Ratings, Demographics Respond to KHHT Shift
By CLAUDIA PESCHIUTTA
The music is a mix of soulful ballads and upbeat dance tunes. Think early Janet Jackson and Boyz II Men, perhaps with a little Marvin Gaye thrown in. Think also younger performers like Ashanti and pop sensation Alicia Keys.
They all fall under the unwieldy name of “Rhythmic Hot AC” (Adult Contemporary) that radio station KHHT-FM “Hot 92.3” has embraced since last August and which has resulted in rising ratings.
The mix of new and old rhythm and blues brought the station a 3.3 share in the latest Arbitron winter ratings period (Jan. 3-March 27). That’s the strongest showing in more than a year and helped the station crack L.A.’s top 10 No. 9, up from No. 13 last summer when the station was known as “Mega 92.3.” (Overall, KROQ-FM (106.7) strengthened its hold on No. 1 with a 5.1 ratings share, up from 5.0 in the fall.)
The Mega format played “jammin’ oldies,” or R & B; oldies that targeted English-speaking Latino listeners and put it in competition with several strong Spanish-language stations, such as KSCA-FM (101.9) and KLVE-FM (107.5). Though Latinos account for nearly 40 percent of listeners in the L.A. radio market, only about half primarily listen to English-language stations.
“Hot” has attracted not only some of those Latino listeners, but many black and listeners in the “other” demographic category that includes whites and Asians.
“(Hot) is different from anything that’s out there right now,” said Mary Beth Garber, president of the Southern California Broadcasters Association. “If you can be the next new, hot idea, then you can make a whole lot of money. Look at Viagra.”
While stations tend to see a temporary spike in ratings after making a change, such as switching formats or introducing a new personality, KHHT’s initial success appears to go beyond curiosity seekers.
Last August, station owner Clear Channel Communications Inc. completely revamped KHHT when it changed formats. Latino comedian George Lopez was replaced as morning host with black comedian Sinbad.
His appearance on KHHT corresponded with a ratings drop for KKBT-FM “The Beat” (100.3) morning man Steve Harvey, another well-known black comedian. Overall, The Beat fell to a 3.3 ratings share in the winter period (Jan. 3-March 27) among listeners 12 and older, down from a 4.3 in the fall. The hip-hop and R & B; station came in one spot behind Hot.
The ratings at another competitor, KTWV-FM (94.7), have been falling slightly since last summer and the smooth jazz station ended up just ahead of Hot with a 3.4 share. “Hot probably took it from both (stations),” said Don Barrett, founder of LARadio.com, a local industry Web site.
But Nancy Leichter, vice president and general manager of KKBT, maintained that the station’s ratings decline was due to statistical adjustments Arbitron made to reflect population data from the 2000 U.S. Census.
Even so, KHHT’s advances have become the talk of the local radio market and many are citing the format’s appeal to more than one ethnicity as the reason for the gains.
“If you want to be a majority player in the market, you have to span more than one ethnic group or one age group,” said Allen Klein, president of Media Research Graphics Inc., a media consulting firm in Encino.
“Stations target specific audiences and the music (mix) that they design is sometimes targeted so heavily at one section of the marketplace that they kind of eliminate reaching other sections,” Klein said.
Genre gains popularity
R & B;’s popularity has grown is even influencing other genres, such as hip-hop, said Dontay Thompson, rhythmic editor for Radio & Records magazine. Several R & B; artists have become pop sensations, most notably Alicia Keys, who won five Grammy awards earlier this year.
“If you look at the music that’s being played and the artists that are coming out, it’s more R & B; driven,” Thompson said. “It’s more musical and those are the things people want to hear more of nowadays.”
KHHT seems to have filled a void by playing a more contemporary mix of R & B; oldies that appeals to younger listeners.
“All people doing business in the most diversely populated city in the U.S. should take serious note of this new hybrid form that has successfully married Latinos, African Americans and Anglos on one frequency,” Roy Laughlin, Clear Channel L.A. area regional vice president, said in an e-mail.