surprisingly provocative attacks on market-leading WEDR, a station that wasn't particularly vulnerable (and seems to be holding up OK so far).

WAMJ (Majic 107.5) Atlanta:  Throughout the adult R&B format this year, there was a move away from the '70s to a more recent posture. Like with mainstream AC, modernization worked better in some places than others, but WAMJ was consistently successful and one of the best demonstrations of what a younger-leaning adult R&B format could sound like. 

SiriusXM’s the Highway; KAJA (KJ97) San Antonio: Country radio's reaction to its younger demo windfall was, if anything, to become a little more conservative musically this year. But KJ97 still finds its own hits, helped boost the unsigned Chase Rice and still led the market. The Highway, like top 40 sister Hits 1, plays songs that weren't on any other country station, including Blackjack Billy's "Booze Cruise," which sold around 150,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and, incredibly, didn't get picked up by a label. (But the act eventually did.) And its national platform has made the Highway into the Music Row community center that WSIX Nashville was in its Gerry House days, and that Cumulus' Nash-FM hopes to become.

WKLB Boston; WDSY (Y108) Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh has a long history with country radio. Boston was once thought to be one of those Northeastern markets where country wouldn't work. Both stations were No. 1 at various times in 2013, and now the discussion about country in the Northeast is really only about New York.

Music Choice’s Pop Country: As the longest-standing non-broadcast radio occupant of the infinite dial, Music Choice has long been available on cable. Now it's on desktop and mobile as well (at least for cable subscribers). And Music Choice is the one finally offering this young-leaning country/top 40-hybrid format that has been waiting to happen for the last five years.

KUPL (the Bull) Portland, Ore.: They battled to the country lead in Portland. Then as the Bull name took hold at KSD St. Louis and elsewhere, KUPL changed handles, reimaged and remained mostly in the lead. Meanwhile, as one country PD notes, the name wasn't necessarily ratings magic for everybody who snapped it up.

WDRC-FM Hartford, Conn.; KOLA Riverside, Calif.; Capital Radio Turkey: The late-'80s oldies boom pretty much wiped out gold-based AC—who would sit through currents when they could have the real thing? But in 2013, WREW (Rewind 94.9) Cincinnati segued to exactly that, while WOLL (Kool 105.5) West Palm Beach, Fla., which has usually played some '90s, began throwing in Katy Perry's "Roar" as well. KOLA and the always adventurous WDRC haven't gone quite that far, but they have pushed into the '90s in a way that indicates where most of the greatest-hits format could be in a few years. Turkey's Capital is a unique variant, most quickly explained as the Bob and Jack FM pop '80s and the rhythmic '90s together.

WLYK (Kiss 102.7) Kingston, Ontario: For anybody who was ever fascinated with "The Big 8," it's CKLW Detroit in reverse. Canada's broadcasters have always maintained that they would happily give the audience 15%-20% Canadian content—the amount they believe it really wants, rather than the government-mandated 35%-40%. Now, relaxed regulations on foreign LMAs have made it possible for Rogers Media to aim this Watertown, N.Y., license at Kingston, Ontario, meaning that we finally know what a Canadian owner would do without a Cancon requirement. Kiss does play some songs that are Canadian hits only, but only about two or three Canadian songs per hour—in other words, about 15%-20%. 

WYDS (Quickhitz 93.1) Decatur, Ill.: After a decade on the drawing board, the format of edited top 40 hits found its first taker, and at least a few radio people were willing to compare it to the early-'80s adrenaline rush of Mike Joseph's Hot Hits. There's no ratings evidence yet on how listeners will respond to a format that describes itself somewhat elliptically, but with songs lingering at top 40 for a while these days, it sure is nice hearing some of them be over in two minutes.

Radionomy: They've had a busy year since setting up shop in the United States: Radionomy has launched original programming, teamed up with Target Spot and perhaps saved Winamp. But the hobbyist stations they help cultivate in Europe gave me as much enjoyment this year as any pure-play. (Those stations are featured prominently on what is now called the "Internet" tab of iTunes.) For me, it was a Dutch oldies station (Jofox Radio) and an Austrian top 40 (Radio Hot 100) that became my go-to stations when I felt like hearing a great song that I didn't yet know. 

Songza: The term "mood service" was thrown around a lot in radio's most fragmented days. These days, broadcast radio barely mentions it, but it's the likely next frontier for programming creativity, and a big part of the Beats Audio launch. iHeart Radio's "Perfect For" tab is a mix of existing stations and new themed outlets, but Songza is starting 2014 as the mood service specialist.

What are your most intriguing stations of 2013? Let me know at sean.ross@billboard.com.