Charlie Cook On Air

Why Is There No Country Station In New York?

Arbitron says that there are almost 16 million people in the New York Metro area. I counted 97 stations getting some mention in a recent ratings month. Some were out of market but still collected listening in the NY metro.

Really? 16 million people and 97 stations (some getting listening only from a family in Queens) and no room for a Country station? To be fair, four of the 97 stations are programming country but none are major players or registering significant levels.

None of the big boys are willing to step up and give Country Radio a shot in New York? Clear Channel is the most successful company when it comes to programming Country. They have some of the smartest programmers in the format. Gregg Swedberg could jump in there and be hugely successful.

CBS has Country stations in Chicago and Detroit and outside of LA in Riverside and they do well. They have people who could do it. Though looking at their stations I don’t know who would change format. Those two companies are killing it in New York. Maybe WWFS would do better in Country, though a 3 million-plus cume is not something to walk away from any time soon.

Emmis, who should still be kicking themselves for flipping KZLA/Los Angeles before PPM years ago, has two Urban stations down the rankings ladder a bit. They have smart Country guys in Indianapolis with Bob Richards and Charlie Morgan. They could do it.

I suspect Cumulus will try and fix WPLJ before giving up that legendary signal and staff. Cox has a Long Island station that might be a player in Country Radio.

In LA Saul Levine used to feel that if KKGO did too well someone else would come along and challenge Go Country. I would tell him that the station could be top 10 in AQH (which it was a couple of years ago and is again) but that the low cume numbers would keep others from jumping in the format.

That is why no one is going Country in New York. KKGO has found some loyal Country Music fans. We had some two years ago that were contributing a lot of the station’s listening, and it’s happening again. The station is well-programmed and is getting long time exposed. BUT the cume is not in the elite category, and it never was. Heck, KKGO has the second (or third) highest cume in the format and is 25th in its own market.

Cume has become even more significant in the PPM ratings and if the format cannot collect enough cume it is never going to be consistently successful. Lose that family that is contributing to the ratings and you lose a great deal.

Now there is a difference between New York and LA. New York is 20% Hispanic and LA is 40% Hispanic. That said, walk the streets of New York and you hear a hundred different languages. Not a real positive for Country Music, because there are not a lot of foreign language countries where Country Music does well.

Ed Salamon, the father of big city Country Music Radio, used to say that this diversity was a benefit to Country because if English was your second language at least the format told stories and listeners could connect with the story. Well, New York is certainly the most diverse city in America.

There has been success with Country Music Radio in New York. Ed was very successful at WHN in the ‘70s. I learned a great deal about big city Country Radio working for him there at WHN.

The late Dene Hallam had success in New York with the first FM playing Country Music there.

Later WYNY had some success. Michael O’Malley did a fine job with the station and when he left I spent about a year there and we had a strong station with great talent until the parent company sold some of the signal off and they lost a Country stronghold in New Jersey.

The fourth attempt failed miserably. The Tri-cast was signal challenged and never really took hold.

Of course there are New York stations that play Country Music. Scott Shannon is a real friend of the format on WPLJ but it is obviously kept to the pop influenced portion of the genre.

Look at the EOY finalists for the CMA show. One of the acts gets consistent play on WPLJ. New York radio listeners are shut out of Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean and (most of) Keith Urban. These are our big guns and they are silenced on the radio.

The Band Perry got some AC and CHR play in the last year, but the other four CMA New Artist nominees are not on the radio in New York. This is not the way to grow the format.

In the past the CMA has taken a lead in supporting Country Radio in LA and NY. Whatever can be done in the future would be beneficial for all of us.

New York Country Radio would have to be a little different today than it was in the past. A current-based format has to be current with CHR turnover. That would grow the cume and then programmers would have to work on keeping the listeners longer. But building a foundation that is dependable is not going as easy as doing it in Dallas or Atlanta.

Without outing him, as he works at a Country Station in a BIG market, my friend used to comment that he has never ridden a tractor, doesn’t travel dirt roads and doesn’t fish or hunt. True, but he drinks Tequila, knows a crazy girl or two and has drunk dialed in the past. It all works.


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