Radio One launches old-school hip-hop station to battle The Beat

Indianapolis now has two old school hip-hop stations.

At 3 p.m. Monday, NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” hit the airwaves to herald Radio One’s launch of Boom 102.9 FM.

The new station is taking on Cumulus Media Inc., which in late 2014  ditched its Top 40 format on WRWM-FM 93.9 in favor of old school hip-hop tracks from the advent of rap and a couple of decades beyond.

Cumulus’ station, now branded The Beat, zoomed up 14 spots to No. 1 in local listenership, jumping from a 1.7 to a 7.7 rating, according to New York-based Nielsen Audio.

Unfortunately for Cumulus, The Beat couldn’t maintain its lofty status, and has slipped back to between a 3.5 and 4.6 rating in recent months, according to Nielsen.

Each rating point means 1 percent of people 6 years of age and older who are listening to radio at that time are tuned in to the station.

Radio One officials last year pioneered the old-school hip-hop format by launching a “Boom”-branded station in Houston. The company quickly brought the format to its stations in Philadelphia, Dallas, Memphis and Atlanta.

Radio One's Boom format has seen ratings swings similar to what The Beat has experienced here. The key indicator of success of the new format, Radio One CEO Alfred Liggins told investors on a conference call earlier this year: “Are you better off than what you had before?”

In Indianapolis, Radio One is broadcasting its new station on a high-definition translator it is leasing from Indiana Community Radio.

Radio One is feeding the “Boom” programming through the HD2 signal of its Top 40 WNOW-FM 100.9 station. That means the station will have lower power and less reach than most local radio stations, but it still should be strong enough to reach most of the Indianapolis market and certainly all of its urban core.

Radio Insight reported that Radio One is going commercial-free on Boom 102.9 until Jan. 11, when it begins airing the new Ed Lover and Monie Love morning show from Radio One-owned syndicator Reach Media.

With the addition of Boom 102.9 FM, Radio One now operates five stations in the Indianapolis market. In addition to WNOU, Boom 102.9 FM joins Radio One’s rhythmic contemporary station WHHH-FM 96.3, urban adult contemporary station WTLC-FM 106.7 and urban gospel station WTLC-AM 1310.

“Boom is the perfect complement to our cluster,” Chuck Williams, Radio One Indianapolis vice president and general manager, said in a statement. “Yes, we’re growing in size, but more importantly in depth of music variety and our ability to meet the diverse listening needs of our audience.”

The throwback hip-hop format has drawn an attractive demographic for advertisers, said Bruce Bryant, president of locally based Promotus Advertising.

“That’s the real power of this new format. It’s drawing from a broad cross-section,” Bryant told IBJ. “That’s appealing to advertisers.”

Cumulus Senior Vice President Jeff Brown thinks The Beat and Boom will have significantly different playlists.

“We have a completely different formula,” Brown explained. “Not just the music we play, but the presentation and promotion as well. We’ve created an up-tempo party environment that plays to the ’90s party environment.

“Our approach is rhythmic, hot [adult contemporary] music suburban soccer moms can enjoy while drinking a glass of wine or partying, as well as guys who grew up in the ’90s loving this music.”

Radio One’s decision to lead off with “Straight out of Compton” is a sign that its target audience could be quite different from The Boom's. A recent playlist from Boom's Philadelphia station included multiple songs by Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G., 2Pac, Aaliyah and Outkast—arguably pitched to a more urban audience.

While Brown said 60 percent of The Beat’s audience is white, local media buyers expect a higher percentage of The Boom’s listeners to be black.


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