Two radio newcomers known as Hank and Jack are two-stepping and fist-pumping their way up the local radio ratings ladder. Meanwhile, stalwarts WFMS-FM 95.5 and WFBQ-FM 94.7 have found their grips on the top rungs loosening.
The first major reshuffling in local radio station ratings in nearly a decade is having wide-ranging effects on advertising demand and rates. The release of New York-based Arbitron Inc.'s spring rating book July 29 touched off a flurry of debate about who won and lost in the April-through-June quarter.
The battle for supremacy, though, is far from over. Media buyers and advertisers said the fallout likely will extend into 2006.
"We're seeing some wild bounces right now that this market hasn't seen in a very long time," said David Edgar, director of Indianapolis-based Emmis Communications Corp.'s local FM properties, which include new country station WLHK-FM 97.1, as well as adult contemporary WYXB-FM 105.7. "I think you're just seeing the first shot in this battle and it will probably take 12 months for the dust to settle."
The March format changes of WLHK, also known as Hank, and Pennsylvaniabased Susquehanna Radio Corp.'s WJJKFM 104.5, now playing the almost-anything-goes Jack format, had repercussions for many of the other stations in the market.
With listeners 12 and older, Arbitron ranked Jack and Hank as No. 6 and No. 7, respectively. Both made significant gains over the stations' previous formats in the18-34 and 25-54 age groups, two of the most sought after by advertisers.
WKLU-FM 101.9, which changed its format from an eclectic mix to more traditional rock 'n' roll this year, also saw a major ratings gain, industry observers said, likely snatching listeners from WFBQ and adult contemporary stations.
Officials for WLHK and WJJK said they've seen significant increases in advertising demand. Though station officials are hesitant to discuss rates, media buyers said the markets' top two or three stations can generally charge as much as $300 to $400 for a 60-second spot, quickly falling off to $120 to $140 for the rest of the top 10.
Local ratings are based on diaries of listeners, representing the cumulative market population of 1.29 million. The number of people who listen at some point during the week and how long they listen are factored into the ratings.
"There's a lot to digest here," said Bill Perkins, longtime local media buyer and president of Perkins Nichols Media. "It's pretty difficult to make significant gains in this market, so there's added significance in this ratings period."
Susquehanna-owned WFMS, the market's country music powerhouse, remained the market's No. 1 station with listeners 12 and up and with the vaunted 25-54 age group.
For six straight years, WFMS has reigned supreme, but even it saw its share drop more than one percentage point. Last spring, WFMS had 10.7 percent of the local listening audience ages 25-54, and this year it had 9.2 percent.
"There's still a lot of power in this medium for advertisers, and with more parity than ever in this market, advertisers will want to drill down farther to take a closer look at these numbers," said Jay Schemanske, associate director of media in the local office of Optimedia, a division of Publicis Group.
Maryland-based Radio One's WHHHFM 96.3 continues to have a strong grip on younger listeners. It was No. 2 in the market with those 12 and up, leaping over WFBQ. Among 18-to-34-year-olds, WHHH was No. 1 with men and women, a first for the hip-hop oriented station, said Chuck Williams, Radio One's vice president and general manager.
"I give a lot of credit to our on-air talent and also the quality of music," Williams said. "Hip-hop music is what top 40 radio used to be. It's the music in commercials, TV and the movies. That really drives this."
WFMS held up well despite the launch of WLHK, the city's second country station, Susquehanna's locally based Vice President Charlie Morgan said. Before a format change, WLHK had been struggling light rock station WENS.
In the critical 25-54 age group, WLHK garnered a 4.8 percent share, compared to WENS' 3.0 in the same period last year.
Morgan also was pleased with the performance of WJJK, which rolled out the irreverent Jack format, blending a wide range of rock and adult contemporary music.
WJJK posted a 7.4 share among listeners 25-54, compared with 5.2 for WGLD, the oldies station it replaced. Jack ranked No. 3 in that age group behind WFMS and WFBQ, which slid from 12.6 a year ago to 8.8 in the most recent quarter.
"It looks like WFBQ might have gotten hit on both sides," Perkins said. "They might have lost some listeners to the new Jack format and also some to WKLU and maybe even Hank."
WKLU, owned by a Florida radio entrepreneur, grew its share of the 25-54 age group to 5.0 from 1.4 a year ago. WKLU ranked ninth in the market among listeners 12 and up and tied for seventh with WIBCAM 1070 among listeners 25-54. The station didn't crack the top 20 last year.
"WKLU has grown mainly through a strong grass-roots effort, and they've come a long way, baby," Perkins said. "Advertisers will likely take notice, but their next jump up may be their most difficult."
Officials with Texas-based Clear Channel are confident music samplers will come back to WFBQ, thanks in part to its deals to broadcast Indianapolis Colts football games and Indiana University basketball.
"This is not the first time Clear Channel and WFBQ in particular has been targeted by competition in this market," said Chris Wheat, Indianapolis market manager for Clear Channel Communications-which operates WFBQ-FM 94.7, WRZXFM 103.3 and WNDE-AM 1260. "We think with our mix of music, on-air talent and local news, a lot of listeners who are sampling will come back."
Wheat scoffs at the notion that WFBQ's listeners are getting older and less attractive to advertisers, pointing out the Bob & Tom morning show still ranks No. 1 with listeners 18-34. "We have a 15.7 share for that time slot, and WHHH has a 13," Wheat said.
Media buyers said the unknown impact of WJJK and WLHK added to the intrigue of the most recent ratings period.
"I'm not sure anyone knew exactly who would be attracted to the Jack and Hank formats," Susquehanna's Morgan said. "We think we took the biggest risk with our format change, and we were thrilled with the way the ratings turned out."
Morgan said Susquehanna "blew up a pretty successful WGLD" to launch Jack. In addition, Morgan said, Susquehanna officials were concerned that WJJK might cannibalize WFMS.
While Jack attracted a smaller audience among listeners 55 and older than did WGLD, which had been ranked No. 6 in the market, WJJK moved up to No. 3 in the 25-54 age group, leaving its share just 1.4 points shy of WFBQ's.
"Of course it depends on the product or service you're selling, but a lot of advertisers put a great deal of value in the younger audience set," Optimedia's Schemanske said. "That's seen as an upwardly mobile audience that will be around for a number of years."