One unexpected triumph of Apple's foray into the world of streaming music services has been the reintroduction of semi-traditional radio as a potentially viable and unifying format. Apple Music's Beats 1 schedule serves as a personality-driven effort at bringing the planet together for a rare shared experience, be it Jaden Smith's very Jaden MSFTS FREQUENCY, Q-Tip's Abstract Radio, or Zane Lowe's BBC-cultivated mastery of making the format feel both intimate and gigantic. In short, the success has proven the power of experimentation within the format — making such an approach a necessity in today's instantaneous approach to consumption.
However, traditional radio — i.e. the kind you hear in a rental car when the aux cord is sadly M.I.A. — still struggles. Not even a year ago, Indianapolis station WRWM — then an adult contemporary outfit dubbed Indy's i94 — was experiencing another in a long series of slumps by wallowing in a lack of listener engagement, making it the 15th most popular station in its respective market. "We'd flipped so many times, it was really hard to build a fan base," Cumulus Media program director Davey Morris tells the New York Times in a recent profile. "We were never anybody's first choice."
Inspired by the success of Boom 92.1 in Houston, Morris and i94 program director Jay Michaels decided to endure another format change — this time with an ear toward the past. Boom 92.1 was heavy on classic 90s hip-hop and rap staples, an approach which had swiftly tripled their audience. After a test weekend which started with Michaels spinning Naughty by Nature's "Hip Hop Hooray," the station's phone "rang so much they had to clear the mailbox everyday."
In just three weeks, the station made the unlikely leap from the swamps of 15th place to the joys of first — prompting a name change from i94, mired in its adult contemporary past, to 93.9 The Beat. Inspired by the success of Boom 92.1, 93.9 The Beat, and others — the trend is now taking over cities across the country.
Once the voice of aging rock & roll purists, the Golden Oldies are now (finally) a highly profitable venture for the music of a different era.