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KPWR-FM Experiences Ups, Downs

The hip-hop station moves to No. 1 in Arbitron's ratings even though its audience has shrunk; rock favorite KROQ drops to No. 3.

July 19, 2002|STEVE CARNEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You can win for losing, according to KPWR-FM (105.9): The hip-hop outlet flouted the saying by jumping to No. 1 in the latest ratings despite experiencing a decline in its share of the Los Angeles radio audience.

Meanwhile, after a year in the top spot, alternative rocker KROQ-FM (106.7) dropped to third, according to the figures released this week by ratings service Arbitron chronicling the spring period from March 28 to June 19. Adult contemporary KOST-FM (103.5) dropped from third place in the winter ratings to fourth, while Spanish-language KSCA-FM (101.9) leapt from fourth to second, improving from 4% to a 4.7% share of listeners ages 12 and up.

While competing stations have continually tinkered with their formats, to varying success, KPWR "Power 106" is reaping the rewards of staying consistent, said Jimmy Steal, the station's program director and regional vice president for Emmis Communications-Los Angeles, which also owns country station KZLA-FM (93.9).

"I think great radio stations are like your friends. Before you feel comfortable with them, there has to be a pretty broad base of familiarity," Steal said. "Familiarity comes before passion."

He said the ideal formula for any station is to have a strong morning show, follow that up with good music throughout the day, and promote the station so listeners are aware of what it's doing and want to check it out. Part of the station's overall success this quarter came from a gain by Power 106's morning host, Big Boy, who rose from fourth to third, increasing his audience share from 4.4% to 4.7%.

Nevertheless, comedian Steve Harvey, on KKBT-FM (100.3), leapfrogged his competitor to once again claim the top English-language morning show in L.A., going from fifth to second, rising from a 4.2% share to a 5.1%.

"We felt we were slightly off in the winter ratings, and now we're back to where we should be," said Nancy Leichter, vice president and general manager of urban outlet KKBT, who said a fluke in Arbitron's use of Census data depressed the station's numbers during the last quarter. The spring figures put Harvey where he has been almost since he went on the air in September 2000 as the top English-language morning show. "It's a testament to his appeal to all types of listeners, all ages and shapes and sizes," she said.

Harvey remains far behind the morning drive's undisputed champion, KSCA's Renan Almendarez Coello, known as "El Cucuy."

"Renan is the engine," said Ken Christensen, vice president and general manager of Hispanic Broadcasting Corp.-Los Angeles, which owns KSCA. "The show is a combination of humor, issues--he speaks to the audience on all subject matter. It's funny, and it can be sad and dramatic."

Though he always remained comfortably in first place, Coello had dipped to 6.7% from 7.5% of the audience in the winter ratings but rebounded to 7.9% of morning listeners in the spring, far outpacing Harvey.

"We've always felt that Renan is one of those rare, unique, compelling personalities. People want to hear what he has to say. When you look at the ratings he's generating, it's just amazing," Christensen said.

KSCA almost equaled its 4.8 rating of last spring, after posting no better than a 4.2 rating in the intervening quarters. Christensen blamed the dip on competition from regional music station KXOL-FM (96.3), "El Sol," which he said temporarily drew listeners away, and said the higher ratings are partly due to the availability of new music, with many of the station's core artists such as Banda el Recodo, Conjunto Primavera and Los Tigres del Norte having come out with new music recently.

"There's some pretty good regional Mexican music out there," which has helped boost listening, he said. "The music kind of comes in cycles--sometimes it's good, sometimes it's not so good."

Hardest-hit in the latest ratings was KROQ, which saw its audience share drop from 5.1% to 4.3%. The station's morning team, Kevin & Bean, experienced a similar decline from second to fifth place.

At the time, Kevin Weatherly, KROQ's vice president of programming, said, "We know what goes up eventually comes down, so we're not taking anything for granted."

Power 106 experienced only a minor decline in its audience share from 6 a.m. to midnight but achieved first place status thanks to KROQ's steeper drop.

Steal acknowledged the vagaries of ratings--which Arbitron compiles by mailing diaries to listeners--saying, "KROQ is a great radio station. It didn't get less great in the last 90 days."

Steal said Power 106's success is a testament to the broad popularity and acceptance of rap music, which now appears on soundtracks for movies, extreme sports events and commercials. For three weeks, Nelly has led album charts; he displaced fellow rapper Eminem.

"A lot of rock stations will play hip-hop artists, because hip-hop is cooler than a lot of the rock that's out there now," Steal said. "Radio stations will continue to come after us, but we really have a pretty good relationship with our audience."

Big Boy, for example, "is part of his audience. He was born and raised here." And with station staff producing and mixing records for acts such as Jay-Z and Korn, Steal said, "we help create the culture that's reflected through the speakers."

In the talk arena, KFI-AM (640) maintained its lead over KABC-AM (790) with a 3.8 and 2.0 share, respectively, as both stations dipped slightly from the winter, as did FM talk station KLSX (97.1).

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