WFMS regains radio ratings lead in country showdown

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The earth shook all the way down-yonder to Ryman Auditorium. Listeners choked on their Moon Pies and swallowed their Skoal.

Country music newcomer WLHK-FM 97.1 “Hank FM” last April dethroned Indianapolis country king WFMS-FM 95.5 in the ratings among listeners ages 6 and above.

WFMS, you see, has been the Country Music Association’s large market station-of-the-year for a long, long time.

WFMS regained its lead the following month and held onto it in June, but only by the slightest of margins. WFMS had the city’s top radio share at 8.4 vs. No. 2 WLHK’s 8.2 percent, according to Arbitron.

“It’s more of a beauty pageant number,” said Mark Hamlin, program director of Cumulus Media-owned WFMS.

Hamlin is glad to have it, of course, but he can’t be thrilled with what other key ratings data important to advertisers are showing.

In June, Emmis Communications Corp.’s WLHK had the biggest average share of listeners ages 18-34 and 18-49 between 6 a.m. and midnight in the market. 

In the age 25 to 54 category watched by ad buyers, WLHK was second last month to WZPL-FM 99.5, followed closely by WFMS.

“We beat WFMS pretty soundly,” said Bob Richards, program director and on-air personality at WLHK.

Arch-rival Hamlin, at WFMS, will tell you that his station still out-billed WLHK in ad sales.

Of course that’s something harder to prove than which critter raided the henhouse.

WFMS also has tradition going for it. “The heritage—we’ve been here for 36 years and we’re part of people’s lives—that’s a big thing in country music,” Hamlin added.

Indianapolis-based Emmis converted 97.1 from soft rock to country in 2005. To many in country music circles, Emmis was misleading itself to think it could take on an institution the likes of WFMS.

One thing that helped was that Emmis hired several former WFMS personalities, including Richards, J.D. Cannon and Charlie Morgan, who is senior vice president and marketing manager for Emmis’ Indianapolis stations.

Hold your horses—it’s not that simple, Hamlin says. “I think the real story is the increased appreciation of country music in this market.”
Hamlin can’t think of a similar-sized market anywhere in the U.S. where country stations were No. 1 and No. 2 in the ratings among key demographics.

 Not even Nashville and Dallas have such a country music hankering as far as the ratings book goes.

“It’s a great market for country music,” he said.


  • Yee Haw
    Well, golly gee, there big city writer -- you sure packed more condescending stereotypical lines about country music in one article than an ol' boy could shake a stick at. I'll bet you think you're purty clever lookin' down your nose at us fans that way. Could hardly wait to see what you'd write if an urban music station was the ratings winner. Would it be this offensive, too?
  • G or PG
    Both are good. If I want some news with my music, I will listen to WFMS. But, if I want music, it's Hank that this 50yr old retired Navy will listen to. Hank also has the PG version of songs to where WFMS will make it G. There are just some songs that needs PG version, make you stand tall and proud to be American. I am sure you know what one's I am talking about.

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  1. to mention the rest of Molly's experience- she served as Communications Director for the Indianapolis Department of Public Works and also did communications for the state. She's incredibly qualified for this role and has a real love for Indianapolis and Indiana. Best of luck to her!

  2. Shall we not demand the same scrutiny for law schools, med schools, heaven forbid, business schools, etc.? How many law school grads are servers? How many business start ups fail and how many business grads get low paying jobs because there are so few high paying positions available? Why does our legislature continue to demean public schools and give taxpayer dollars to charters and private schools, ($171 million last year), rather than investing in our community schools? We are on a course of disaster regarding our public school attitudes unless we change our thinking in a short time.

  3. I agree with the other reader's comment about the chunky tomato soup. I found myself wanting a breadstick to dip into it. It tasted more like a marinara sauce; I couldn't eat it as a soup. In general, I liked the place... but doubt that I'll frequent it once the novelty wears off.

  4. The Indiana toll road used to have some of the cleanest bathrooms you could find on the road. After the lease they went downhill quickly. While not the grossest you'll see, they hover a bit below average. Am not sure if this is indicative of the entire deal or merely a portion of it. But the goals of anyone taking over the lease will always be at odds. The fewer repairs they make, the more money they earn since they have a virtual monopoly on travel from Cleveland to Chicago. So they only comply to satisfy the rules. It's hard to hand public works over to private enterprise. The incentives are misaligned. In true competition, you'd have multiple roads, each build by different companies motivated to make theirs more attractive. Working to attract customers is very different than working to maximize profit on people who have no choice but to choose your road. Of course, we all know two roads would be even more ridiculous.

  5. The State is in a perfect position. The consortium overpaid for leasing the toll road. Good for the State. The money they paid is being used across the State to upgrade roads and bridges and employ people at at time most of the country is scrambling to fund basic repairs. Good for the State. Indiana taxpayers are no longer subsidizing the toll roads to the tune of millions a year as we had for the last 20 years because the legislature did not have the guts to raise tolls. Good for the State. If the consortium fails, they either find another operator, acceptable to the State, to buy them out or the road gets turned back over to the State and we keep the Billions. Good for the State. Pat Bauer is no longer the Majority or Minority Leader of the House. Good for the State. Anyway you look at this, the State received billions of dollars for an assett the taxpayers were subsidizing, the State does not have to pay to maintain the road for 70 years. I am having trouble seeing the downside.