Choosing Hip over Hype
|Listeners emerge from radio daze,
tuning out Hot 97 to pump up WBLSBy Errol Louis
orginal article-June 23, 2006
Here’s some news that will be music to the ears of the many New Yorkers who have grown sick of the vulgarity, violence and stale, payola-driven programming that has poisoned much of urban radio and black culture in general.According to the latest Arbitron figures, tens of thousands of listeners appear to be tuning out Hot 97 – which used to be ranked the No.1 hip hop/R&B station in New York – in favor of WBLS, which beat out Hot 97 in each of the last two ratings periods.
WBLS has been on a tear for the past year, thanks to its decision to hire two powerhouse broadcasters: Steve Harvey, who hosts a morning drive time talk-and-music show, and Wendy Williams, who holds down a block from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Harvey and Williams are seasoned radio personalities who bring wit, intelligence and a positive message to a mostly black audience that is hungry for quality.
You don’t hear the b-word or N-word tossed around on WBLS; Harvey and Williams are too classy to insult their audience that way. And listeners have responded in droves.
According to Arbitron, WBLS had 3.1f the city’s teen and adult radio listeners last winter, but has increased its audience size over each of the last four ratings periods, building its share up to 3.9àDuring the same time, Hot 97 slipped steadily from 4.5f listeners to 3.7à
In plain English, WBLS now draws about 30,664 more listeners than Hot 97 during any given period between 6 a.m. and midnight. That can translate into millions of advertising dollars moving from the losing station to the winner.
The numbers are a victory for community groups that called for a boycott of Hot 97 following its repeated broadcast of a sickening song parody that mocked victims of the 2004 tsunami that devastated Asia. More negative press dogged the station thanks to three shootings in front of its office over the last few years by the entourages of rappers invited by – and sometimes incited by – station deejays.
The decline of “Shot 97″ provides powerful evidence that positive, quality programming ultimately wins more listeners – and advertising dollars – than shallow shock radio.
Power 105.1, the third urban-format station, has been dropping in the rankings as well, losing to WBLS earlier this year and barely eking out a win most recently with 4f listeners. The station’s rankings may continue to fall, thanks to the recent, career-ending tirade of Power 105.1′s ex-morning host, Troi (Star) Torain, who got a pink slip and a criminal indictment after threatening, on-air, to sexually assault the 4-year-old child of a rival deejay at (where else?) Hot 97.
“The hip-hop stations are losing audience share all over the country. How much can you hear about Jay-Z?” says Paul Porter, a media critic who runs a Web site, IndustryEars.com. “Steve Harvey’s topical; he’ll point out things you won’t get on other shows. He’s going to be the biggest voice in black radio.”
Credit for the changing mood also goes to groups like the Boston-based Seymour Institute, a black think tank, that have been quietly waging an effort, church by church, to mobilize the black middle-class against the hedonistic and violent lyrics and imagery that have sprouted in hip-hop culture like weeds.
“There is a cultural marketing machine that pushes toxic entertainment upon black adults, adolescents and children each day,” says the Seymour group in a recent manifesto. “There is no need for the black community to be complicit in its own degradation.”
The same message is being echoed by local grass-roots groups, from www.abolishthenword.com to an organization from a Bronx church called the Council of Bad Language Disdainers.
Cultural politics aside, Harvey and Williams are succeeding because they do radio the way it should be: smooth and smart. Tune into 107.5 FM and listen for yourself.