Over the last year, Sirius XM's 20 On 20, which began as an ongoing countdown channel, has morphed into something even more intriguing, the most elaborate effort to date at a CHR "new music discovery" channel. 20 On 20 is still very much a work in progress, including a name that makes more sense with the old format than the new one, but now its influence is being felt, at least modestly, on FM.
On Sept. 4, Cumulus switched one of its Atlanta FM translators to " Q100/20 at 97.9" as a new music CHR. The change came on the heels of Clear Channel launching Top 40 WWPW (Power 96.1) and taking on Cumulus' WWWQ (Q100). The new launches give Atlanta five stations on the Top 40 spectrum between Adult CHR WSTR (Star 94) and Rhythmic WWVA-FM (Wild 96.7), not bad for yet another market where CHR's miracle rebound came relatively late.
Weeks after its launch, Q100/20 has a Facebook page, but no Website and no apparent presence on the Q100 site. To listen outside the market, you have to find the station under its old Journey 97.9 handle on iHeartRadio's streaming app. That has already prompted speculation elsewhere about a stunt format, but it hardly matters since HD-2/FM translator combos are typically used for a cluster's strategic needs of the moment, whether that's a month or nine months. And under any scenario, the new station deserves mention on several counts:
It's a confirmation that the Sirius XM version of 20 On 20 has achieved a certain amount of traction. With PPM, consolidation and overall conservatism whittling CHR down to a handful of legitimate (and still relatively homogenous) hits, a national radio station built around music discovery has an obvious franchise -- both with listeners and among industry people looking to expose new music. With Q100/20's launch, 20 On 20 joins Alt Nation, the Bridge, and others among satellite formats that have now had an impact on the outside world.
Atlanta also shows how the CHR playbook has changed. Not long ago, if Clear Channel wanted to go after Q100, it would have done so with something far more rhythmic. Instead, Q100 is just tight enough (adding "Some Nights" and "Too Close" when they were top 15) and pop-leaning enough (playing Coldplay, Matchbox Twenty, and Philip Phillips) that Power 96.1 can place itself at the format's center and still be a little bit to the left of Q100, leaving room for Wild 96.7 to remain rhythmic. Meanwhile, Q100/20 plays more Hip-Hop than Q100 or Power, but it's hardly head-up against Wild; teen pop is just as big a point of differentiation. There's plenty of music shared with Q100 -- about 40% of the songs we heard -- but the lack of recurrents and gold make it a very different station.
The Q100/20 launch is not unlike the "Hot Country" battles of the early '90s. In that era, a new Country station would sign on with a similar mainstream format to its competitor, but with a more aggressive presentation and the advantage of "new car smell." On several occasions, the incumbent responded by flanking itself with a truly younger Country station. Those stations were some of Country's most interesting experiments, anticipating Country's eventual place as a teen-friendly format by nearly two decades.
A few readers asked me if Clear Channel's new CHR can be diluted by Cumulus' even newer CHR. But the two stations have very different strategies that barely intersect. Power is running heavy TV advertising; it's trying to project bigness and starpower. Q100/20 is a flanker protecting a young end that Power isn't particularly targeting (but might have attracted anyway just by dint of being newer). Q100/20 is also using new music discovery as a point of differentiation. I believe strongly that will become a viable franchise for somebody, but until the first breakthrough, it's in bold defiance of PPM law.
Both Power 96.1 and Q100/20 are also, in different ways, tapping into the legacy of WAPW (Power 99), the station whose frequency Q100 now occupies. In the late '80s/early '90s, Power was one of CHR's most musically aggressive stations, and I have this oddity in my library to prove it. Then Atlanta lost Top 40 for several years. When WSTR (Star 94) segued back to CHR from Hot AC in the mid-'90s, it did so gingerly, and thus the South, once the most aggressive region for new music, became one of the most conservative.
New Music CHR is a format that has, until now, lived online, on satellite, and on HD-2-only stations. Because it's typically jockless, as is the case here, no station has really tapped into the excitement of music discovery, or fully exploited its abilities for curation. And while there are exceptions, there's also a PD tendency in this format to supplement the rhythmic pop that is already on the charts with more rhythmic pop. It's every other genre where the potential hits still stack up waiting for a limited number of slots to open up.
Here's Q100/20 at 9 a.m. on Sept. 13:
Justin Bieber, "As Long As You Love Me"
Chris Brown, "Don't Wake Me Up"
Flo Rida, "Whistle"
David Guetta f/Sia, "Titanium"
Meek Mill f/Drake, "Amen"
Big Time Rush, "Windows Down"
Owl City & Carly Rae Jepsen, "Good Time"
Enrique Iglesias f/Sammy Adams, "Finally Found You"
Nicki Minaj, "Pound The Alarm"
Taylor Swift, "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"
Manika, "Good Girl"
Megan & Liz, "Bad For Me"
Karmin, "Hello" (had played at 8:57)
Thomas Fiss, "Let Go"
Kanye West, "Mercy"