Complex checked the stats, talked to the bosses, and found out who's running the city.
Written by Brad Wete (@BradWete)
“Times like this are when I deliver the death blow,” Funkmaster Flex said two weeks ago amidst a bevy of bomb drops during his nightly radio show on Hot 97 (WQHT 97.1 FM). The veteran New York DJ was premiering Rick Ross’ latest single “3 Kings,” a major collaboration featuring Dr. Dre and Jay-Z. When Flex boasts about debuting another track recorded by rap royalty, he's not just talking to his audience of hip-hop heads, he's also addressing the competition—specifically his arch-rival DJ Clue. “I’m heard in the Tri-State. And I’m heard on that Internet. I’m the DJ that matters when it comes to things like this.”
I’m heard in the Tri-State. And I’m heard on that Internet. I’m the DJ that matters when it comes to things like this.
Flex is mostly correct. For nearly 20 years he has been a fixture on Hot 97, rising to become the station’s ace DJ and biggest personality. He’s the artist that mega-star rappers turn to when it’s time to release their new heat. Nas gave Flex “Ether” first. Jay-Z gave Flex “D.O.A.” (with a shout-out in the song), then when he partnered with Kanye West for Watch the Throne, the pair let Flex debut their single “Otis.”
Although Flex's notoriety appears as strong as it’s ever been, the latest statistics show that he and Hot 97 are no longer the top dogs when it comes to New York rap radio. Earlier this year, DJ Clue of Power 105 (WWPR 105.1 FM) took to Twitter, showing off the stat sheet that proved he had beaten Funkmaster Flex in ratings during the month of February in their 6-10 p.m. time slot.
What followed was an exhibition of Flex’s legendary attitude—a potent mix of brand pride and stubborn, unrelenting bravado. In rare form and heated by Clue’s social media posturing, Flex hopped on the air, and claimed to have hacked Clue’s email account that day and stolen Nicki Minaj’s “Beez in the Trap,” which was allegedly supposed to debut on Clue's show. But after one of his lengthier on-air rants, Flex played the song on his show instead.
“I ain’t hold this crown for so many years for some boxhead cornball to get a record tonight that you thought you was gonna get. Now you just shut up, OK?” he told Clue over the airwaves. “How many times does this have to happen to you, Charlie Brown? You'll never kick the football! Never! Hot 97—I reign supreme nationally in this radio thing! Let me know if you want a lesson."
In a recent interview with Complex, Hot 97 programming director Ebro Darden said he’s enjoying the radio tussle. “Radio personalities have always taken shots—Howard Stern with Opie and Anthony, Rush Limbaugh with Sean Hannity, Red Alert with Marley Marl and Frankie Crocker with KISS-FM," Darden explained. "This is fun, like a basketball game or football game.”
Deciding not to respond on the air, Clue took to Twitter to say, “And for the record, I don't have ‘beef’ with anyone or anybody. Beef over TV, radio, and social formats is corny. Bitch niggas do that. I'm good." He may have passed on the offer of a tutorial because he and his crew are doing a lot of winning lately.
As the saying goes, "Men lie. Women lie. But numbers don’t." Statistics from Arbitron, the ratings service that gathers data on all major radio markets, reveals than Power 105 has beaten Hot 97 in ratings for the last three months (April, May, and June), from 6 a.m. to midnight.
Darden, who often refers to Power as “Poser,” is quick to mention that the stat was a reflection on Arbitron's 6+ rating system and the general marketplace. “They beat us with people age 6 to 65!” he says. “Hot 97 is not for old people and children.” But a closer look at the stats reveals that Hot 97 isn’t exactly dominating their target audience either.
It’s a dogfight... Quite simply, more people are listening to Power.
—WWPR's 'Cadillac' Jack McCartney.
Competing for the ears of roughly 4.4 million 18 to 34-year-olds in the New York metropolitan area, Hot 97 has been averaging 7.5% of the market share to Power’s 7.3% for the last five months.
“It’s a dogfight,” says Power 105’s programming director “Cadillac” Jack McCartney. “If you want to slice and dice it some more,” Jack continues, “we’ve also won every month with teens (12-17), three of the last five with 18-34 year-olds, and four of the last five with 25-54-year-olds. Seeing a pattern here? Quite simply, that means that more people are listening to Power.”
Another one of Hot 97’s strongest assets is midday host Angie Martinez, but even she has somebody at Power 105 nipping at her heels. “We have Prostyle on up against her,” Jack says, "and in the last five months during her 3-7 p.m. time slot, Pro has won twice, and we’ve tied the other time.”
Hot 97’s morning show with Peter Rosenberg and Cipha Sounds is also underachieving, losing to Power’s Breakfast Club trio of DJ Envy, Angela Yee and Charlamagne Tha God on a regular basis.
Hot 97’s morning show with Peter Rosenberg and Cipha Sounds is also underachieving, losing to Power’s Breakfast Club trio of DJ Envy, Angela Yee and Charlamagne Tha God on a regular basis. “Clearly we have the best urban morning show in the country,” says Jack. Statistics show they’ve beaten Hot 97 every month this year in each demographic, including 18-34.
What Hot 97 does have over Power 105 is strong legacy and admiration amongst the rappers they play on their station. Established in 1988, Hot 97 is still the station that young rhymers dream of hearing their music on. An interview with Angie Martinez or getting Flex to drop a bomb on your record is considered a rite of passage. And while Power 105 has been going strong for more than a decade now, in many ways, it's still considered an upstart.
A quick search for lyrical references to Hot 97 compared to Power 105 mentions shows an overwhelming win in 97’s favor, especially from New York artists. (Power 105 has even made special radio edits of certain songs, like Biggie's "Juicy," deleting references to Funkmaster Flex.) Darden knows why.
“Hot 97 is the only station that continually supports and breaks New York hip-hop artists,” he says. “We are continually in the community helping young people have a voice. Hip-hop is a culture created to enable those that did not have representatives, be represented—their fantasies, their fears, their anger, their desire to be carefree and party, their dress, and everything in between. For better or for worse Hot 97, has been a part of the fabric of New York hip-hop and we continue to be. Ask any artist from New York what we have done to help them change their circumstances and chase their dreams. Then ask about Poser."
Hot 97 has been a part of the fabric of New York hip-hop and we continue to be. Ask any artist from New York what we have done to help them change their circumstances and chase their dreams. Then ask about 'Poser.'
—WQHT's Ebro Darden
While Jack respects 97’s history, he also believes that their current on-air staff, packed with older veterans, may be soon left in the dust.
“Hot 97 and its personalities have been around for a long, long time,” he explains. “Someone who was 21 when Hot signed on could listen to personalities their own age playing hip-hop music on the radio. Now, though, those same people are in their 40s. Today’s 21-year-old has only known two hip-hop stations in NYC and better relates to Power 105’s younger personalities, who are more in their demographic.”
Still, Darden believes Hot 97 team will win out in the long run. He compares his team to New York’s most heralded baseball club—the Yankees. That makes Power 105 the other team. “Just ask a Mets fan how they feel year after year when the Mets appear to be doing better than the Yankees,” he jokes. “Still no championship.”
But with their current streak of wins and the way Power 105 is competing where it counts, Jack has a question of his own to ask: “Come on, who would you rather be?”